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!

“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.

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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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Khajuraho, Temple of Love

BRAHMAN:

That’s right. Where right wing politics, wimpy school districts, and squeamish parents fail their teenage constituency daily, the loud embarrassing relative with the South Asian art history textbook comes through!

(Auntie) “Khajuraho! The Temple of Love!”

I would now like to share with you a few of the more memorable illustrations.

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Khajuraho, sometimes referred to as the Kamasutra Temple or Temple of Love, is actually a group of monuments spread over about 20 square kilometers in the northeastern part of Madhya Pradesh, within the Vindhya mountain range of central India. It is a major tourist and archaeological site, as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. Khajuraho is renowned for its intricately sculptured temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Jain deities, and for the sexually explicit carvings that make up about 10% of the temple art. The temples are divided into three sections or zones – western, eastern and southern. The western complex is the largest of the three and comprises the most popular temples.

Most of the Khajuraho temples were built during the Chandela dynasty between 950 and 1050 AD and were in active use through the end of 12th century. This changed in the 13th century, after the army of Delhi Sultanate, under the command of the Muslim Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak, attacked and seized the Chandela kingdom. The region remained under the control of various Muslim dynasties from 13th century through the 18th century, and during this period, several temples were desecrated and many others left in neglect. Of the surviving temples, six are dedicated to Shiva and his consorts, eight to Vishnu and his affinities, one to Ganesha, one to Sun god, and three to Jain Tirthanks.

Upping the Aunty

Brahmani:

Ladies and gentlemen, my Auntie.
Eating pistachios, sitting criss cross apple sauce on my outer space bedspread, sorting discarded shells onto planets, like that’s going to contain the mess.
I sorted my scraps onto the milky way, where it was harder to see them.

Auntie sitting cross-legged in a sari, who knew that was possible? This young Jedi has much to learn.

The character of Auntie plays a big role in Brahman/i. She serves as a sort of mentor for B, helping them navigate family history, Indian mythology, and their developing self-identity.

NPR’s Code Switch recently featured Upping the Aunty, a mixed media portrait project by artist Meera Sethi that celebrates the South Asian “aunty”. From Sethi’s website:

In South Asian culture, an aunty may or may not be a biological relation. She may be a friend of the family or a stranger. But if she is older than you – old enough to be your mother’s friend – then she is accorded the status of aunty. Neither our mothers nor part of our peer group, aunties may be trusted confidantes or gatekeepers of social decorum.

There are many aunties, and we may meet them every week, occasionally or only once; however they have a considerable impact on our lives. In jest, we may fondly mimic their gold and diamond studded hand gestures or their pairing of traditional clothing with running shoes. This mimicry is a form of distancing, while simultaneously drawing attention to cultural traditions that may continue unbroken, be discarded, or are transformed.

Upping the Aunty will honour this unique relationship through portraiture by paying homage to the fabulousness of aunty style and the importance of their role as transmitters of social and cultural knowledge and practices.

Here are just a few images from the project featured on Code Switch — do any of these ladies remind you of B’s Auntie?

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Sunita Aunty

 

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Gunalaxsmi Aunty

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Shoba Aunty

More images from the project can be found on Tumblr and Instagram at #uppingtheaunty.