Category Archives: Culture

Steampunk Hands Around the World! Steampunk Road Trip. Grasping February’s coattails on the way out.

(Art by Alex Xpike)

Steampunk Hands Around the World is a recurring event in the Steampunkverse. I’ve had the pleasure of being involved since its early beginnings, though my contributions in the past few years have been erratic at best! The project is something I will always champion, since what drives Airship Ambassador Kevin Steil’s initiative is global connection and friendship.

He believes there is a need to unify Steampunks everywhere. Whether they are writers, crafters, bands, event organisers, alcohol manufacturers, diversity warriors, costumiers or simply lovers of the genre who express their enjoyment by attending events and gatherings, his wish is to tie them all closer together and break any walls that stand between different articulations of the genre. It certainly helps towards the ‘More Steampunk Than Thou’ syndrome that can still prevail sometimes, though much less so than when I first became more active and vocal.

I love meeting people, I always have. Steampunk has facilitated some friendships I absolutely never would have had and they cross other interests of mine, too. I made friends with Steampunks who are also pagans, Steampunk who are also musicians, Steampunks who also write across other genres, Steampunks who are also filmmakers, the list goes on.

Some of these friendships could be laid down on a map as a digital road trip, as I have yet to meet some of them in person.

It is a real feature of the modern age that we can sustain a friendship and grow close without physical proximity.

I’ve had some real life-wrenching, air-punching, joy-affirming, sorrow-sharing Skype and Facetime conversations. I’ve exchanged heart secrets via WhatsApp. (Probably foolish, actually considering no data is safe.) But it is a sharing across boundries, visible and invisible that is reflected in the idea behind Steampunk Hands.

When you end up getting closer, it does become an urge to meet up in person, something I try to do whenever possible.

Last year, I finally had the thorough delight to meet up with Diana Pho and her newly wedded partner Ashley.

When I first launched Steampunk India in 2012, Diana was one of the first people to express her enthusiasm and support. She kindly signal boosted articles and posts on Beyond Victoriana to help bring SP India to a wider audience. An online friendship grew through a raft of other mutual interests across fiction, comics, theatre, movies and being vocal for inclusion in various pop culture/alternative communities and LGBTQ representation.

So there we finally were, at one of my favourite Edinburgh haunts – Treacle on Broughton Street, loved by me for their inventive cocktails and the TV screen near the door that plays Thundercats episodes on an endless silent loop. Tipples of choice in hand, we chatted nineteen to the dozen about all these things we were passionate about and our most recent and current projects. It was short but sweet, she and Ashley were taking full advantage of the fact they were in town during the Fringe and had a show to catch. But these moments where lives touch, in this case lives that mostly play out continents apart, is exactly what the joining of Steampunk Hands is about.

Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana (Right)

An armchair Steampunk road trip of sorts took place over the past two years or so. Josué Ramos and Paulo César Ramirez Villaseñor, as a direct result of connections made through Steampunk Hands, came up with the idea for a bilingual Steampunk anthology that would include writers from all over the world. It was homeless for a while until it found a publisher in Luna Press.

I covered this publishing journey in previous articles so I shan’t rattle on about it at length again. It deserves a mention as an example of a Steampunk collaboration that joined people together, who had become friends during past Steampunk Hands events and who, besides writing the fiction and creating the artwork, became mutually invested in the technical side of getting the book to see the light of day.

(Night train from Kolkata to Assam. ©️Suna Dasi)

At the beginning of this year, I was in India (which deserves a whole article in itself – if I manage to sit still for more than half an hour at some point) and could not let the opportunity slip for another joining of Steampunk Hands: Shreya Ila Anasuya is an award winning writer, academic and activist who currently lives in Mumbai. Those very worthy features are not the things that connected us at first, some five or six years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure the very first thing we did together was fangirl online at each other about the Steampunk/Lovecraftian joy that is Hopeless, Maine, which I enthused about on the SP India Facebook page when it came out as a serialised online comic. We ended up chatting in the comments thread and have been corresponding ever since.

