Standing up

B. uses stand-up comedy to stand up for their right to express their gender — in rehearsals actor Aila Peck came up with the great word “gender-full” to describe B. — but stand-up is just one of the ways to be heard.

Emily Quinn, a 25-year-old animator who has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, posted a powerful open letter about her experiences on the Internet. In this interview with Huffington Post, Emily discusses her decision to “stand up,” as well as her work with MTV’s Faking It — one of the first television programs to feature an intersex character. Read Emily’s original letter here.

Young wordsmith and trans person Alex used rap to share his story. Watch him work the mic below. (The lyrics to the rap are here.)

Leave us a comment and share how you have “stood up” in your life!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a vimana!

Shiv: Did you know that Indians invented the flying machine?

Gerard: I know that they didn’t.

Shiv: It’s in the Ramayana. Which I’m pretty sure predates your entire country. 

This weekend was a great opportunity to discover an insider’s take on the DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY — Aditi Kapil visited for a marathon day, including a pre-show chat with audience members. A fascinating part of the conversation was Aditi’s take on the Easter eggs connecting all the plays. She said that some were put in for her own amusement while others served as “big themes” that tied the plays’ worlds together. Aditi mentioned that she is often surprised about which Easter eggs audiences catch and that they have caught many that she had not consciously hidden throughout the plays.

As I watched SHIV with new eyes after listening to Aditi speak, a new Easter egg revealed itself. Though Bapu’s poetry, with its references to spaceships and aliens, seems futuristic, his work actually reflects a centuries’ old tradition of writing about vimanas — or “flying machines.” This “re-mythologizing” is a structural Easter egg for all three plays, but within them, the characters rewrite their history through the lens of the traditional myths of their culture. The emphasis on flying or traveling by fantastical means is also a neat example of a thematic Easter egg within a play. Bapu’s kites, the laundry line at the lake, the cosmic ocean, Shiv’s loot-powered ship — all these traversing objects help the characters explore the unknown land of their own desires.

The word “vimana” means “to measure out, or traverse” and the name was first used to mean a flying machine in the Ramayana, as Shiv boasts to Gerard. In the epic, Rama rightfully claims the vimana after defeating Ravana, who had previously stolen it from the demi-god Kuvera, who had received the vehicle as a gift from Brahma himself. The Ramayana states:

“The Pushpaka Vimana that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent Vimana going everywhere at will … that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky … and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere….”

In the epic, another vimana is described as “shaped like a sphere and born along at great speed on a mighty wind generated by mercury” and is able to move up, down, forwards, or backwards.

Ravana steals the vimana.

Vimana became a common term for the opulent, floating palaces of the gods as well as crafts made for a single man. Ancient Sanskrit texts unearthed in Tibet suggest that a man could fuel his own vimana using his inner power of laghima, or becoming light, to counteract gravity. These documents propose that using this power, men could visit distant planets.

Towards the nineteenth-century, as technology slowly began to catch up with dreams of flying, vimanas became even more futuristic, and their cylindrical and saucer-like shapes wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Star Trek. A man named Shivkar Bapuji Talpade described designing and flying a mercury-engine aircraft in 1895, though contemporary aeronautical engineers debate the veracity of his claim. Scholar William Clarendon translated Talpade’s blueprints for such an aircraft: ‘Inside the circular air frame, place the mercury-engine with its solar mercury boiler at the aircraft center. By means of the power latent in the heated mercury which sets the driving whirlwind in motion a man sitting inside may travel a great distance in a most marvelous manner. Four strong mercury containers must be built into the interior structure. When these have been heated by fire through solar or other sources the vimana (aircraft) develops thunder-power through the mercury.’

A vimana design from Shivkar Talpade’s book on aeronautics.

In his love of sci-fi, Bapu sees an escape from his disappointing life in Illinois; he uses the power of his imagination to visit distant planets, and, in teaching his daughter to fly kites and dream on the cosmic ocean, he gives her the same power to fly — even if there’s no mercury handy.

