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Fish in a net: Review of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s ‘The Yogini’

Seeing what isn’t there is thought to be one of the symptoms of insanity. In Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s The Yogini, the life of Homi, a 20-something television journalist, is upended when she is stalked by a mysterious sadhu whom only she can see.

One person’s insanity is another person’s spiritual awakening. Amidst the millions of unseeing eyes on the battlefield, Arjuna glimpses the universal form of god, a sight that utterly terrifies him.

Homi and Lalit are a young couple in their 20s, both professionals, of the ‘work hard, party harder’ generation, and seemingly very much in love. We first meet Homi when she is on the way to a restaurant to celebrate the first anniversary of their marriage. On that fateful night she sees the yogi for the first time, and her life begins to unravel.

In terms of linear action this is the tale of a young woman increasingly beset by visions, who slowly proceeds to explode her successful life from within. Is she undergoing a profound emotional breakdown?

But Bandyopadhyay structures the novel as a philosophical argument; in the prefatory note, she explains that the core of her novel stems from niyati or fate, a state “in which the individual is the under the illusion of being bound to a particular time and space, when in fact, they are not”.

These weighty chunks don’t slow down the pace, as Bandyopadhyay sketches the upper middle-class milieu with deft strokes, relating their travails — from the general unreliability of domestic helps to the importance of securing a club membership.

She brings to vivid life Homi’s extended dysfunctional family held together by “bonds of loathing”. Their machinations over property and status form a backdrop to Homi’s increasingly existential quest.

Homi’s desperate attempts to find meaning get increasingly wilder but without recompense. As she thrashes to break free like a fish out of a net, out of a endless cycle of desire and repulsion, Bandyopadhyay writes “she was seeking not love, wisdom or fulfilment — she sought to be exiled from the future, to be exiled from events”.

Motivational coaches assure us that we all have to “be yourself”. The greatest torment is sometimes just that, being who you are.

The writer is a freelance journalist and graphic novelist.

The Yogini; Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, trs Arunava Sinha,Penguin Hamish Hamilton,₹399

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 11:02:19 AM |

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