Neluka Silva is the Head of the English Department and Professor in English, University of Colombo. Given the recent agitation amongst University staff and the general crisis over tertiary education, I first asked Neluka why she has taught at Colombo University for decades and what drives her to do this. Referring to an article by Prof. H.L. Senevirtane published in the Lanka Monthly Digest (June 2011) on restoring English as a language of teaching, I ask Neluka what, if any differences in pedagogy and the perception of the English language there was from the time she was an undergraduate student to what she teaches today in Colombo University.
We talk about Neluka’s manuscript novel The Choices We Make which was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize in the late 90’s and will be published later this year under the title The Iron Fence. I ask her why she changed the titled of the book and how she went about writing it. We talk about why it is that there are more female poets than novelists, and Neluka’s writing on gender and her take on post-colonial writing in Sri Lanka and South Asia in general.
Neluka has also written extensively on hybridity, and we talk about this concept and its applicability in post-war Sri Lanka’s writing and politics, where we are struggling to define and redefine individual, collective and communal identities. Neluka draws upon her own family background and the problems of actually recognising our hybridity post-war.
We talk about Neluka’s interest in writing for and from the perspective of children, and how influential they are in our society. We followed with Neluka’s love of theatre, and her work in establishing [email protected], a theatre group for children and why she established it.
Recalling a fringe event from the Galle Literary Festival from two years ago, I asked Neluka what she thought fiction would be in post-war Sri Lanka – and when a genre of what could be called post-war writing in Sri Lanka would emerge.
As an aside, I conducted this interview with a very high fever and inflamed tonsils, which explains the somewhat glazed look, pained expression and lapses in concentration.