काला  पानी  kala pani

PEARLESCENT VERSE/ BLINDSIDE SATELLITE / 6 MARCH-18 MAY 2019 / Hoda Afshar, Tané Andrews, Walter Bakowski, Léuli Eshraghi + Joe Joe Orangias, Nikki Lam, Blake Lawrence, Sean Miles, Lucie McIntosh, Angela Tiatia, Justine Youssef + Duha Ali, Manisha Anjali

Kala Pani was commissioned for Pearlescent Verse, a screen-based exhibition curated by Jake Treacy, broadcast through Blindside’s Satellite channels.  This curated suite of videos explores the shared experiences surrounding water – how its flux of space brings us closer together, and at times may dislocate.  The pearlescent verse speaks of social, ecological and spiritual narratives, and meditates upon the fragility of nature, human migration and the impacts of climate change.

Kala Pani translates to Black Water. It is a dreaded superstitious aspect of the Indian unconscious, whereby those who leave the subcontinent by crossing the black waters are cursed. This text takes place on the Leonidas, a ship of bones, which transported indentured workers from India to St Lucia in 1878 and Levuka in 1879.

काला  पानी  kala pani


St Lucia, 1878
Levuka, 1879

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 sun-shape body of samundar

      the saap-shape body of the river

  the lantern shape body of my own 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

fish giver!

life taker!

shape shifter!

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