(Hopeless, Maine. ©️Tom & Nimue Brown)

A lovely addendum is that Tom and Nimue Brown, the creator couple who draw and write the comic together, also became friends in more than one way, though we have so far not met face to face. I occasionally exchange ideas and thoughts on various strands of witchcraft and paganism with Nimue, which is always fascinating as we both come from extremely different schools of thought and practice. Tom happily boosts all music projects I’m involved in and literally cheers from the sidelines when I sell a new piece of writing. They’re both just lovely and part of a minute group of people whom I would meet without hesitation after having known them previously online. Fingers crossed that will happen in the near future. But I digress down a sidetrack on this road trip…

Back to Mumbai; sweltering, blistering Mumbai, even in January. Shreya meets my travel companions and I in Versova Social, a bar that so utterly exudes the same wonderful vibe as De Kroon in Amsterdam that it’s uncanny.

And there we finally were, at Versova, now forever loved by me for it’s great ambiance, inventive cocktails and perfect lounge music. Tipples of choice in hand, we chatted nineteen to the dozen about all the things we were passionate about: poetry, books, queer activism and representation in Indian society, people we admired, writing projects we were involved in.

The best thing about this meeting was that there was more time; as all of our conversations ended up being unfinished business by the end of the night, we met up again the next evening and simply continued. There is even a joint fiction project in the works for the near future!

Shreya Ila Anasuya (Left)

India itself was a true road trip, too, and very often Victoriana and the modern clung chaotically together like a messy, jungly, Victorian/Blade Runner mashup.

(Kolkata, ©️Suna Dasi)

One of the things that struck me is the fact that it isn’t merely a small effort to imagine yourself back in the days of the Raj, but that your surroundings will accommodate you with ease.

(Yep, that’s me! ©️Suna Dasi)

Everywhere, traces of the colonial empire persist, in the architecture and infrastructure on first glance, in the culture when probing further and deeper under the skin of Indians and Indian-ness. It’s not so much what Indian culture has lost (which is much, if you consider for example that it was the Victorians who introduced a form of prudery and lack of acceptance regarding sex and sexuality that was hitherto not part of the Hindu mindset – also food for an individual article later down the line), but what it has retained. Indians are obsessed with giving out cards, for instance. It is a leftover from leaving calling cards when going visiting and it is seen as a mark of sophistication to have your own cards.

(Victorian lamppost, Juhu Beach, Mumba. ©️Suna Dasi)

This impromptu article was cobbled together in haste, to be able to contribute to Steampunk Hands Around the World before February 2018 turns into a pumpkin at midnight. I have neither expressed myself as well as I’d like, nor included everything relevant to the concept of a Steampunk Roadtrip. The main thrust however, is this:

Journeys are made more meaningful by the people and places you connect with. The more people and places you connect with, the richer your experience of the world and the more likely we are to have a greater understanding of it. The Steampunk Hands initiative insists that boundaries are there to be crossed, cultural walls to be scaled and continental distances to be covered, in order to make those connections.

So if you find yourself with an opportunity of meeting someone you might otherwise not be able to, for reasons of distance, circumstance or what have you, do it. Enjoy the chance of sitting in a favourite haunt, tipple of choice in hand, chatting nineteen to the dozen, sharing the things that drive you and stir your passions. Keep travelling.

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Filed under Books, Comics, Culture, Diversity, Events, India, Steampunk, Steampunk Hands, Steampunk Hands Around The World, Victorian, Victoriana, Writing

2018: Steampunk, SpecFic, Music and more!

Happy New Year!

Seldom do I post (for regular updates Twitter is best), yet now I have many excitements to impart. Please make like the tiny turtles in Finding Nemo and scooch together, my kind followers.

2017 ended on a high note with big gig conformations for Erin Bennett: Planet Rock’s Winter’s End Festival, (we play on Sat 24/02) plus Hawkwind’s Hawkeaster Happening, in Morecambe. Krow, too, has an epic gig confirmed – announcement coming soon! New album releases are pending for both. (For those of you who followed this blog fairly recently; I sing backing vox in both bands, which is how I make a living. I write in the gaps.) The Cherry on the Christmas Cake: invites for contributions to two new anthologies & a speculative poem for a third.

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2018 started with a bang because oh, my goodnes; My short story ‘Unmade‘ (featured in Steampunk Writers Around the World) has been nominated for a BSFA by the British Science Fiction Association! Many congratulations to all fellow nominees & my open minded publishers at Luna Press Edinburgh.

For the full list of nominees in all categories, see the BSFA website.

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Steampunk India Interview in DESIblitz Magazine

The Steampunk Universe anthology, edited by Sarah Hans, is gaining momentum; more news to follow very soon!

