Jeanne Penjan Lassus & Shahana Rajani
The Sea in the River
The Sea in the River is a journey across a river and sea shrine in Sindh, Pakistan, guided by water pedagogies of fisherfolk communities in the Indus delta. As the Indus river has been cut, dammed, barraged, and canalized into the largest irrigation system in the world, sweet water no longer flows into the Indus delta. Most of its inhabitants have been forced to leave following the disappearance of the river and a fast encroaching sea. On many islands, shrines are the only structures that remain. In their persisting materiality, these sacred sites bear witness to the geographies of loss, to the histories of presence and belonging in the delta. While state and scientific studies cast the delta as a site of ruin, beyond hope and repair, the shrines persist, bringing up other temporalities, cosmologies and modes of witnessing.
Despite the absence of the river, stories of its aquatic intimacies continue to circulate. They hold a multispecies yearning for sweet water. The palla fish is central in these tales, appearing at the junction of river and sea. Their presence alerts humans to the making of a sacred union: the sea in the river, the river in the sea. Our journey follows past pilgrimage routes of the palla fish from the delta up the river, age-old movements now obstructed by dams and barrages. We travel up the Indus river to the shrine of Khizr Hayat, also known as Zinda Pir, the saint of all water bodies. From there, we make our way back to the Indus delta to the shrine of Dada Sanvlo, the saint of sharks, in Mul creek close to the India-Pakistan border. Amidst sensings of tension and disturbance in these changing landscapes, we listen to the sounds and stories of these saints, to their kinship with marine beings, to dream worlds and hidden realms, to the aliveness/interdependence of sea and river.