When the old fisherman walked into the sea to end his life on November 12, 1934, he stitched a song into the white coral growing on the underside of The Mermaid, the sunken barge we had come to know as mythic. The fisherman had no human lover. He was in love with the sea.
Eighty-eight years later, a film crew went deep underwater to document the fabled Mermaid wreckage, and by accident, retrieved the forgotten song. They made the fisherman’s devotion public. It was played on national radio. It inspired the people to love the sea again.
The song of the devotee is the same, death after death. Beings of flesh and blood who are in love with seas, volcanos and trees archive devotion to the natural world by stitching their songs inside a living entity that constantly dreams and renews. The devotees sew their compositions to the roots of trees, to the faces of flowers and into the seams of forests beneath the sea. The songs are in perpetual state of birth and re-enactment. Devotion outlives the devotee. Devotion is always living.
When the song stitched into the roots of the yellow wildflowers on the side of the Tambourine Road was unearthed by accident, by a team of road workers on June 23, 2022, the road split open and flooded.
The song told the story of the devotee who was married to the Mourning River, one-hundred years ago. She was the clothes washer for the military family who lived at the top of the hill, on Saudade Estate.
She washed clothes in the river every third day. She smoked bidis rolled with newspaper, wore jasmine in her braids and studied the maps on banana leaves.
And she beat the clothes against the rocks. And beat her song against the tobacco sky, until the blood ran down her mouth.
Have you ever been loved by a river?
When she ran away from Saudade Estate, she travelled through the Mourning on a little tin boat. At the point where the river meets the sea, the devotee changed into a snake and swam through the waking dream of the river.
The love of the river is sublime.
When the devotee cupped her hands and drank from the Mourning, she was given the dream of the delta. When living things died, the Mourning would carry them to the afterlife, where it would be decided, if we were to be born again, or live as stars.
I have no human lover. I have no buffalo lover. I am in love with the river.
The Mourning had been dying for a long time, because the people had forgotten how to love the river. The devotee promised not to forget the body of water. She stitched her devotion to the roots of yellow wildflowers on the banks, where she slept naked with the snakes.
If forget the river. The river will disappear. When I forget, the river becomes a highway.
In time, the devotee grew old. And with old age, life took on the habits of a fluttering dream, and memory became fragile, fickle and far away. If the devotee forgot a part of the river ⸺ like the mouth that opens to the sea, the brackish taste of sunrise, the hot stones where the tortoises sleep, the rhythm of the heartbeat in the ancient current ⸺ then that part of the river would disappear.
And they did.
Before departure, the devotee changed into a stone, and jumped into the stream. The river was forgotten. The levee swelled and burst into our lungs. The Mourning drowned our villages and temples, then returned to the earth. The Mourning was reborn as Tambourine Road.
On the soundscape:
Retrieved from the roots of wildflowers on the side of Tambourine Road, on June 23, 2022. The vocal improvisation of the devotee who was married to the Mourning River. The improvisation speaks to devotional love between a human and non-human entity who are bound by memory.
- Manisha Anjali
Click the play button at the top of this page to activate the sound.
About the contributor
Manisha Anjali is a writer and artist.