IN SHIROMI PINTO’S new novel Plastic Emotions, released this July, there is a moment where the protagonist, the Sri Lankan architect Minnette de Silva, reads an article about herself. The headline trumpets that it is about “Ceylon’s first woman architect.” Minnette is flattered, even as her mind is crowded with other thoughts, including her rivalry with an architect on the rise—a man she refers to only as “the recluse,” who, she feels, has appropriated her ideas and lured away her collaborator. She also reflects on how some of her clients are quick to express admiration but slow to pay her fees, and wonders, “What good are words, I can’t eat words. I can’t build with words.”
At another point in the novel, Minnette writes, in a letter to a close confidante:
After all, when have they ever recognised me for what I am here? – a pioneer of Modernism in Ceylon. Instead I am ‘that woman architect’ or worse still, that ‘girl architect’. That has been the root of my difficulties, if I am honest. All the concessions I made … all because they would not take the word of a woman as sound.