24 March 2024

Near but distant: The entangled cultures of Malayali's and Sri Lankans in the Gulf

The Yard

Conversation with Harshana Rambukwella and Deepak Unnikrishnan

Starts 8:00 pm

Venue The Yard


Join NYU Abu Dhabi Faculty members Deepak Unikrishnan and Harshana Rambukwella as they explore the fascinating and entangled cultures and histories of Malayali's and Sri Lankans through the experience of migration to the Gulf region. Back 'home' in South Asia these two cultures share a remarkable proximity -- language, culture, the experience of migration and geographical proximity. Yet they are also distinct and 'distant' given the geopolitical realities of the subcontinent. Here in the Gulf they live side-by-side with each other, often connected by the common precarities and experiences of migration but are divided by language and culture. Deepak and Harshana will showcase some Malayali and Sri Lankan cultural material while engaging in a conversation where they will also reflect on what 'solidarity' might mean in such a context. Is solidarity among migrants from the global south a romantic catchword or can it be a real possibility?


Harshana Rambukwella is a comparative literature and cultural studies scholar with an interest in the intersections between literature, history, aesthetics, and nationalism in South Asia. He is also a sociolinguist with interest in critical sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. Harshana is the author of the Politics and Poetics of Authenticity (UCL Press 2018) and has published in journals such as boundary 2 and the Journal of Asian Studies and Interventions and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Sociolinguistics and serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Harshana is currently working on a project on the 'cultural life of democracy,' looking at democracy in 'everyday life' as expressed in cultural and aesthetic artifacts. Harshana is currently Visiting Professor at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Deepak Unnikrishnan is a writer from Abu Dhabi and associate professor at New York University Abu Dhabi. His book Temporary People, a work of fiction about Gulf narratives steeped in Malayalee and South Asian lingo, won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, the Hindu Prize and the Moore Prize. It was also shortlisted for the Believer Book Award, the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, the Crossword Book Award and appeared on the long list for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the International Dublin Literary Award.The French edition, A Titre Provisoire, has been shortlisted for the 2023 Prix Littéraire Frontières, awarded by Université de Lorraine and its partners from Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg. The Malayalam edition, titled Temborary Peoples, translated by novelist Benyamin and illustrated by graphic novelist Appupen, was published in February 2024.

Unnikrishnan’s fiction was commissioned for the written publications of the National Pavilion of the UAE at the Venice Biennale (2017) and the Oslo Architecture Triennale (2019). His voice and work can be heard on musician Sarathy Korwar’s album ‘More Arriving’, and a stage adaptation of Temporary People – directed by Laila Soliman in collaboration with choreographer Faustin Linyekula – premiered in November 2022 at The Arts Center, NYUAD, Abu Dhabi.

The Yard