Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 31 May 2019
Translator: P.S.V. Prasad
“I must set abalze his passion for knowledge. I can’t become a pathfinder even though I have the desire to become one. So, I must make the path of the pathfinder more comfortable for him to tread upon. This shall be my aim and my life’s noblest ambition.”
I prefer reading books by women writers and ones which have a strong set of female characters. Volga’s latest novel is a perfect blend of the above two points. Volga writes about Yashodhara, Buddha’s wife and re imagines her life and character in her latest novel.
I can’t really call Yashodhara a central character in this novel, though it bears her name. A lot of focus is on the Buddha and his yearning for enlightenment. The Yashodhara in Volga’s novel is intelligent, bold and a staunch feminist. She knows her mind and is not afraid to speak up. Yashodhara is well aware of her husband’s inclination towards spirituality and she wholeheartedly supports him, even encourages him when he is let down in his quest for the truth. In doing so, Yashodhara does not neglect her duties as a wife and daughter-in-law even once. She’s the ideal woman, a perfect wife and mother.
Yashodhara, as the novel, reopens questions about the role of women in not just spirituality, but also in society. It just goes on to show how gender roles have undergone so much change. Yashodhara is a some what forgotten figure in religious history. She does not command attention like Sita and Draupadi. But she’s definitely a key figure because of her role in bringing women into the spiritual fold by questioning the traditions and inequalities of that time. In this novel, Yashodhara and Siddhartha are often conversing about gender roles, stifling traditions, the sufferings of mankind and the search for ultimate truth. These conversations open a window into Yashodhara’s mind and we see an intelligent woman through it.
However, some factors in this novel didn’t work for me. Most of the novel is about the Buddha. Yashodhara seems like a secondary character. The novel is set during a period where women were not considered equal to men. This point is discussed between Yashodhara and Siddharth but as a reader, I wanted to read how Yashodhara experiences this discrimination on a deeper level. Volga has written this novel wonderfully and the translation of P.S.V. Prasad is nuanced but the focus on Yashodhara or her inner life is, sadly, unexplained. It is as though she is indifferent to what is happening in her life.
Yashodhara is a quick read, with just 176 pages. The plot seems a little hasty towards the end. Yashodhara takes up the responsibility of her parents-in-law and raises her son on her own after the Buddha leaves. This point should have been explored in the novel because being a single mother, which is difficult even now, was not addressed at all.
Nevertheless, Yashodhara is a though-provoking read with a strong female lead. Originally written in Telegu, this novel is a good start to reading regional literature. The Yashodhara that emerges from the novel is a sensitive, intelligent and selfless woman who shines brighter than the Buddha,