Review of Raywat Deonandan’s Divine Elemental
by Kulpreet Badial
Feb 6, 2010
This is a delightful read. The locale is Bihar in north-eastern India and the cast of characters is not quite what one might expect. Kalya, a Canadian, is out to find her roots and place in the world. Iskander, another westerner, is an entomologist studying wasps and in a manner typical of graduate-students, does a lot of exploratory research in areas that are directly-related to the topic of their thesis. Greek History. Meaning of Life. The interconnectedness of it all. And he is high on local booze for the most part; resulting in some amazing vignettes of stream of consciousness type writing:
Iskie looked upon this world without the benefit of a Lamas observant discipline, but rather with the time-dilation effects of premature drunkenness.
The book starts with a ghost-tale and for some time it is a bit of a struggle to come to grips with the setting and the believability of the characters. But science comes to the rescue. The best writing comes in various discourses where science clears the mist like only science can. It is here that the writing is precise; the logic unflappable and the characters are in their element.
The scientist on romance:
Romantic love –its desperation, futility, ecstasy and agony– is best observed amongst the insectoid angels.
On infidelity :
One part of the biological imperative is to obtain the best possible genes for ones offspring while simultaneously securing the best resources from ones mate. You see? Often that combination requires infidelity.
I have to remember this one.
Christian, Islam and Judaism were all desert religions whose fundamentals were established upon Vulcans searing Middle Eastern forge, hence insisting upon their austerity, their hallucinogenic contradictions, and their water worship, despite the inapplicability of such things to the myriad environments to which the faiths had spread. Madness, it all was madness.
Write fiction in English and set it in rural Bihar. It is a challenge that could easily see the best of even the established literary stars fail miserably. The author cheats somehow by transplanting his characters from the west but once you give him that, the rest is fantastic. The chemistry works; and so does the entomology. Hell, there is even a bit of casual sex with a woman amazingly liberal for the eco-system of the place. I grew up in a place like that and we had none of that; but then again, maybe there was.
I will let the author have the last word:
It is the arrogance of men that prevents them from perceiving the imperceptible, from allowing themselves to consider that which is not obvious.
Read it. Divine Elemental is unconventional, edgy, funny. And you will learn a thing or two about the amazing sex-life of the fig-wasp.
Kulpreet is an Ottawa-based tabla player and all-around gadabout. Visit him at Tandoori Beavertails.