Suna Dasi — Renaissance Woman

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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

What’s Wrong With Being Nice? The Likable Heroine Effect

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I’m hap­py to have Ale­sha Esco­bar, author of The Gray Tow­er Tril­o­gy, back on my site. She is tour­ing with the Addict­ed to Hero­ines Blog Tour (see the love­ly badge in the mar­gin) so I encour­age you to take a gan­der and see who else is involved. This time Ale­sha tells us about the qual­i­ties of a lik­able hero­ine, and as usu­al, she’s got it spot on. Thanks Ale­sha for stop­ping by again!

HawkgirlCreative Commons License Wilton Tay­lor via Comp­fight

Do you remem­ber the news sto­ry about women get­ting depressed using Face­book? Appar­ent­ly some women would read up on oth­ers’ sta­tus updates filled with on-point hair days, per­fect chil­dren, glam­orous jobs, and unicorns–and log off feel­ing like crap.

I’m not sur­prised.

It’s inevitable to com­pare our­selves to oth­ers, and when we feel that a cer­tain sta­tus or behav­ior is unat­tain­able, it leaves us feel­ing some­thing is lack­ing, or that we are lack­ing. The same goes for our fic­tion­al heroines–when we see the per­fect Mary Sue, we sort of cringe and fail to relate. We’re not per­fect, and when we pick up a book, we don’t want to encounter a hero­ine who’s going to get every­thing right all the time. Yet, I’m hes­i­tant to throw in my tow­el and pro­claim we need to start writ­ing and read­ing crude, “unlik­able” female heroes.

The idea of the lik­able hero­ine is one that rests on the expec­ta­tion that a hero­ine be appro­pri­ate in her behav­ior, sweet, nice, or “the good girl.” She has to be likable…right? There’s no room to be depressed, self­ish, a user, or a bitch.

For those who cri­tique the “lik­able hero­ine” being placed on a pedestal, I agree with them that there’s a prob­lem with this. Women are com­plex human beings, and we run the range of lik­able to unlik­able. Why can’t our hero­ines reflect the same?

Still, a female ver­sion of a jerk anti-hero isn’t all too palat­able either. So let’s strike some mid­dle ground. It’s okay for our hero­ines to be “real,” to have flaws, and make mis­takes. And it’s also okay for her to be noble, brave, and–gasp–kind.

We like hero­ines we can relate to, but many of us also like them to be the torch­bear­ers of real­ly cool qual­i­ties and per­son­al­i­ty traits. At least that’s what attracts me to a hero­ine. Give me the intel­li­gent Eliz­a­beth Ben­nets who find love, the Eowyns who refuse to be caged, or the fierce Brit­o­marts who hold their heads high.

If I could be a hero­ine, I’d want to pos­sess some of these traits. So what’s wrong with being nice or lik­able? Noth­ing at all. Just remem­ber that there are deep­er lay­ers, desires, and qual­i­ties to the lik­able hero­ine, and instead of rest­ing on sim­ply one aspect, try explor­ing the whole per­son.

authoralesha Twit­ter

Web­site

Ama­zon

The Reason I Don’t Watch the News

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Granada, de Cine This morn­ing as I was head­ed to the kitchen to pre­pare a late break­fast for my fam­i­ly I stopped for a moment to catch a par­tic­u­lar­ly com­pelling bit of news on an inter­na­tion­al news chan­nel. There was this loop­ing reel of footage that kept show­ing the body of a tiny girl wrapped in a white sheet. She was dead after hav­ing been bru­tal­ly raped by two men who had kid­napped her. This footage also showed the poor girl’s shell shocked par­ents. Their grief was pal­pa­ble.

This is why I don’t watch the news.

