Ok, and, here’s a question, does the fish ever look up? Rather than side to side, you know?
What are you even talking about?
Does the fish ever wonder, ‘is there something more?’ You know? As she gazes to the heavens?
In rehearsals, both the KALKI and SHIV casts have been exploring the images of fish that pop up in the trilogy. In THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI, the Cop uses a discussion of goldfish to get underneath Girl 1’s standoffish attitude. In SHIV, the image of fish transforms from the lake-bound fish at 27 East Lake Road into the Pisces inhabiting Shiv’s cosmic ocean.
The astrological sign Pisces appears last in the Zodiac and forms part of a trilogy of astrological signs that include Cancer and Scorpio. Because of its position in the Zodiac, Pisces represents the fluidity of ending and beginning, and in Hindu mythology is associated with Vishnu. Pisces is imagined as two fish swimming in a circle, one fish facing down and one swimming upward. Twentieth-century astrologer Robert Hand wrote that the fish facing upward is swimming towards the heavens, seeking spiritual illumination. The other fish swims downward, concerned with material things. Together the two fish, eternally entwined, represent the difficulty in extracting the good from that which appears bad. Astrologers classify Pisces as a mutable sign because of its connection to ever-changing, ever-flowing water, which transforms as it fills or empties vessels.
The Pisces connects to Vishnu and Shiva because it is a symbol of fecundity; eighteenth-century astrologers consistently defined the moral meaning of Pisces: “the severe season has passed; though your flocks, as yet, do not yield their store, the ocean and rivers are open to you, their inhabitants are placed within your power.” The purposes of Hindu gods Vishnu (especially Kalki the warrior avatar) and Shiva (the “Destroyer god”) can often be construed negatively as destruction, but these gods do not destroy so much as prepare the way for rebirth and peaceful motion toward a new age. They restore the balance of the world and preside over the liminal space where endings become beginnings.
In KALKI, Girl #1 and the Cop argue over the experience of a goldfish in a moment that connects to the Pisces symbolism. When the girl compares him to a goldfish who sees only what is in front of him, the cop does not respond with a question about the case, but challenges her by asserting that the goldfish may have an interior life. He casts the girl as the goldfish: “Does the fish ever wonder, ‘is there something more?’ You know? As she gazes to the heavens … you never know what miracles the fish may be living.” Girl #1’s response shows her own tunnel-vision: “It’s still a shitty life.” Her point of view is concerned with the material; like the Pisces’ downward swimming fish, she can only see her recent humiliation at school, her absent mother, her unhappy home life, and her discomfort in her own skin. Her point that goldfish can’t float up because of the fat around their middle echoes her earlier statement that she hates her own stomach. The cop tries to use the goldfish metaphor to inspire the girl to look up and see the potential in herself for miracles – he is the only adult character to show her concern. This scene is revealing because it shows how much the cop comes to care for Girl #1.
The first avatar of Vishnu was a fish called Matsya.
Shiv, named for Shiva, is torn between her past and her future. Floating in her cosmic ocean, she is pulled into her memories; like her modernist-poet father, she creates a narrative through association, using the “topography of [her father’s] humiliation” to define herself. Armed with memories of Bapu, Shiv returns to 27 East Lake Road. She tries to become the colonizer, equating power with lights, stars, and illumination. “Nothing like a constellation for breakfast … if I catch a fish, it’s mine, I’m eating it,” Shiv tells Gerard when the two are fishing.
Who even remembers what India was before. What she might have been. For all we know it looked exactly like this, a dirty mattress sailing across the ocean like a barge of found objects and found souls.
It is only when Shiv embraces the power of the Pisces that she is able to let go. On her cosmic ocean, the waters are open to her, and the moment of destruction holds the most possibility. The past, rather than an anchor pulling her downward toward the material symbols of loss, becomes hers to rewrite in the future. As Shiv sails away to rebirth, Bapu possesses all the time in the world to fish for Pisces. He wants to catch both, striving for the balance of material and spiritual that eluded him in life. Shiv’s Pisces is the promise of a future – she sails forward into the unknown, but no longer fears it. The ending of this painful chapter in her life frees her to begin anew and find the light inside herself. The woman who once wished to devour stars finds that possession is not necessarily power. A far more important power source, the play seems to suggest, is the act of creation, fueled by accepting brokenness and destruction.