Tag Archives: Victorian

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

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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For Steampunk Hands 2015: The Raj Revised: Steampunking History

Pyjamas. Shampoo. Candy. Doolally. Loot. Bungalow. Cushy. Junk.
These words are all part of daily English speech. (Doolally being a personal favourite.)
They wouldn’t have been part of the English language had they not been assimilated during the British presence in India during the 1900s.

It’s a perfect way to detect how interwoven the two cultures are. The impact of the Raj is a ripple in the global historical pond that hasn’t stilled to this day.
India, the Jewel in the British Crown, the spice in the English economy, the Empire its Empress never set foot in. This is where Steampunk India comes in.
Steampunk is partly based on an avid love of history. Many Steampunks pride themselves on incorporating historically accurate aspects of the Victorian Era in their costuming, events or building projects.The genre has come quite a way from being mostly Western-centric, with costumes that only reflect the fashions of London society during a certain period, with personas and narratives that are predominantly culturally relevant to Caucasian participants.

More than most creative genres, Steampunk is placed to be truly multicultural, truly inclusive.
I have a fascination for the Victorian Era, a love for maritime history, and direct hereditary ties to the exploits of the British East India Trading Company. As a result I have an avid wish to see more India in Steampunk.
In particular more Indian India, as it were.
In general I want more of Africa, of China, Malaysia, Borneo, Argentina and other non-Western countries, specifically expressions of and representations by the people of each nation. Women, people of all colours, LGBT folk; it is deeply important to further a more egalitarian expression of race and gender, both within the context of events and performance and by authors of diverse heritage and persuasions.

The photo collage below forms an example of where Steampunk inspiration could be found. All these images are from the late 1800s – early 1900s. Clockwise starting top Right: An Indonesian Sarong Weaver. A Malaysian woman in Nonya attire. A young Berber from Tunisia. Araucanian Indians and gauchos, Chile. A young girl, Borneo, possibly from the Kayan tribe.


Collaborating with others for multiculturalism is vital.
One such collaboration took place last year. I was involved in two events for The Clockwork Watch Transmedia Project created by Yomi Ayeni. Through comics, interactive events and a website featuring a fictional Gazette of the world, Yomi has created a Steampunk milieu where Indian culture plays a more prominent role.*

(From Clockwork Watch: The Arrival by Yomi Ayeni & Corey Brotherson. Artwork: Jennie Gyllblad.)

As part of the year-long celebration of the 300th anniversary of Longitude in 2014, the Royal Museums in Greenwich organised two interactive events, featuring some of the characters from the Clockwork Watch comics: I played the role of Tinku Ranbir, wife of eminent Indian scientist Chan.
The second event, titled ‘Clocking Off Late’, featured a piece called ‘The Tinku Diaries‘. Tinku’s character occupied the floor of the Maritime Museum that houses the permanent exhibition ‘Traders: The East India Company and Asia’. Visitors to the gallery were introduced to Tinku and instantly submerged into the Clockwork Watch story which merged with the actual history of our world. Artist and musician Ziazan played a mischievous spirit, flitting in and out of the narrative, introducing the public to elements of the created world.
A selection of diary entries scattered around the displays for visitors to find were protectively snatched from them by Tinku’s companion,Thomas, (played by Philip Whiteman) coiling tight the spring of mystery and intrigue that winds the Clockwork Watch.

(Left: Ziazan carrying a special edition of the Clockwork Watch book. Right to Bottom: Tinku at her desk. A diary extract featured in the fictional London Gazette on the Clockwork Watch Site. Tinku speaks to a museum visitor whilst Thomas looks on, ready to usher the lady away should things get too personal.)

Yomi’s request to create the diaries as an original composition of my own allowed free reign to show an intimate glimpse of Tinku’s mind and experiences. Tinku’s predicament became very immediate to me during this creative process; an Indian woman in a Western environment, trying to carve out a meaningful place for herself while preserving her own values and integrity.
Her diary was also the perfect vehicle to include titbits from the East India Company history and acquaint visitors with a deeper look under the surface. I further incorporated some of the artifacts and paintings that are permanent features of the exhibit, in order to mix fiction with history, as is the Steampunk wont.
In her diary, Tinku mentions a Wadia Sahib. She is referring to Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia, (c 1754-1821), Master Shipbuilder at the Bombay Docks. His portrait by J. Dorman is part of the Trader’s Gallery collection:


The diary ‘extract’ is an original piece of fiction, written especially for Yomi Ayeni. There is a possibility it will eventually be included in the greater Clockwork Watch narrative. It was a true pleasure to write. Both the diary and the event it was part of form a great example of Steampunk used as a Classroom.
As part of Steampunk Hands 2015, The Tinku Diaries will be exclusively published to the Steampunk India website at the end of February. Date to be announced.

* http://www.clockworkwatch.com



Filed under Acting, Comics, Diversity, Events, MultiCulturalism in Steampunk, Steampunk Hands, Steampunk Hands Around The World, Writing

Roger Whitson, PhD. on the 19th Century, Digital Humanities & Steampunk.

2015/01/img_0909.jpg Thanks to Roger Whitson PhD. at Washingon State University for the link to his Third Year Pre-Tenure talk on The 19th Century and Digital Humanities, in which some of my fellow Steampunks and Steampunk India are featured:

2015/01/img_0908.png (Extract). “[Slide 13] ….I contrast this sense of technology and empire, which sees Western society as the center of the world communicating to its margins with the rise of multicultural steampunk – which fractures the Britishness of steampunk and searches for historical alternatives. This is what I call a digital appropriation of Victorian elements that are manipulated into different cultural histories. On the left is Suna Dasi, who says on her website “as a steampunk afficiando, I found myself wishing for more roles occupied by Victorian women in the steampunk fiction I was reading: women who were less hampered by the framework of the society damsel. Being of Indian heritage sparked the desire to see Indian women break out of their mother of pearl cages and into steampunk adventures.” Several steampunk designers look to different historical frames when imagining technology. The top right is an illustration taken from descriptions of submarines in the Shakuna Vimana (a 1700 BCE Sanskrit manuscript that imagines magical flying machines that decimate enemy cities). Indian steampunk is taking inspiration from these sources. On the bottom right is the Asian steampunk designer James Ng, whose exhibited his blueprints for Chinese steampunk airships at numerous different conventions and art exhibitions.” The full transcipt of talk and slides can be found at http://www.rogerwhitson.net.



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