N. D. Williams, Prash and Ras
Lilieth Lejo Bailey, The Caribbean Writer
In his attempt to pay attention to the inner self, N. D. Williams’ Prash and Ras gives the reader a ‘hill and gully ride’ filled with rejection, acceptance, anger, sadness, boredom, but never joy. It is not a comfortable text; you will either hate it and thrust it aside, or plough through the unbelievability of the first story, ‘My Planet of Ras,’ only to be treated to the exploration of psychic fragility in ‘What Happening There, Prash?’ I suggest skipping the first of the two novellas and going straight to ‘Prash.’
Williams seems to be using ‘My Planet of Ras,’ as a tool for endorsing a sub-culture that alienates itself from the larger society. Through its experimental life, ‘My Planet’ becomes a dysfunctional and vacuous society which seems to be designed to serve the whims of Selassie, the main character. Kristal, the young German tourist; Ikael, the artist; and Kilmanjaro, the drummer, organize their lives in order to satisfy the needs of the main character, Selassie, whose answer to everything is the spliff.
The story is a bit of a cliché - young, white woman escapes to island paradise to forget the pains of lost love. She encounters the hospitable natives (Rastafarians) who take her into their homes and lives. They all feed on ital food, philosophise, and smoke marijuana, ‘the healing of the nation.’ All is well once one alienates oneself from family and the rest of society, for even a trip to the market place can be a dangerously damaging experience.
Although ‘My Planet’ attempts to paint a restorative picture of a ‘righteous’ Rastafarian community, the author’s voice comes through as an interference to Kristal’s recording. It is highly unlikely that the young woman could be as well-voiced in Rastafarianist diatribe as Williams presents her to be. Selassie rules his kingdom with quiet distance, philosophical ramblings, and the herb. A wish on the part of the author, perhaps?
Both ‘My Planet’ and the second novella, ‘What Happening There, Prash’ tend to be metaphorical warnings against the dangers of going beyond the confines of ‘the village’. Whether the village is psychological or physical, stepping outside the boundaries can break down unity and upset the balance of power.
Prash is a Guyanese taxi driver, who emigrates with his wife and two children to New York. In this story, Williams has captured well the feelings of alienation, hope, and confusion that are constant companions to the newly transplanted. The desire to ‘be successful,’ however, is the most intimate of those companions, for not only must one prove that uprooting the family was a wise decision, but to be in ‘the land of opportunity’ and not improve oneself is tantamount to stamping ‘Failure’ on one’s forehead.
Coming from a male-dominated society, Prash finds that the balance of power is disrupted in America. He becomes dependent upon his sister for shelter; he must watch his wife, Sookmoon, become a self-assured, independent wage earner, and he must accept the fact that his daughter, not his son, has a clear sense of purpose. But most of all, Prash must now pretend to be successful. Here, Williams explores the character’s inner self - a place where an internal battle rages between the desire for success and the threat of failure.
Perhaps Prash comes to terms with himself when he accepts his identity, not only as a displaced soul in a confining society, but as a husband, father, and friend. Throughout the narrative, Williams makes the point that in an unhealthy, foreign, and oppressive society, one must employ certain psychic mechanisms for survival. To maintain psychic balance these mechanisms may become damaging, but on the other hand, they can serve to empower the individual. Clearly, the unity one experiences in family togetherness helps to validate one’s identity.
Finally, Williams uses the discourse to effectively convey the potential tragedy or victory that can accompany the sudden and subtle shifts. Although ‘My Planet Ras’ is an exploration into a seemingly meaningless existence, ‘What Happening There, Prash’ is well worth the read.
This review relates to the book
Prash and Ras
by N.D. Williams