Accord­ing to the news report, the kid­nap­ping and rape of young women is near­ly epi­dem­ic in India which is sec­ond only to the Unit­ed States. The reporter inter­viewed young women on the streets of India regard­ing the recent pas­sage of laws that would mete out severe pun­ish­ments to any man con­vict­ed of rape. This was all com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that the num­bers of women who are actu­al­ly will­ing to report the crime are min­i­mal due to the shame of hav­ing been the vic­tim of such a crime. Yes, the vic­tim is shamed and blamed.  The per­pe­tra­tor? Not so much. This is misog­y­ny at its worse, when it is woven into the very fab­ric of the cul­ture. It is sad, unjust, and plain hor­rif­ic.

This is why I don’t watch the news.

But, just so we don’t point blam­ing fin­gers at India, or some coun­try in the Mid­dle East, or any oth­er so-called third world coun­try we’d like to pre­tend is so much less pro­gres­sive than we are in the West, misog­y­nis­tic ideals and a whole host of oth­er cross-cul­tur­al cross-soci­etal ills is as broad and diverse as the peo­ple who uphold and abide by them.

It doesn’t mat­ter the coun­try or cul­ture because peo­ple are peo­ple, and not all of us are good. And of those of us who are good, not all of us are com­plete­ly good.  Sim­ply, we live in a world of most­ly good inten­tioned peo­ple, but amongst those good peo­ple is anoth­er more insid­i­ous ele­ment that we should all be afraid of.  They are there.  We don’t know who they are but, we work with them and go to school with them and we talk to them while wait­ing in line at the reg­is­ter.

Why don’t I watch the news?

Because it makes me angry, and because it scares and sad­dens me. Watch­ing the news makes me lose faith in the world and the peo­ple in it. And, I’ll sound a lit­tle Sybil-ish here, it also gives me a tiny bit of weird hope. In our ever shrink­ing glob­al com­mu­ni­ty we are learn­ing more and more about each oth­er and as such we are slow­ly elim­i­nat­ing mis­con­cep­tions about peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us. We are shar­ing the best of our­selves and hope­ful­ly doing away with the worst. As long as there is an Earth with peo­ple liv­ing on her face, we will see ugli­ness and injus­tice and error, but things can be bet­ter, right? This is my hope.

This also brings me to the top­ic of my writ­ing. My major WIP, Bilqis, which will be book one of the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles, echoes much of my woes about the state of the world we live in, per­son­al and glob­al.

I am for­tu­nate to have had extreme­ly few open­ly racist or anti-Mus­lim expe­ri­ences in my life. I’ve had peo­ple say some incred­i­bly asi­nine things to me, but I’m not hyper­sen­si­tive and I can gen­er­al­ly deter­mine the dif­fer­ence between mal­ice and igno­rance. With that said, we all know that racism still exists and anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment is per­va­sive and in many instances hearti­ly accept­ed. This is what the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles address­es.

What I’ve attempt­ed to cre­ate is a world/society that is scarred by reli­gious tur­moil and racism, much like our own. Imag­ine that the gov­ern­ment, with the best of inten­tions, has tried to solve the issue of reli­gious and racial divi­sive­ness by out­law­ing the prac­tice of any faith. Imag­ine that those peo­ple who per­sist in reli­gious obser­vances are pun­ished, ostra­cized, and eject­ed from the major cities. Imag­ine that they are forced to make their lives scav­eng­ing off the land which is a vast waste­land.

What do you think would hap­pen?

I’m still work­ing on the first draft, but it is dif­fi­cult to write about issues of faith/religion with­out sound­ing as if I am preach­ing and pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, which I am not. I pray that I am suc­cess­ful.

We should absolute­ly mine infor­ma­tion from our expe­ri­ences and the world for our writ­ing.  This includes the news.  I sup­pose I’m sim­ply not strong enough to tol­er­ate it… or to say it in a more for­giv­ing way, I’m too sen­si­tive. On sec­ond thought, it isn’t an alto­geth­er bad thing is it? Aren’t most writ­ers and artists intu­itive deep think­ing indi­vid­u­als?

If they’re not… shhh. Don’t ruin the illu­sion. I kind of like it.