Suna Dasi — Renaissance Woman

Standard

Renais­sance woman — A woman who has broad intel­lec­tu­al inter­ests and is accom­plished in areas of both the arts and the sci­ences.

By strict def­i­n­i­tion I can be termed a renais­sance woman. I am an oncol­o­gy nurse, and solid­ly ground­ed in the world of evi­denced based sci­ence and the order that must come of that. I am also a writer who thinks in very abstract terms, who chal­lenges nor­mal­cy and social con­ven­tion. In both spheres of my life I hope that my pres­ence chal­lenges stereo­types and mis­con­cep­tions. As much as I dis­like labels, I do like the idea of being a renais­sance woman.

Renais­sance woman — a woman who has acquired pro­found knowl­edge or pro­fi­cien­cy in more than one field.

As you can imag­ine, when I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet some­one who fits the descrip­tion of a renais­sance woman, I want to know more about her and what makes her tick. I want to learn from her. I want to share her with every­one else.

©Steampunk India


 

I met Suna Dasi via Twit­ter sev­er­al months ago. I recall see­ing pic­tures of her. One was of this saw a gor­geous Indi­an woman in a steam­punked out sari and anoth­er of the same woman hold­ing a micro­phone as she appeared to be belt­ing out some right­eous rock­ing tune. Of course I fol­lowed her. I lat­er learned Suna is also a writer. Suna is a renais­sance woman and the embod­i­ment of diver­gence and diver­si­ty. Imag­ine how thrilled I was when she agreed to an inter­view.

Suna, thank you so much for tak­ing the time to chat with me.

Thank you for such kind words, Khaal­i­dah, I’m pleased to speak with you!

You do so much that I’m not sure where to begin. Why not start by telling me some basics. What is your past/current edu­ca­tion­al focus and is it relat­ed to what you do now? What is your day job, if it is different/separate from your cre­ative pur­suits?

I grew up in Europe; I had a very tra­di­tion­al pub­lic school edu­ca­tion and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly spent six years at a youth the­atre school. After that I stud­ied the­atre and dance for one year at the ArtEZ insti­tute of the Arts. Cur­rent­ly I live and work in Edin­burgh where I am part of Indie pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Art Attack Films. I’m a back­ing vocal­ist for Tex­an singer/song writer Erin Ben­nett. In the gaps, I write fic­tion.

I caught your name on the Wikipedia page for Syren an alter­na­tive rock band and you also sent me a link for Erin Ben­nett, who appears to be the band lead. Tell me about that. How’d you get involved with the band? How long have you been with the band? I see that you sing. Do you play any instru­ments as well? Do you tour and trav­el?

As a child, I had lessons from a for­mi­da­ble old bid­dy who had worked in Africa, teach­ing choirs of lit­tle brown chil­dren to sing songs about how One is Nev­er Alone when One has Jesus. She called us ‘Childies’ and made intense lit­tle hop-skips on the spot when she con­duct­ed the songs, which made her frill dress col­lar jump under her chin. We were giv­en vocal exer­cis­es pri­or to singing in order to improve our dic­tion and into­na­tion that wouldn’t have looked amiss in a Vic­to­ri­an school­room. Luck­i­ly she had grown more whim­si­cal in her old age, so besides the odd No Man is An Island, she most­ly taught songs about del­i­cate fairies flit­ting across wood­land dells, rather than solemn Chris­t­ian songs.

I have always sung in either the­atre or pop­u­lar music, but nev­er took to any par­tic­u­lar instru­ment. How­ev­er, every­one around me plays at least three, so I am more than con­tent to stick to my voice.

In 1999 I met the group I still work with today; I became involved in their projects, trav­el­ing to Lon­don in my spare time. Even­tu­al­ly I moved per­ma­nent­ly and have been tour­ing in dif­fer­ent set-ups ever since. On one of the Amer­i­can tours we met a young, fierce and incred­i­bly tal­ent­ed Tex­an girl who invit­ed us to her home for drinks and played us a short acoustic set of her work.

You have an obvi­ous love for all things steam­punk. I can dig that. Tell me why you like steam­punk so much.

To start with, my own her­itage sparked some of the urge to specif­i­cal­ly write in the genre:

My ances­tors left India in 1861, on a British East India ship bound for the Caribbean as inden­tured work­ers; lit­tle more than slaves. My per­son­al con­nec­tion to the era gives me a vest­ed inter­est in it and my family’s sto­ry, set against the wider his­tor­i­cal back­drop, inevitably influ­ences the writ­ing.

