St Lucia, 1878
the devil put milk in my mouth.
this is the Black Water.
I am on a ship of bones.
my legs are open to two moons
my legs are open to my own death
it will come with the music of the ravanahatha
it will come with the smell of marigold & smoke
it will come with the love song from the orca’s tongue
it will come
it is here
he is here
Lord of Death.
I am on a ship of livers.
the devil pulls my hair & puts my hair in my mouth.
the orca is moved by the ravanahatha.
the devil pulls my hand & puts my hand in my mouth.
the orca is moved by the sound of milk.
the devil cuts my throat & puts flowers in my throat.
the orca is a two-headed jackal.
all the snakes have lost their tongues
all the fish have lost their tongues
all the birds have lost their tongues
seventeen ghosts bring me red and white fruit
the Black Water licks the belly of the orca
I have a moon growing in my spinal chord
when we reach Paradise
I will give birth to a black moon.
Kala Pani has no body
she takes the body of whomever she loves –
the saap-shape body of holy water
the sun-shape body of samundar
the lantern-shape body of my death
Kala Pani has no taste
she takes the taste of whomever she loves –
take off your shoes before you enter her
take off your clothes before you enter her
the devil plays the ravanahatha from a floating altar on the rings of Saturn
the orca is moved by the Black Water.
The Leonidas transported 580 Indian indentured labourers to the St Lucia in 1878. The Leonidas was the first of 87 ships that transported over 60,000 indentured workers from Calcutta to Levuka, Fiji between 1879 and 1916. The crossing of the Kala Pani, the Black Water is a sin, a dreaded aspect of the Indian unconscious. Those who crossed the Black Water, whether by choice, or kidnapped, blindfolded and chained to the indenture ships; were cursed. Cauldrons of holy water from the Ganges accompanied the travellers on the ships to ease the pain of crossing the Black Water. Fatal outbreaks of chlorea, smallpox, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, measles were common on the three-and-half-month long sea journey. To relieve oneself of the sins of crossing the Kala Pani, perform the following for 1095 days –
- cut off all your hair & feed to the devil
- bathe with amphibians at dawn, noon and dusk
- stand upright during the day on one leg
- sleep hanging upside down from a mango tree at night
- throw all your teeth at the stars