Meanwhile, I spoke to Fatima Farah of Indian magazine DESIblitz about my background and what inspires me when writing inclusive Victoriana fiction: Suna Dasi Talks Short Stories and Steampunk India 

 

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Other Projects: PandoraFest!

Beside Steampunk India and singing with Erin Bennett (my ‘day job’) , I am a founder of female positive music festival Pandora Fest. In the spirit of signal boosting on all frequencies, here is a recent article on the event by music blog Drunken Werewolf.

(Image: Erin Bennett & The EB Band (ft. Anna Fraser on drums and myslf on backing vox)

The festival has its inaugural launch next month, on July 16th in Scotland and features a great variety of artists and genres. There is opportunity to camp, glamp, browse the market stall, eat, drink and be merry! Everyone is welcome!

Though not strictly Steampunk related, the event certainly hits the independently minded, DIY button…And of course, if you are based in UK, perhaps you might like to attend..

Coming soon: news on the two publications that will feature Steampunk India short stories this year.

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Truancy Issue 2 Release 

It was a true pleasure to be part of the Roundtable: Intersections between South Asian Folklore, Myth and Lived Experience feature in Truancy Issue 2.
  
The questions and answers begetting more questions and answers provided challenging, wonderful food for thought. It was fascinating, moving and inspiring to read my fellow participants’ replies. Some of the resultant ponderings and conclusions didn’t make it into the (already blissfully long) article. These were the more personal ideas regarding diaspora, identity and place, coupled with the perceived legacy of folklore, myth and legends from various cultures that, for me, ended in the following.

Though I am nostalgic for something unexperienced when I yearn for being part of Indian culture in a way that was denied to me when I came into the world, I am simultaneously very aware that this is a type of… romantic affectation. 

There is no conflict of identity. I am very happily myself. Or rather; it has been my privilege to have had the space to become so, by trial and error, through joys and woes. That is solely the result of growing up with the cultural freedoms I enjoyed. Had I been born and raised within my own culture, bound by what I know to be the stifling constraints of my heritage, I would most certainly not have been able to become a touring singer, nor an all out, woman-loving equality activist, embodying nothing resembling religion, though you could argue I have an abiding, possibly worshipful wonder for science and nature. As a friend affectionately said once: You are a Sagan pagan. I’ll take that.

I adore being a fusion of cultures, a true citizen of the world – much overused as the term is. While I may not speak much Hindi at all, I speak three languages comfortably and a further two adequately. This roundtable, while actually being about folklore and inherited myths, has been excellent for crystallising some thoughts that have been swimming in the bottom of my mind like little blind fishes. I have long wondered whether all this superimposed angst of cultural belonging, or the judgment from people both Western and of countries you are ‘really from’ (recognise that question anyone? Folk always seem dissatisfied when I say The Netherlands!) may partly be a strange type of jealousy. Why not have it all? Why not have cake and eat it? 

Why not?

Nothing has been taken from me in that respect, rather a melding of cultures that has given my life that many more dimensions. Including the rich veins of mythology, fairy tales and folklore from more worlds than just one. I hope the roundtable gives insight and enjoyment of the different minds and backgrounds coming at those questions.

Plus, this issue contains wonderful fiction and artwork. Enjoy!   

 

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Season’s Greetings from Steampunk India

Christmas is close, how lovely! It’s nearly time to wrap up for the holidays. 

The last deadline of the year is looming: an article about Indian Steampunk for the next edition of SciFi Romance Quarterly. 2016 will see the release of the Steampunk Universe anthology edited by Sarah Hans, featuring my latest story, Internal Devices. I will be contributing to The SciFi and Fantasy Network and am excited about my involvement in a writing project instigated by fellow Steampunk Hands Around the World participants, which has been brewing for some time. February will of course see the 2016 edition of Steampunk Hands Around the World itself: the annual global effort to connect as many people across as many cultures through Steampunk as possible by local events, blog tours, themed articles, exclusive artwork and interviews and much more. Keep a weather eye on the Airship Ambassador’s site for details.

Work is ever ongoing for the Steampunk India-verse itself; short stories – and ,eventually, a book – are mapped out. I will delve into other genre writings as well as ongoing music projects. I will continue to work towards gender -and LGBTI equality in all creative industries

So please, keep your aural induction oscillators tuned to the aether, thank you for your support and enjoy the festive season, however you may celebrate! 

Merry Days from Suna Dasi.  

