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.

Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 5.19.48 PM

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 Power of Pisces

COP
Ok, and, here’s a question, does the fish ever look up? Rather than side to side, you know?
GIRL 1
What are you even talking about?
COP
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.

Pisces

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.

Goldfish

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.

Matsya

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.

BAPU
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.

Illuminated Woman

A Bollywood Education

KALKI
This is your Bollywood education, I’m not repeating myself, so pay attention. – Ok, her. She’s crying cuz she loves him so much. See how she really really means it? With her whole face.

GIRL 1
Now they’re just staring at each other. I mean really, just staring.

KALKI
Look at all those feelings. They’re feeling all over the screen, it’s like slick with it! Mmmmmmmmmmm-

bolly

Bollywood is the Hindi language film industry based in Mumbai, India. The term is a portmanteau of Bombay (the former name for Mumbai) and Hollywood, though unlike Hollywood, Bollywood does not exist as a physical place.

The plots of Bollywood movies are usually melodramatic, featuring familiar tropes of star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, siblings separated by fate, and dramatic reversals of fortune.

Bollywood films are known for their elaborate dance sequences and musical numbers, and have developed their own signature style of song and dance that combines classical and folk dances from India with more modern elements of jazz, hip hop, Arabic, and Latin dance forms. It is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in a Bollywood film. Songs typically comment on the action that is taking place in the movie. Sometimes a song is worked into the plot so that a character has a reason to sing, or a song is an externalization of a character’s thoughts.

Check out this YouTube playlist of Bollywood clips to get a sense of the typical tropes and aesthetic of the genre:

How Police Interrogation Works

Last week, the Stuff You Should Know podcast released an episode about police interrogation. It gives some historical background on interrogation techniques, and provides context for some interrogation tactics that the Cop would know about, even if he chooses not to use them all while questioning the two girls. Questions about how forthright the Cop is with the girls, and what information he is withholding, have come up in rehearsal and are also addressed in the podcast.  You can check it out here!

The New Yorker article mentioned at the top of the show, “The Interview” by Douglas Starr, provides an ever deeper look into the subject and can be read online here.

Illustration by Leo Espinosa for The New Yorker,

The Reid Technique has influenced nearly every aspect of modern police interrogations. Illustration by Leo Espinosa for The New Yorker.

 

Becoming a Warrior: The Ramayana and Kalki Connection

KALKI

If you stay within this circle you’ll be safe.

If you leave the circle, nothing will ever be the same.

Young girls have a long literary heritage cast as damsels and victims. Fairy tale culture primes young girls to aspire to be the untouchable princess in the tower, waiting for the prince to rescue them from monsters, evil hags, and the presumable boredom that comes with being locked up in a castle for years. But as Girl 2 says, she hates waiting, and Aditi Kapil subverts the damsel-in-distress trope when bad-ass avatar of Vishnu Kalki rises out of the football field to vanquish adolescent evil in the guise of a high-school girl.

Both Girl 1 and 2 chafe at the powerlessness of being unpopular and mired in the high school hate machine. Kalki answers the girls’ need, tempting them with empowerment, and offering each the chance to take control of her identity and sexuality and become a warrior.

Prince Rama, one of the most popular Hindu icons and widely considered to be the ideal man.

Prince Rama, hero of the Ramayana and one of the most popular Hindu icons.

Kalki knows a thing or two about being a warrior – the beloved Prince Rama, like Kalki, is also an avatar of Vishnu and a powerful fighter. Both he and Kalki are incarnations of the same god, and Kalki even shares a memory with the girls about her time as Rama:

…The worst is when I’m human. I don’t like being human. Why do there have to be so many mistakes? I was a prince once. To be loved so much for doing so little. For being so flawed. It hurts.

The story of Prince Rama, as well as his lover Sita, is detailed in the Ramayana, one of the great epics of Hindu literature. In Brahman/i, B gives us a tongue-in-cheek version of the tale:

Bullet-point recap of the Ramayana:

Horrible ten-headed demon tries to take over the world!

Vishnu sends avatar in form of super-noble Prince Rama to save world!

Romantic comedy side-plot: Rama and Sita fall in love and get hitched, woohoo!

Oh no, Rama is banished due to horrible conniving second wife of clueless Dad!

Rama and Sita go to live in the forest … sudden segue into action flick: Sita is kidnapped by demon! Rama and side-kicks kick Demon ass, and Sita is rescued, woohoo! They return to Ayodhya as heroes!

I mean this story is like epic summer blockbuster awesome, I’m loving this shit!

Between Rama’s banishment and the action adventure that follows, Lakshman (his brother and side-kick) tries to keep Sita safe while he and Rama are hunting by drawing a circle around her that will prevent her from being harmed. The disguised demon tricks her out of the circle and holds her hostage in his lair. Rama rescues her but is not convinced that Sita has been faithful, so she is commanded to walk through a circle of fire to confirm her innocence. She does so, and remains untouched by the fire, proving herself so pure that not even a single flower petal in her hair was wilted by the heat of the flames. All’s well that ends well.

Rama and Sita

Rama and Sita

Aspects of this section of the Ramayana show up when Kalki corners Girl 2 in the library. In the sunny bower of books, she offers Girl 2 peacefulness and safety – a chance to stay in the circle and remain protected by a prince’s arrow as beasts lurk outside in the schoolyard. However, Girl 2 decides to step outside of the circle, choosing to take action rather than live a passive existence.

Girl 1 embodies another aspect of the Sita story – the trial by fire. Girl 1’s circle of fire takes the form of a mortifying incident in the schoolyard, as she’s surrounded by a ring of classmates pointing and laughing at her. This moment of humiliation purifies her, and is a test that serves as an important rite of passage.

sita_agni

Sita in the circle of fire

In the play’s final moments, the girls stand united and powerful, now fully capable of saving themselves, while Kalki goes off to slay other demons. Kapil has created a contemporary Ramayana where girls can kick butt and vanquish evil without needing a male hero to rescue them at the end of the day.

PS: Another aspect of the Ramayana also connects with Brahman/i: when Rama and Sita returned home, they found the hijras waiting for them in the grove at the edge of the forest – they had waited fourteen years for the prince to return!

You can read the full story of the Ramayana at this link.  The story of the Sita’s abduction is in Canto III. A condensed version of the story is also available here.