Book review | A mermaids story told in poetic prose, with eye catching artwork
By DECCAN CHRONICLE | Rachna Chhabria
The story is told from the point of view of Ila, a half-woman, half-mermaid
Incantations over Water, a graphic novel for adults, by Sharanya Manivannan, is the sequel, you can even call it a follow up to her beautiful picture book for children, Mermaids in the Moonlight. While the picture book was published by Red Panda, the graphic novel is published by Context (both are Westland Imprints). Let me not limit the scope of these books to either adults or children. Books are to be enjoyed by any reader, eager to plunge into the world created by the writer’s words.
For centuries mermaids have fascinated humans. Shrouded in curtains of secrecy, there are enough legends and myths around these aquatic creatures with the upper body of a female and the tail of a fish. Mermaids were known to lure lovers into the deep, men ensnared by their magical beauty followed them underwater.
The story is told from the point of view of Ila, a half-woman, half-mermaid. She lives in or near the Kallady lagoon in Mattakalappu, Ilankai (Batticaloa, Sri Lanka). The lagoon is a place full of curses and charms (both of which are incantations over water.) The writing literally pulls the reader into the Kallady lagoon on a boat on a full moon night, “murmurs, resonant from deep within, caressed the skin of the water. You dipped a wooden oar inside and held its dry end to your ear, and you thought that you could hear it. My voice.”
The story starts with a man diving underwater to search for pearls. From therein it traces the stories of mermaids also known as meen magal (fish daughter), kadal kanni (sea maiden) and samudra rani (queen of the sea).
The mermaid Ila talks of how she fell quiet during the thirty years of war in Sri Lanka, this is mentioned more than once. Even the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is mentioned, where Ila talks of water which is stripped back like linen, to reveal its bed and creatures unrecorded in history.
There is also the story of Matsya, the fish who saved the world and all its creatures from the great flood. One of my favourite parts was about Suvarnamaccha and her band of mermaids who dismantle the bridge that Hanuman had built for Lord Rama to enable him to reach Sri Lanka. I was unfamiliar with this particular story. For me this was the highlight of the book.
There are stories about Sirena of the Hagatna river, Aycayia of the Taino archipelago, Liengu la Mwanja, the Feeje mermaid, the story of the sea goddess Manimegala, the healer Anaimudi Chittar, interspersed with stories from Dongbaek and Hwang-ok.
Replete with merfolk legends and stories, some known and many unknown, which Manivannan has unearthed due to her familiarity with the region. Divided into 12 chapters the book is a visual delight due to its marvellous illustrations, (Manivannan’s pen has brought to life all the sea creatures, especially mermaids) as well as a treat to read, due to her poetic writing.
The book is a perfect blend of words and images. Where Manivannan’s words end her illustrations take the story forward. The book makes for a wonderful addition to a bibliophile’s private collection. My only grouse is the steep price of the book that may put off some readers.
Rachna Chhabria is a Bengaluru based children’s author and a freelance writer
Incantations over Water
pp. 174, Rs.799