 

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In Pictures: Indian Women through the Ages’

An extremely evocative cross section of Delhi’s photography exhibition ‘Indian Women through the Ages’, taken between the 1850s and 1950s, is available on the BBC website .

The image below shows a Muslim dancing girl, taken in 1900. I can only wish the full range of pictures are available online or at least in a book of the exhibition.


So many Victorian writings and imagery from the Raj focus on the men of the culture. It was partly because of selective and biased writing, though there was a plethora of intrepid British women travellers who broke with convention by going into the Deep Interior by themselves and writing about their experiences. It was also common for Western photographers to not be allowed entrance in women’s quarters, daily affairs or sections of a household.

Fred Bremner, another famous Victorian photographer from Scotland, captured hundreds of people and daily Indian situations. Some of these were on display in a Scottish National Portrait Gallery exhibition ‘From Lucknow to Lahore’ in 2012-2013. They were fascinating, but it was his wife who let into several courts and zenannas to take images of the women and there was only one photograph taken by her in the exhibit. My keenest wish is for all of Mrs. Bremner’s photographs to become available one day!

 The Begum of Bhopal, photographed by Bremner’s wife, as featured on the Portrait Gallery’s exhibition poster.
From the ‘Picturing India with Bremner’ article on the Traveller’s India website: “Fred Bremner married around 1902, and his wife — he does not disclose her name — ‘gifted with good taste, was greatly interested in the art of photography and gave every attention to reception room duties as well as applying her hand to use of the camera on the occasion of photographing a Purdah [i.e. ‘behind-the-veil’ lady whose face… men are not allowed to look upon’. She even assisted Bremner in photographing noblewomen. ‘The Begum of Bhopal was visiting Simla and Her Highness expressed a wish to Mrs. Bremner that she would like some photographs of herself to be taken at Bhopal. All arrangements were made and during the summer… we found our way to Bhopal, which was a long and somewhat weary journey from Simla. However, all went well, resulting in my wife securing some photographs of Her Highness in State dress which gave her every satisfaction’. Bremner also noted that ‘on several other occasions Mrs. Bremner had the pleasure of photographing Indian ladies of the Harem’. “

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Priya’s Shakti: Comics, Justice and the Indian Way Part I – Interview with Ram Devineni by Suna Dasi

  
The brutal Delhi gang rape and subsequent death of the victim in December 2012 shocked the world. More importantly, it rocked India to its core, with outraged people taking to the streets, demanding better urban safety and an improved judicial system for rape victims everywhere in India. This is an ongoing issue that has yet to see full success, but slow progress has been made.

It is not easy to nudge a certain mode of cultural thinking that results in women drawing the shirtest legal and social straw into different channels. 

I have personal experience with this kind of crime and so have most of my female friends and loved ones, one way or another. I have on occasion used the resources of my work in support of organisations who work tirelessly towards making a difference. On a purely voluntary basis, Art Attack Films has created corporate films for Rape Crisis Centres and local police instruction in Scotland, to further better understanding and approach towards rape victims when they come forward to report their experience. The films were shot with both English and Polish actors; several organisations use them in their work with Romany travellers. One of Edinburgh’s largest universities used the films to encourage debate on the subject among their students.

Then, in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape, which I had followed with horror and grief, the Priya’s Shakti campaign gained global traction in 2014. This unusual, creative and passionate initiative to create awareness through an interactive comic deeply moved and intrigued me.

  
(The Blippar App enables supporters of Priya’s Shakti to creatively show their solidarity.)

As an avid comic reader, I know what a great platform for social commentary and political satire it can be, not to mention how solace can be found in them if one feels different, alien and lonely outside the expected cultural norm. Many of Chris Claremont’s X-Men narratives saved my own teenage sanity for this exact reason. Looking further, Pat Mill’s Charlie’s War and Marshall Law, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and lesser known comics like 2000AD serials Bratz Bizarre and Finn instantly spring to mind.

Those not into comics would and do not particularly associate them with addressing societal wrongs. While comics are becoming more and more part of the cultural mainstream as a way to create our modern day mythologies, it is still one of the last bastions where one can get away with truly subversive and status quo challenging subject matter, where other fictional genres are beginning to creak under the increasing weight of politically correct sanitation.

It’s less dangerous when it’s drawn, right?

Read the FULL ARTICLE on the SciFi and Fantasy Network:

http://www.scififantasynetwork.com/priyas-shakti-comics-justice-and-the-indian-way-part-i/ 

  

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