Mindy Kaling is everywhere. She is on television as star and creator of Hulu’s The Mindy Project, she was an actor and writer on The Office, and she is on The New York Times’s bestselling author of the memoir, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). She also happened to be in Boston this past week on a book tour for her new book of essays, Why Not Me?
Kaling began the event with a brief trailer where she introduced herself and her co-speaker of the night, Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal, The Checklist Manifesto. “You might be thinking” she began, once she mentioned Gawande, “That’s a lot of Indians.” This was followed by her description of herself: “Zero husbands, zero children, and many trips to McDonald’s.”
Kaling entered the stage greeted by several young women’s homemade signs declaring Kaling to be their best friend or asking Kaling to hang out with them after the event.
Sure, the signs are all in good humour, but there is a semblance of truth to the sentiment, which Kaling further proved as the night went on — that she is sort of like a best friend figure to just about anybody. Gawande, whom Kaling admires on a professional level, felt and reacted to the ease with which she spoke. One of the very first questions he asked her was, “Why did you write another book?” to which she immediately said, “Money.”
A more genuine answer came right after, and she reflected on a story written in her book. She said that young women, particularly young women of color, ask her for advice. In one instance, she was asked by a young girl, “How do you gain confidence?” In her book, Kaling admits that she wasn’t able to give this girl the answer she deserved. “Entitlement is confidence,” Kaling writes. She goes on to say that perhaps a sense of confidence should not come from baseless entitlement.
In fact, it might be good to feel a sense of entitlement when you have earned it. She reiterated this to Gawande, adding that she feels like nobody is entitled to anything more than basic human rights. And to not have to watch an ad before YouTube videos – she received a wealthy amount of applause here.
The conversation led from the topic of hard work and work ethic to her late mom. Kaling’s mother, Swati Chokalingam, who was a gynaecologist practicing in Boston, passed away just as The Mindy Project started picking up on FOX. She told Gawande that her mother was her best friend and was a huge inspiration for her. Gawande was able to relate, as the two reached an emotional topic – losing their father and mother, respectively. “I was lucky” Kaling said, “to have been distracted by my work. I wasn’t able to wallow as much because of how demanding my job is.”
That best friend figure that we see in Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project and in Kelly Kapoor on The Office, as it turns out, exists. Perhaps this is because Kaling grew up with a mother that acted like the kind — of best friend that she ended up being – a sharp, funny woman with a love of fashion.
Towards the end of the event, after making the audience and Gawande laugh repeatedly at her wit and idiosyncrasies, she said that at this point in her life and career, she wants to be a role model. She would like to set an example for young women and inspire confidence and healthy entitlement, and ask the question we, especially as women, can dare to ask ourselves: Why not me?