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Your spirit – sugar milk – must burn. Your blood – silk mosquito – must burn. Your memory – disembodied crematorium – must burn. Your heart – limewater and seafoam – must burn.

The spirit is a floral cotton jungle breathing in pentatonic scales.  Naked fruit flies hang in dark blue humid air. The sun speaks a puraana kahānī. Sour. Warm. Palpable. The thread sews through collapsing clouds. Polyphonic mynah bird choirs orbit the haldi sun halo. Even when it burns. Even when it blackens. Even when it chars lips and splits tongues.

Smudging is the ancient practice of burning herb and plant objects for medicinal and spiritual use. It is an early form of antisepsis – an early form of exorcism - an early form of unbecoming. Yellow smoke is fragrant and bitter. The ceremonial burning is passed down matrilineally – the line which carries water – the line estranged from luck – the line which walks hand-in-hand with demons.

Carbon nanodots in haldi smoke loosen the congestion of floral cotton jungle spirits trapped in the liver – loosen the congestion of cane cutting-motions trapped in the wrist – loosen the congestion of prayers diluted by oceanwater trapped in the lung. Black smoke like hawan aftermath – black chipped-lips – black nectar eyes – black sticky tongue – black smoke birthed from the origins of grief.

Black laughter imprinted on banana leaves. Later used for wrapping fish to cook underground. Later used for wrapping hair of plantation spirits at sundown. Later used for catching warm blood – soaked in muumuus and saris – later sewn into translucent kitchen curtains.

Later – much later – burn the old blood off. To burn a memory that is deposited in the blood is the process of blackening.

look closely at her photograph. take with you a kerosene lamp.

A puraana kahānī can be brought back into the blood with the placement of water between a monochrome photograph and palms full of marigold – water that is composed of equal parts milk and bone – water that swells when the hurricane hits– water that remembers every time it is touched.

does it begin in the blood?
does it begin in the water?

Water conducts the alchemical change from land-locked to hungry ghost - hanging by the thread woven through the DNA for one hundred and forty years – hanging by the thread with one finger pointing to naraka – one finger pointing to the sky. Water is percussion hitting hard on the corrugated tin iron roof as cha is prepared in a hundi on a flame – as she opens her mouth and shines her gold tooth – as she adjusts her petticoat and clears her throat – beta ek story bathao.

Water lives in the interval between one piece of land and another – one jasmine garland and another – one mandir and another. The space in-between flickers in and out of phosphorescence – the space in-between is not hollow – the space in-between is a tangible entity – the space in-between is where gods and spirits dwell. The thread is stitched into the Bay of Bengal into the Indian Ocean into the Pacific Ocean into the wildflower heart of Sigatoka Valley. To live in purgatory with memory of an existing plane is the process of exile.

To unbutton an injury inflicted on psychic tissue by water tread your fists lightly into the floral cotton jungle bed. Loop your spinal cord like a thousand-legged millipede. Extract bittersweet dye from the sun. Breathe in pentatonic scales – raag maulkauns for reflection – raag bhopali for peace – raag durga for luminosity. Separate the thread from the diagram. Separate the gold from the tooth. Separate the theory from the belief. Separate the burn from the flesh. Inhale the black water. Press record.

dyan se sunno.

Your spirit – inflorescent mehndi – must burn. Your blood – fragmented bitter melon – must burn. Your memory – departure museum – must burn. Your heart – a girl with the head of a mongoose – must burn.

The unbecoming of a spirit is rooted in archival documents carried in the bones – the unbecoming appears in dreams – in apparitions – in dark blue air where naked fruit flies fall. The unravelling of a puraana kahānī is chronicled in tape-recorded talanoa tableaus – in baby blue paint metamorphosing in the cyclone – in the unclothed body of a cane pulled from sweet green dirt. In the folds of a disembodied language lives the undoing of time – time stitched to yaqona and bidi smoke – time stitched to cracked heels and haldi dust – time stitched to soft pockets of air in sugar milk. To burn sugar milk that sinks the spirit is the process of erasure.

does it end in the body?
does it end in the water?

The thread from Calcutta to Levuka is ten thousand seven hundred and ninety-one kilometres long. The time is takes to embroider that distance of oceanwater is seventy-two days. The time is takes for the moon to swell two and a half times. The time it takes for the zygote to become an embryo to become a tongue to become a political body which holds the unbecoming. In seventy-two days the thread stitched together one hundred dialects.

Later – much later – the thread will stitch through disembodied language – the contours of vernacular.
Later – much later – the thread will stitch through the architecture of the lung – still holding black oceanwater – still moving in five notes ascending and descending – sa re ga pa dha sa – sa dha pa ga re sa.

The thread stitches underneath raw atta – underneath coral bobbin teeth – underneath braided skulls and jewellery buried in coolie soil.  The thread stitches together hairs of black sugar leaves – woven by camphor and mangrove – woven by mourning prayers – woven by the dichotomy of exile and home. The thread speaks a puraana kahānī.

the thread is made of flesh.
the thread is made of flesh.

First published in Like this incense your spirit must burn / shivanjani lal / Bega Valley Regional Gallery / 14 September - 9 November, A Clear Dawn Anthology (Auckland University Press, 2020) and