Here’s What You Missed at Mindy Kaling’s Harvard Book Store Chat with Atul Gawande
Mindy Kaling herself admits that if someone were to draw a venn diagram of things that she and Atul Gawande are interested in writing and talking about, there would be no overlap.
The actress’s newly released comedic memoir Why Not Me? is full of witty essays about beauty, fashion, Hollywood sex scenes, and her “weird as hell” relationship with B.J. Novak, among other things.
Meanwhile, Being Mortal, the most recent literary effort by Gawande, a Brigham and Women’s surgeon, New Yorker writer, and Harvard Medical School professor, is a reflection on society’s medicalization of aging and death.
So, when the time came to promote Why Not Me?, why did Kaling reach out to Gawande of all people to join her on stage at a Harvard Book Store event?
Here’s the deal: They’re both New York Times bestselling authors and they’re both locals. Kaling grew up in Cambridge, while Gawande, although raised in Ohio, now resides in Newton. Plus, they’re both successful Indian-Americans. In fact, when Kaling initially reached out to Gawande about the panel, her email read: “I feel like I know you already because I’ve been telling everybody I’m your sister.”
“That’s secret!” joked Kaling at the sold-out event, which took place on Tuesday night at the Back Bay Events Center, when Gawande told the audience about the exchange. “That’s how I get into bars—in Newton Centre.”
Much to Gawande’s amusement, Kaling revealed that she was first introduced to his work by The Office showrunner Greg Daniels, who gave her Gawande’s first book, Complications, as a gift.
Daniels makes a cameo in Why Not Me? with an essay on mentorship, in which he writes to Kaling, “Your mind is like a disco ball light show.”
“I read that and I thought that was such a nice compliment,” said Kaling. “He once said to me that with writers that he knows, when they pitch a joke, he tends to know where they got the idea from, he can see how they got to it. He said with me that he didn’t know. I always liked that—it made me feel very unpredictable.”
On a more somber note, Kaling also discussed another gift that Daniels gave her—the chance to take time off from The Office and come home to spend time with her mother, a respected St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center OB/GYN, when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Kaling’s mother, who passed away in 2012, came up frequently during the conversation, with the actress discussing the closeness of their relationship and her mother’s input into her work—she’s the one that encouraged Kaling to put more thought into costumes for The Mindy Project than had been done on The Office, resulting in Mindy Lahiri’s colorful, Emmy-nominated wardrobe custom-designed by Salvador Perez.
“Greg’s aesthetic and what I really liked about that show was that he said, ‘What’s beautiful is what’s real,'” said Kaling. “Then, when I told my mom that I was writing a pilot, she was thinking about where it should be set and trying to figure out the tone of it—very different from The Office—she reminded me that what’s beautiful can also be what’s beautiful.”
When asked by Gawande how she’s been dealing with her mother’s death, Kaling revealed that it was by constantly staying busy. On top of embarking on a book tour and filming The Mindy Project, she announced that she’s also writing a movie.
“It’s a small movie,” she said, not sharing any more details. “It’s not like a Star Wars spin-off or anything—but I know I would kill that.”
The ever-busy actress also hopes to direct said movie, admitting that she would have a hard time giving up the control of overseeing the entire process as she gets to do on TV.
Plus, working hard is what boosts her confidence, she says, something that a lot of young people ask her about and a topic heavily addressed in her book.
“I have a sense of entitlement that comes from hard work,” she said. “You should only get that feeling of entitlment by really putting in time and effort and reseraching things and staying up late. But when you’ve done that part, you owe it to yourself to feel entitled, and once you’re feeling entitled, that is confidence.”