Check out Company One’s Events page soon for video of our talk with Aditi and stop by the Plaza to tell us what your vimana would look like.

Flying machines carved on the walls of temples dating back 3000 years ago.

Girls run the comics world

Despite the stigma that comic books are just for boys (or “old guys” and babies, as Beti and Meat say to the cop), female presence is up at popular events like Comic Con. Check out this article on Jezebel — based on the “real historical research” that Beti demands for her facts — discussing how comic books have changed to reflect a more equal and diverse readership. What I love most about this article is the quote from MS. MARVEL editor Sana Amanat that echoes what Aditi Kapil has previously discussed about her experiences as an adolescent reader of comics. Aditi will be in town today to chat with the dramaturgy team about DISPLACED HINDU GODS and catch a marathon of all three plays. Be sure to come and show your support!

For further reading look to Tasha Robinson’s great article on what makes a “strong female character” at The Dissolve as well as this site devoted entirely to female comic book lovers. (And hosting a Geek Girl Con next October! Maybe you’ll catch Meat and Beti there.)

Jean Grey

“She looks good because she’s all-powerful and can smite them with a thought.”

“Ain’t Nothing But A Cosmic Ocean….”

 

“… then a flash of light, and the cosmos unfolding, stars and planets and nebula ….”
— The Cop, THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI

 

What does the universe look like to you? A mobile of crystal spheres? A jester’s hat? The face of a blue-skinned god painted with blood-red lipstick? A fishbowl? A forbidden planet? And the heavier question — what is humanity’s place in it?

B., Shiv, Girls 1 and 2, and even tough-as-nails Kalki, all try to figure out their places in the world by looking to the cosmos. B. looks up to Galileo as a hero who refuses to believe that he is wrong about his convictions, while Shiv sails an sea made of stars to make sense of her past and take ownership of her future. Kalki — trapped in human form and longing for the cosmic ocean — shows the girls that the most awesome power comes from within oneself. She hangs out in Girl 2’s bedroom, decorated with ceiling-stuck glowstars, and compares it to sacred space: “Your room is deep. Your room is like where people go to pray. It’s a temple.” This theme of displacement is one of Aditi Kapil’s Easter eggs in the trilogy — almost none of the characters are sure of where they stand in a world that seems to demand the mathematical impossibility that all of us are #1.

Bapu and Shiv sail the cosmic ocean.

To feel displaced is to be human, Kapil seems to suggest, and Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by “astrovisualist” Michael Benson backs up the outsider feelings of B., Shiv, and Kalki’s girl crew with a millenia’s worth of evidence.  The book features artists’ and scientists’ renderings of the universe going back centuries, and this review by Maria Popova gives a sneak peak into some of the illustrations, as well as links to further reading about Galileo, William Blake, and the history of miracles. Be sure to check it out and see if your vision of the cosmos matches up to a seventeenth-century Italian’s!

One of the drawings from Cosmigraphics.

Brahman/i, meet Hari

B.’s not the only one who uses comedy to confront racial divides. Check out the New York Times profile on Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu.

Hari

“It’s cathartic for me to make people laugh because it means I’m not alone. Other people find this absurd as well.”

Citing Richard Pryor’s groundbreaking stand-up as inspiration, Kondabolu turns the pain of the past into laughter while riffing on post-colonialism, homosexuality in pop culture, and why America needs new superheroes. Or find out why Kondabolu is waiting for 2042 in his interview on NPR’s All Things Considered.

I think Brahman/i would admire Hari Kondabolu’s conviction. And that deserves a big “Heliocentrism!” salute!

Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation

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Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation is an exhibition currently running at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. — it showcases Indian-American culture, history and experiences. As reported by the BBC:

The curators from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center say it about the “history and contemporary experiences of Indian Americans as they have grown to be one of the more diverse and well-recognised communities in the United States”.

With a population of 2.8 million, Indian Americans are the third largest group among Asian Americans.

They are also among the wealthiest communities in the US, with a median annual household income of $88,000 (£52,900) compared with the national median of $49,800 (£29,900), according to one study.

