An Excerpt from The Yogini by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated from the Bangla by Arunava Sinha
She’d left the office around 10 pm and was attempting to cross the busy main road when she saw a hermit standing directly opposite, impassive in a haze of light cast on the pavement by Jimmy’s Kitchen, the Chinese restaurant. Even from a distance it had seemed to Homi that his piercing gaze was trained on her. But she had to look away before she could register what was happening. He was gone by the time she crossed the road. Curiosity piqued, Homi went up to the entrance to Jimmy’s Kitchen and looked for him. Was it possible she’d made a mistake, that there hadn’t been anyone there at all?
A mistake? But his sharp, terrifying glance had embedded itself in her consciousness in an instant. She had felt a distinct stab of fear. At that moment someone whispered to her from her left, very close by.
Goosebumps prickling her skin, Homi turned to look at him. A chill coursed through her veins. Bitingly cold.
He looked fearsome, his matted locks and beard framing his face like a spider. His eyes blazed, and his body gave off a mild stench. She thought it could be marijuana.
‘Who are you? What do you want?’ she wanted to say. It was possible that an unimaginable fear kept her from uttering the words.
Don’t you recognise me, Empress?’ He adjusted the blanket draped haphazardly around his shoulders.
Again, she retreated as he approached her, holding out a hand with tongs in it. A hermit’s usual paraphernalia. It was obvious no one else could see him, since it was impossible for such a frightening man to advance towards a lone woman, especially at this hour of the night, without anyone intervening.
She realised quickly that she wasn’t able to seek help from any of her colleagues, many of whom were milling about on the opposite pavement. She would have to deal with this man all by herself.
Coming to a halt, she asked in Hindi, ‘What do you want?’ The hermit brought the two arms of his tongs together repeatedly, making a series of clicks. His tall, lean frame stiffened, and Homi saw obsession and desire come to life in his glowing eyes.
A cruel but frantic voice. Barbaric diction.
The man signalled to her again
‘Come. Come closer.’ He made an obscene gesture.
‘You don’t recognise me, Empress,’ he said after a brief silence.
‘I am your fate,’ he continued – and disappeared at once