Short story "Destroyer Of Worlds" by Raywat Deonandan,
Strongly reminiscent of Calderon de la Barca’s classic Spanish Golden Age play, La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream, Madrid, 1636), Raywat Deonandan’s short story Destroyer of Worlds (2003), reflects the plight of the chained prince, Segismundo, who comes to the realization that life is a dream, dreams are dreams and death is reality. Just as Calderon grapples with the pervasive themes of predestination and free will, life and death, illusion and reality, so too Deonandan transports us to multiple dual realities as he vacillates between oxymoronic physical and metaphysical realms, wakefulness and sleep, creation and destruction, science and nature, tradition and modernity and the age-old Hindu dichotomy of moksha (liberation) and maya (illusion). The skillful metaphorical juxtaposition of these opposites rocks the readers back and forth, to and from, the multi-dimensional planes of existence he carefully constructs and deconstructs, mocking the writer’s own dilemma as a product of both modernization and tradition and leaving us refreshingly dizzy after the first morsel.
Deonandan’s choice of a title, “Destroyer of Worlds”, is somewhat puzzling since “creation” seems to be his more salient theme. In his dreams, he perpetually “will new life from the blackness” as he constantly “contemplates the origin of life”. From nucleic acids emerge “the stirring of unconscious life” and “a thousand lives blink into being” with the start of his unconscious cinema. Moreover, the Hindu gods he conjures do not reek of destruction but of creation. It is perhaps on this count that Deonandan’s piece can be most pertinently critiqued.
In the tradition of the writer’s people, destruction is not the task of Bramha and Vishnu but of Shiva. Bramha is the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer of that creation. It is likely that if Brahma should blink, creation may repeat itself rather than render it to ashes. In Hindu philosophy, each event is but a single spoke in an infinite time wheel of which the Gods and Goddesses themselves are a part. And each God/Goddess is such through his/her own functional attributes. In a piece entitled “Destroyer of Worlds”, it is a cardinal if not terminal gaffe to omit the role of Shiva, the Destroyer, an integral component of the holy Hindu Trinity. The omission is all the more ironic when one considers that Deonandan’s own middle name, “Shanker”, is a derivative of another name of Lord Shiva - “Shankar” - and that in the story, he actually perceives himself as “a creator of worlds, ephemeral and transient, wherein thin lives shimmer and etiolate”. In keeping with the sporadic bursts of optimism throughout the piece, “Creator of Worlds” may be a more appropriate title.
The negativity explicit in the title also permeates Deonandan’s characterization. An evil, Eve-like trait connects the multiple females in his dreams. Each lover emerges imbued with an unflattering superficiality seemingly characteristic of womankind- Marlene Dietrich’s “painted lips”; “a domineering teenage girl”; Tanya “giggles in that nasty fake baritone that only women can master;” Sneha’s “seductive, senseless whispers”; and of course, his beloved, despite all the “love and tranquility”, is but a “destroyer of worlds, a divine egoist, the ultimate mood killer.”
Yet Deonandan’s short story is not lacking in realism. His thoughts while with Tanya,“No ego, my friend, is that secure” and the samba scene with Diamando, mirror unpleasant realities of everyday life. The focus on sexual insecurity and on the preoccupation of “who got to lead” is typical of male-female relationships and the unfortunate quest for control which they inevitably become. Moreover, the last line acutely and poignantly admits to the quiet strength and infinite power of woman – especially in the bedroom.
Deonandan’s extensive musings on the dichotomous sources of evolution – science and nature- reflect his own dual vocation as a scientist/author and his persistent and intense introspection as the product of an ancient civilization which attempts to present rich, philosophical solutions to man’s ceaseless enigma. His extensive conduct of inquiry into the origins of life more than hints at a pervasive puzzle “tormenting his id” as to whether the answers to his primordial quest, lie in modernization, the science in which he is trained – “the weird set of quantum formulae, simple molecules and organic strings, amino and nucleic acids”; in the age-old traditional myths of a metaphysical plane of his Hindu ancestry where “the god Vishnu sleeps at the centre of the world”; or in the “pan-dimensional, incomprehensible vast field of intelligence, spiced with the unpredictable and pricked by the nonsensical” world of the arts at which he peep through his literary lens and vigorously embrace with his deep insights into the human condition.
The writer makes a clarion call for a return to origins, to the times of the beginnings, which will restore the possibility of permanent happiness and freedom. He preserves distance in time and space with minimal specific cultural reference in order to highlight the fundamental, timeless and changeless nature of the dilemma which confronts mankind. The guiding philosophy of his Hindu forefathers persuades humanity to escape the transient, bondage of maya and attain the eternal, liberating bliss of moksha. Through his lingering nostalgia for a long lost elemental existence, Deonandan alludes to a profound loss of innocence which he himself seems to suffer. It is no wonder then, that “to stray from the intellect is indeed bliss” – a bold and powerful admission to the corrupting and imprisoning influence of modernization and education to which he himself falls victim.
Calderon’s La vida es sueño has allegedly evolved from the legends of the early years of Siddharta Gautama, later given the title of Buddha (the awakened). Segismundo’s rude awakening brings with it the knowledge that even in prison one can dream of great possibilities and ambitions in this labyrinth of existence. In Destroyer of Worlds, Deonandan potently projects his message in the realization that the power of the dream world lies in its “lesson to be transported to the wakeful”. For it is there that he catches brief glimpses of the timelessness of moksha, that “realm of intended quantum restfulness”, where rules are non-existent and emotions reign in gay abandon, deliciously frenzied, chaotic, disorderly. The contentment he experiences in the dream world is the ultimate proof he needs that “satisfaction can issue from formless irrationality”.
But perhaps the answer to Deonandan’s primeval quest lies not in any single formula, nor even in bifurcation. Perhaps the “light of mindless beauty” and the “plains of perfection on which all failed loves repaired and rejoiced”, for which he so frantically searches, in wakefulness and in dreams - is but a multiplex synthesis in which art and science, modernity and tradition, philosophy and metaphysics, ancestry and experience - symbiotically and harmoniously coexist. Not in apposition, nor even opposition, but as complementary facets of his own eclectic and complex reality.
Indira Rampersad was born to East Indian parents in a rural village in South Trinidad. She holds a Bachelors degree in Language and Literature, an Mphil in Latin American Literature, a graduate diploma in International Relations and an Mphil in International Relations, all from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. She has been a political columnist for the Trinidad Guardian and Express newspapers and co-edited the book, Basdeo Panday, Man in the Middle (Chakra Publishing House,1995). She has been awarded two Fulbright scholarships for study in the U.S. and is currently at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where she is completing her Ph.D in Political Science focusing on U.S. foreign policy to Cuba.