And more than 70% of Indian American immigrants over 18 years of age speak English very well, compared with 53% of all Asian American immigrants.

The vast exhibition covers everything from Indian American food to yoga, engineers to cab drivers, and the LGBT community to hip hop.

In addition to the physical exhibit, the museum has also curated a fantastic digital collection that you can view from anywhere online, as well as a blog featuring interviews and insight from the artists and people involved with the project, and a collection of Indian American family portraits on Pinterest.

newyears2

There’s a lot of amazing context to explore – check it out!

These Ape Paintings Are Gangsta: The Mewar Ramayana

The Ramayana — “Rama’s journey” in Sanskrit — is one of the oldest written epics and a prominent pillar of Hindu literature and Desi culture. Most children grow up hearing tales of Prince Rama, either through books, comics, movies, or, like, B. in BRAHMAN/I, from relatives. The Ramayana is one of the Easter eggs in the DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY, and each play bears thematic links to the epic.

The Ramayana deals with the Hindu concept of duty, dharma, and, through the adventures of Prince Rama, readers or listeners learn how to behave virtuously and fulfill one’s duty. Rama himself is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, and thus displays the decorum and leadership expected of a warrior king, heroically defeating the ten-headed demon Ravana. The supporting characters include Sita, Rama’s devoted and faithful wife, Lakshmana; his loyal and brave brother, Hanuman; the Monkey King and Rama’s ally; and the hijras, who are rewarded for their fealty to Rama after waiting fourteen years in the forest for him to return from exile.

Each play in the trilogy either directly references or is inspired by Rama’s story. In BRAHMAN/I, B. resents identification with the “genetically stupid” hijras despite Auntie’s enthusiasm for them and instead prefers the “gangsta” Hanuman. But B.’s path to self-discovery includes fulfilling their duty to themselves and accepting that they are don’t have to fit into the dominant gender binary. B. casts their back-up musician J as Odysseus from the ancient Greek Odyssey, and at the end of the play, both characters have returned from a kind of outsider’s exile and learned to accept each other and themselves. Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu, struggles in THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI to come to terms with her present humanity and its attendant emotions that are an obstacle to fulfilling her duty to vanquish evil. She remembers her past incarnation as Rama and being “loved for doing so little.” Though SHIV’s direct reference to the Ramayana passes quickly (listen for the conversation about Vimanas — ancient flying machines), Shiv’s conflicting duties to honor the memory of her father while pursuing her own happiness reflect the Ramayana-inspired struggles with responsibilities in a world beyond binaries.

Aditi’s trilogy incorporates riffs on the Ramayana story, but hundreds of versions of the epic exist dating from the eleventh century to the present day for those wanting to read the original tale. One favorite we discovered is displayed online in the British Library’s virtual rare books exhibit. The Mewar Ramayana is a lavishly illustrated copy prepared for the Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled the western Indian kingdom of Mewar in the seventeenth-century and whose family traced their lineage back to Prince Rama and the sun god. A team of artists created the book for the king, and it features over 450 full-color illustrations. The British Library digitized the manuscript and has created a clickable folio that readers can browse through.

The Mewar Ramayana has Easter eggs of its own: multispectral imaging during the digitazation process revealed multiple layers to the paintings that show the techniques used by the artists, as well as revisions and corrections painted over later. Below are some scans of the battle between Rama’s army and Ravana and include a secret appearance by the Trimurti. Check out the rest here!

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The Shadow of the Mountain: Everest’s Impact on Identity

Mountain

In BRAHMAN/I and SHIV, the story of the forming of the Himalayas becomes an important totem in navigating the relationship between West and East, the “aliens” vs. the “explorers” as Bapu says. B uses comedy to explain Britain’s desire to colonize India and performs their own mockumentary of Brits with size issues attempting to build Stonehenge higher than the mountains; in SHIV, Bapu translates the history into sci-fi stories for his daughter, while the Professor has mythologized his upbringing in Britain-occupied India and proudly boasts of the family’s connection to Sir George Everest, the man who “discovered” Mount Everest.

