The competition for imagining how the world will end is fierce. You’ve got the Occidental models of Hell, Armageddon, the Gotterdammerung, aka the twilight of the gods, and so on. Then you have the many different world-ending myths from the ancient cultures of the Americas, Africa and Australasia. Closer to home, we have the whole idea of pralay, which carries a multiplicity of meanings, including both dissolution and destruction. When I was a kid, the way pralay was explained to me by my grown-ups definitely involved the sense of a massive, world-swallowing earthquake. This ultimate vinaash was described with great relish and in minute detail but often quite cheerfully, as if this were the natural order of the cosmos and—along with the birth of the universe— something to be celebrated. Looking back now, I understand the cheerfulness differently.
People of my parents’ generation had seen a tumultuous freedom struggle, a devastating World War that must have felt both unpredictable and interminable as you lived through it, the crippling famine in Bengal with attendant smaller famines in other parts of the country, the earth being ripped asunder by the horrors of Partition, and then the birth pangs of a Republic of sorts clawing itself into traction. As they laid out the orgy of the imagined final destruction—in a universe where nothing was ever final but always cyclical—the ongoing Cold War and the very real threat of nuclear war would have lurked in their consciousness.