An epic buy

My trip to the San Francisco book lovers’ mecca known as Green Apple had set my head spinning. The cashier had already rung up my and Marlon’s armfuls of books, second-hand and new alike, but that didn’t stop us from heading back into the aisles. Unadulterated book lust had seized me and dragged Marlon’s wallet into a blazing inferno with me in the process — and guilt was starting to set in.

I had gotten to the point where, while waiting for Chris to finish browsing through cookbooks, I plopped down on a small wooden stool facing a corner and kept my eyes glued to the floor JUST SO I WOULDN’T SEE ANYTHING MORE TO BUY. Finally Chris finished his browsing, and we made our way through the aisles towards the exit.

And then I saw it. A single word that jumped out at me from my childhood. A beat later, the art on the cover registered and I knew I couldn’t leave without having it.

The Ramayana.

One of the most vivid memories I have of visiting India as a child was reading Amar Chitra Katha’s comic book adaptation of the epic Ramayana, widely believed to be the first poetic work ever written in Sanskrit. My relatives gave the comic to me and my sister along with a compilation of stories about King Vikram and the vampire spirit Betal. I must have read it countless times growing up; I know the whole story of the Ramayana by heart. 

(Image via Amar Chitra Katha)

The comic must have been written sometime in the sixties, and thinking back the writing was really old-fashioned. The characters always addressed each other as “O Rama!” or “O Sita!” and if you look at Sita on the cover with her ample curves and moon-shaped face, you’ll see a very traditional ideal of Indian femininity. I always found it strange that Rama was blue, and it was only fairly recently that I found out that was because Rama was believed to be an avatar of the god Vishnu, who was also blue.

But do you think any of that mattered? Nope. I loved all the characters: strong and handsome Rama, loving and beautiful Sita, evil twelve-headed demon king Ravana (it must have been a real b*tch every time the artist had to draw all those heads!), loyal brother Lakshmana, powerful and mischievous prince of monkeys Hanuman, even the power-hungry and cunning Queen Mother Kaikeyi. I loved them and all the absurd and wonderful things that they did.

(Images via Sepia Mutiny)

Naturally when the extravagant musical Rama at Sita was staged at UP Theater in 1999, I was obsessed with it. I remember saving a spread from the newspaper that showed the stellar cast in their amazingly crafted costumes and makeup. I would look at it over and over again, marveling over this decadent reunion with old friends, over this marriage of the two halves of me: an Indian story captured by Filipino artistry. 

(Image via Gibbs Cadiz)

I’ve thought back to the Ramayana comics now and then, with the vague hope that I can still find a copy someday to hand down to my kids someday. Although my kids will only be a quarter Indian, I still want them to learn about it; for all the little I learned about my Indian side, it’s always been a tremendous source of pride for me. 

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to find a beautiful reimagining of this (heretofore fairly obscure) childhood favorite, in San Francisco of all places. This particular retelling is illustrated by Pixar artist Sanjay Patel, which makes it all the more fantastic. 

The hero, Lord Rama

His nemesis Ravana

His ally, Hanuman the monkey god

And the center of the conflict, his consort Sita

Consort! I mean who uses that word anymore? The comic always used to refer to Sita as Rama’s consort, not his wife, woman or spouse, and it’s idiosyncracies like these that have stuck with me. 

I’ll have to wait a little longer to pore over these beautifully illustrated pages. Marlon is reading it now, and it feels wonderful to introduce him to the characters who may have new faces, but are still the same old friends to me.
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Coming home by the numbers

19.9 kilos in checked-in baggage (up from 16 kilos at start of trip)
13.1 kilos in hand-carried baggage (from 0 kilos at start of trip)
2 checked-in suitcases (up from 1 at start of trip)
16 hours of flying
1 movie

4 hours’ layover in Hong Kong

1 cup of coffee
1 chocolate toffee cookie
1 day lost
9 degrees warmer
1 love-starved cat
3 consecutive liters of water
1 12-pound Le Creuset enameled cast-iron Dutch oven
1 art print
2 funky lunchboxes from the MoMA store
2 new notebooks
2 Alcatraz tin cups
2 new pairs of Nine West sandals
2 vintage maxi dresses
3 pairs of leather boots (1 unused Calvin Klein in pristine condition)
3 bottles of wine (1 red, 1 white, 1 dessert)
1 wedge of Mediterranean-flavored jack cheese
6 small bags of Ghirardelli chocolate, as pasalubong
1 new Kenneth Cole bag

1 kilo of clean laundry (thanks JD!)

1 slightly squashed lemon layer cake, packed in a Tupperware (thanks Chris!)
1 extra-large found acorn
1 three-dimensional letter “D” (do not ask)
12 new books (includes used books from second-hand bookstores)
2,408 digital photos
8 o’clock bedtime
2 Bay Area-lovesick travelers
unmentionable amount of pounds around the middle
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Dear Bay Area

You know, you remind me a lot of someone I know: Europe. But with outlets.

And sinful diner food like cinnamon rolls dipped into egg batter, fried up as French toast and served with icing sugar, whipped butter and maple syrup, a breakfast that is so ridiculously decadent it could only be an American invention.

But it’s French toast anyway so that’s Continental too right? Yes, I thought you would agree. Then there’s the wine and the cheese and the artisanal chocolate and the weather…

Can the husband and I live here? Please? Our friends would absolutely love it. I’m asking for them too, you know. So you know I’m not being selfish.

Just let me know. Kthxbye.


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