From BRAHMAN/I:

B
Fast-forward to the conclusion back in London at the Royal Geographic Society, 1860.
(as Nasal British Lord): “Well. It’s now 1860, and we’ve measured and triangulated and re-triangulated and I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it. The highest peak in the world is in the Himalayan Mountains, sir!”
(Other British Lord) “Dammit! I really thought we gave them a run for it with Stonehenge! But since we can’t move the bloody thing, I say we name it.”
(British Lord 2) “Ooh! BRANDING!”
(Ditsy girl) “It’s just the [Best-est] EVERest!”

Stonehenge

From SHIV:

BAPU
Once upon a time, India was a spaceship floating across the universe. For centuries, none could tempt her away from her independence, until one day, her captain answered a distress call from a distant planet, and with a final thrust of her heavy pelvis, she crashed into The Planet Where Everything Is Forbidden. When she came to, she saw that a great mountain had formed in the impact. She was trapped in the wreckage.

PROFESSOR
The story, you remember the story. My father took me and my brothers, you must have heard the story … we went to see Mount Everest one summer, traveled by a car very similar to this fraudulent vehicle, there’s a distant family connection, not to the car, to Everest. Our name, Everett, comes from Everest, the man who named Mount Everest, some colonel in the British army, from what I hear never even saw the place….

 These differing narratives reflect the characters’ personal relationships to a fraught period in history and led to rehearsal questions about the facts surrounding the naming and “discovering” of Mount Everest. The mountain, located on the border between Nepal and southwest China, is 29,029 feet tall and grows taller by at least 4 millimeters every year due to shifting tectonic plates. Its name in Sanskrit and Nepali – Sagarmatha – translates to “goddess who sits on the mountain.”

The Professor is indeed correct that Colonel Sir George Everest never saw the mountain that bears his name. Everest, whose name was actually pronounced EVE-rest rather than EVER-est, took over the job of superintendent of England’s Great Trigonometric Survey in 1823 to finish the work of mapping India and its mountain ranges that had begun in 1806. Everest was later appointed as Surveyor General in 1830 and held the post until 1843. In this time, he made many improvements in the accuracy of instruments used to measure great heights. One of these instruments was called a theodolite and weighed over a ton, requiring at least twelve men to move it from place to place.

Theodolite

The Professor would love this miniature theodolite

 Illness forced Everest to leave India in 1843, and a man called Colonel Andrew Waugh took over the survey. Mount Everest was identified as the tallest peak in the world in 1852 based on the trigonometric calculations applied to the Survey’s measurements by Bangladeshi surveyor and mathematician Radhanath Sikdar.

George

Colonel Sir George Everest

George Everest was never happy that the mountain was named in his honor. He argued that “Everest” would be difficult for natives of India to pronounce and pointed out that the name could not be written in Hindi. However, Colonel Waugh, who had suggested naming the peak in his predecessor’s honor, insisted and cited the plethora of local names given to the mountain as a reason to give it a new name that didn’t favor a particular regional one. The Royal Geographical Society agreed and officially declared Everest as the mountain’s name in 1865.

Read the Royal Geographical Society’s accounts of the history of Everest here. The University of Michigan has a great online exhibit and gallery about the Great Trigonometric Survey and history of mapmaking in India.

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Backstage Sneak Peek: The Loot

As we head out of standard rehearsals and towards tech, we’re beginning to layer in more props and elements of “magic” into our work, as the designers refine them. Recently, we added Shiv’s pile of loot, assembled by Props Designer Liz Panneton, to the mix. Over the course of the play, Shiv’s raft/bed accumulates the detritus of her past: symbols of the psychic residue of post-colonialism, and an inheritance from her father. The trick is that each item is free-standing, and has to be balanced and constructed into a solid towering pile.

How do we do this?

With a loot map, of course.

loot map

(Some items are placeholders, but each gets added to the pile in the order that it’s numbered.)

Now just imagine it taller, and a lot shinier.