Indi­an, Dutch and Eng­lish mar­itime his­to­ry, women’s his­to­ry, and the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion have always held a par­tic­u­lar sway over my imag­i­na­tion, as has the Vic­to­ri­an era as a whole. It is such an enor­mous­ly dynam­ic chap­ter in the his­to­ry of the mod­ern world. I have always loved Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, H.R. Hag­gard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to name but a few.  One of my favourite books is Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time and I will always make a case for this being one of the ear­li­est mod­ern nov­els with Steam­punk ele­ments as well as his War­lord of The Air  series, which pre­dates the moment when most folk con­sid­er mod­ern Steam­punk fic­tion to have start­ed. When the League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men com­ic came out (for which my friend Kev O’Neill did the glo­ri­ous and icon­ic art­work) I was delight­ed espe­cial­ly with Nemo’s char­ac­ter, as it delved so much deep­er into his Indi­an back­ground, some­thing Verne him­self only men­tioned in pass­ing.

I have had a life­long love affair with sci­ence fic­tion; mixed with a con­tin­u­ous grav­i­ta­tion towards alter­na­tive modes of thought and liv­ing.

Steam­punk is a mar­vel­lous plat­form for express­ing all of the above and aes­thet­i­cal­ly one of the most pleas­ing gen­res to express it in. Not only that, the added joy of alter­ing, remould­ing and re-imag­in­ing that peri­od in his­to­ry into some­thing that is more inclu­sive, less con­strained and with a whim­si­cal lee­way to add fan­tas­ti­cal ele­ments makes that I always hap­pi­ly immerse myself in it.

What is the extent of your involve­ment with steam­punk? I mean, you have tak­en some rock­ing pic­tures, and you have a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence online with your blog and web­site but what else are you doing? Projects? Writ­ing? Film?

As far as steam­punk is con­cerned, I write, first and foremost.You might say that my ini­tial exper­i­ment got slight­ly out of hand and ran away with me: with the web­site and the Face­book page, I wished to gain an insight into the con­cept of British India dur­ing the with­in the steam­punk genre. I had an extreme­ly clear idea of what I want­ed to write about from the very begin­ning, but was curi­ous to what extent poten­tial read­ers would be attract­ed to both India-based steam­punk fic­tion and/or imagery.

The response was over­whelm­ing­ly rapid and pos­i­tive and when the first sto­ry went up it was with the hap­py knowl­edge that I was not only pleas­ing myself.Because the move­ment itself is so vibrant, it’s very easy — and fun! — to get swept up in oth­er activ­i­ties, such as dress­ing in full regalia and attend­ing events. This is not some­thing I have much time for, unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to my oth­er com­mit­ments. Recent­ly I was asked to give a talk on Mul­ti­Cul­tur­al­ism in Steam­punk at the Glas­gow School of Art and this I was very pleased to be able to do. A tran­script of the talk and footage shot at the event will become avail­able on the steam­punk India web­site in due course.

The photo’s are real­ly an enjoy­able side effect to the writ­ing, because I start­ed tak­ing them as a way to get a han­dle on some of the char­ac­ters I was cre­at­ing. The fic­tion is the main focus of the project.

The Steam­punk has bled over into oth­er projects on occa­sion, as you will be able to see in one of Erin’s music video’s.

I also con­vinced the band to part­ly per­form in Steam­punk gear when we opened for Hawk­wind last year. As many of their most land­mark albums and lyrics are based on Michael Moorcock’s writ­ing, this was utter­ly sat­is­fy­ing on sev­er­al deep con­verg­ing nerd-girl, music -and book lov­ing lev­els.

I noticed you post­ed a sto­ry on your web­site for a “steam-inspired tale. Not bad. Are you pub­lished any­where else? Any oth­er com­plet­ed works you’d like to share? Any­thing you have in the works that we should keep our eyes opened for?

The sto­ry on the web­site is part of a larg­er project. It is the first of a series of eight short pieces that form the intro­duc­tion to the alter­nate India I am build­ing. The plot threads and char­ac­ters in those eight pieces, in turn, will come togeth­er in a nov­el that ties up all the threads.

This writ­ing route is mapped out over sev­er­al years, with parts of short sto­ries to be released on occa­sion, con­tin­u­al­ly inter­spersed with music and film projects for Erin Ben­nett and Art Attack films respec­tive­ly.

Mean­while, one of my oth­er Steam­punk sto­ries, Unmade, a love sto­ry set on a Caribbean plan­ta­tion, will hope­ful­ly find a place in a Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Steam­punk anthol­o­gy which is in the ear­ly stages of devel­op­ment in Europe. The sto­ry is close to my heart as I chose the loca­tion very delib­er­ate­ly: The Orange Hill plan­ta­tion in St. Vin­cent is where my great-grand­fa­ther was shipped to in 1861. My grand­fa­ther was born on the plan­ta­tion and was released from his born sta­tus lat­er in life. It has been a long road to find this sto­ry a home and it may yet be longer, depend­ing on how the pro­duc­tion of the anthol­o­gy unfolds. We shall see!

(Of note, I lat­er received an email from Suna regard­ing the i09 arti­cle 10 Sci­ence Fic­tion and Fan­ta­sy Sto­ries Edi­tors Are Sick of See­ing. Her mul­ti­cul­tur­al steam­punk sto­ry Unmade appar­ent­ly breaks rule #8 with the inclu­sion of a rather graph­ic rape scene, and Suna won­ders if this has some­thing to do with the sto­ries dif­fi­cul­ty with find­ing a home.)

