« Up to this point, the migrants had avoided the subject of the Black Water – there was no point, after all, in dwelling on the dangers that lay ahead. But now, as they sweated in the steamy heat of the jungle, their fears and apprehensions bubbled over. The pulwar became a cauldron of rumours: it began to be whispered that their rations on the Black Water ship would consist of beef and pork; those who refused to eat would be whipped senseless and the meats would be thrust down their throats. On reaching Mareech*, they would be forced to convert to Christianity; they would be made to consume all kinds of forbidden foods, from the sea and the jungle; should they happen to die, their bodies would be ploughed into the soil, like manure, for there was no provision for cremation on that island. The most frightening of the rumours was centred upon the question of why the white men were so insistent on procuring the young and the juvenile, rather than those who were wise, knowing, and rich in experience: it was because they were after an oil that was to be found only in the human brain – the coveted mimiái-ka-tel, which was known to be most plentiful among people who had recently reached maturity. The method employed in extracting this substance was to hang the victims upside down, by their ankles, with small holes bored into their skulls: this allowed the oil to drip slowly into a pan.
« So much credence did this rumour accumulate that when at last Calcutta was sighted, there was a great outburst of sorrow in the hold: looking back now, it seemed as if the journey down the Ganga had given the migrants their last taste of life before the onset of a slow and painful death. »
(Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies, 2008, pages 258 and 259.)
* Mareech = Maurice = Mauritius
They left the flying car, whereon
The wealth of gold and jewels shone,
And thus the giant king addressed
Márícha as his hand he pressed:
“Márícha, look! before our eyes
Round Ráma’s home the plantains rise.
His hermitage is now in view:
Quick to the work we came to do!”
Thus Rávaṇ spoke, Márícha* heard
Obedient to his master’s word,
Threw off his giant shape and near
The cottage strayed a beauteous deer.
(The Ramayana, Translation by Ralph T. H. Griffith, Principal of the Benares College, 1870-1874.)
* Maricha, or Marich/Mareech, son of the demoness Tadaka and uncle of the demon-king Ravan (or Ravana, or more frequently Rawan in Mauritius). He is the one who, transformed into a deer, helped Rawan abduct Sita.