Jeff van­der­Meer and Desi­ri­na Boskovich’ The Steam­punk User’s Man­u­al is set to come out lat­er in 2014; extracts of my writ­ing about Steam­punk India and Steam­punk in gen­er­al will be fea­tured in the pub­li­ca­tion.

At the moment I am work­ing on the audio nar­ra­tion for Those Dark Satan­ic Mills, a short sto­ry set in the Min­istry of Pecu­liar Occur­rences uni­verse, which I wrote for Tee Mor­ris and Pip Ballantine’s spin-off anthol­o­gy series Tales From the Archives. This will be released with­in the next month or so.

Tell me about your involve­ment with Art Attack Films.

Art Attack made music videos for bands in the US, but when set­tling in Scot­land, branched out fair­ly quick­ly into oth­er work. Exam­ples are The Body Mer­chants, doc­u­ment­ing the lurid trade of Burke & Hare and the film we made for the Edin­burgh Surgeon’s Hall Muse­um about the life and work of Joseph Lis­ter, which is part of the per­ma­nent His­to­ry of Surgery exhi­bi­tion.

The work is always done with a view to facil­i­tate our true pas­sion: mak­ing movies.

We have our con­nec­tion to Acci­dent Man, based on the com­ic by Pat Mills. This year Titan Comics have re-released the com­ic so it is the per­fect occa­sion to make the movie. We’ve shot pre­lim­i­nary scenes with World Karate cham­pi­on Paul Lap­s­ley in the role of Mike Fal­lon.

We are in post-pro­duc­tion for our first fea­ture Selkie, a fresh take on a crea­ture of Scot­tish folk­lore. The trail­er is view­able on Youtube and the movie stars the war­riors of Com­bat Inter­na­tion­al, who have been part of main­stream movies such as Gladiator,The Eagle,  Snow White and The Hunts­man, and most recent­ly Thor 2: The Dark World.

Pic­ture the open­ing sequence in Glad­i­a­tor: a huge Gaul bran­dish­es a sev­ered head at the Roman legion and roars his defi­ance.

This is Char­lie Allan, our lead actor in Selkie. We’d known him for some years, through film­ing his his­tor­i­cal build­ing project Dun­car­ron Medieval Vil­lage and doing music pro­duc­tion on three upcom­ing albums of his b=and Saor Patrol. We realised he (and his team) could be per­fect for our script. He was.

You seem like a very busy woman, so my next ques­tion may be a bit over the top. What do you do in your spare time? Any hob­bies?

Liv­ing in Scot­land, the stun­ning coun­try­side is just there for the tak­ing; I go for big walks as often as pos­si­ble. I love danc­ing exces­sive­ly. If you can’t find me dur­ing a night out at a club or par­ty, I’m undoubt­ed­ly on the dance floor. I swim. Books are oxy­gen and lis­ten­ing to music is a close sec­ond. I adore going to the cin­e­ma and the the­atre, most recent­ly seen was the NTLive broad­cast of Cori­olanus, which was superb. When I can find the time -which is hard­ly ever nowa­days!- I prac­tise archery, climb­ing and horse rid­ing. This sum­mer I will be ful­fill­ing a long­stand­ing wish by going on a short fenc­ing course. 

Despite all of your inter­ests and tal­ents, what haven’t you done/learned/experienced yet that you would like to?

Oh, a mul­ti­tude of things. To pick one, I’d like to learn kalar­i­pay­at­tu; the South Indi­an mar­tial art on which most oth­er mar­tial art forms are based and the fight­ing style employed by the won­der­ful actor Naseerud­din Shah, as Nemo in the movie adap­ta­tion of League of Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­men.

Last­ly, because I’m very inter­est­ed in know­ing what makes peo­ple tick take this test and tell me what the results are. Do you think the results are fit­ting?

ENFP (Extra­ver­sion, Intu­ition, Feel­ing, Per­cep­tion)

As an over­ar­ch­ing descrip­tion of my char­ac­ter this is pret­ty accu­rate.

The ‘see­ing every­one and every­thing as part of a cos­mic whole’ grates on me a=s too squishy: I’m an abun­dant­ly pos­i­tive per­son, but not indis­crim­i­nate­ly s=o. I do enjoy social­is­ing and am fas­ci­nat­ed by group dynam­ics. I’m fond of hear­ing a good yarn and love spin­ning one, but abhor spite­ful gos­sip. And yes, I have a decid­ed­ly sil­ly streak!

There are some dif­fer­ences: I love soli­tude as much as I adore being part of a heav­ing dance floor, for instance.

And though I am very empath­ic and sen­si­tive to injus­tice and inequal­i­ty, you would not see me for­feit the inter­ests of my near­est and dear­est to change the world, unless they are stand­ing there next to me, doing the same thing.

Suna Dasi on:

Twit­ter

https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkIndia