Share Your Thoughts

India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Coming out in Nikhil Out Loud

Nikhil Out Loud is a refreshing and heartwarming story about a boy of Indian origin who is raised in the U.S. At first glance, he is a typical teenager with the occupations and interests of kids everywhere.

However, that is not all. He is a voice actor for a popular series and takes on the persona of Raj Reddy who saves the universe from doomsday. And he is also gay.

A clash with tradition

Growing up in Los Angeles, Nikhil is out to his mother and best friend Anton and has their support. When he moves with his mother and family dog to Ohio to be with his ailing Nana and Nani, he leaves behind the life he knows and steps into an unfamiliar world. His Nana is traditional – a conservative and a stickler for an Indian-style approach to raising children. Honor and respectability rate high on his list of expectations for everyone in his family.

Nikhil’s Nani is easygoing and the reader will get a sense of what it was (and might still be like) to be female and an immigrant in the Midwest as she shares stories of her life in the U.S. The underlying tension of the relationship between Nikhil’s mother and her father, his Nana, is revealed as Nikhil hears first-hand about the clash of traditional Indian Gujarati families between first- and second-generation immigrants to the US.

Who is Raj Reddy?

Open and disingenuous, Nikhil makes four friends in the first few weeks of joining the local high school. Nikhil’s reputation precedes him and within weeks, the students in his school find out that he is Raj Reddy, the comic book character they adore and watch on television. And that starts a series of events he cannot control.

First Nikhil gets roped into auditioning for the annual school play by the drama teacher, once she finds out he is indeed, the Raj Reddy. He is hesitant at first because he does not feel he has the singing voice and talent for the main narrator’s role, but succumbs to overwhelming pressure, even though he knows that one of his new friends is the right candidate for the role. He reluctantly agrees to take on the role of the narrator.

The reality of adolescence

Even though Nikhil moves to Ohio from Los Angeles, his mother arranges for him to continue recording for his comic series and they drive to a private studio after school, so he can continue to record his lines. This is where Nikhil runs into the reality of adolescence. His voice cracks, and he is terrified that everyone will notice. His valiant effort of keeping his voice from breaking only goes so far. He finally shares his concerns with his friends who do their best to keep his secret. They devise ways to shield him from regular rehearsals by telling the drama teacher that he is voice training with one of his friends who was the first in line for the role of the narrator.

Meanwhile, as word of his celebrity status gets around, the editor of the school newspaper interviews him and in the course of the conversation, Nikhil mentions he is gay. The school newspaper does a great article on him, and at the end of the article, the student editor outs Nikhil.

A firestorm ensues

No one is prepared for the firestorm that ensues. A mother of an ex-student of the school reads the school newspaper and starts an email campaign to rouse support to get Nikhil removed from the school play. Her assertion is that he is not an appropriate role model. His Nana is upset at the shame that Nikhil will bring to his family, even as his mother and Nani support him. Old family tensions are stoked, threatening to tear them apart.

I will let the reader discover what happens next. The battle fueled by bigotry and prejudice touches the student body and Nikhil’s family in unexpected ways. The story ends on an unpredictable note.

Today sadly, in so many states there is unbridled hatred of those who are gay or identify as  transgender or nonbinary. For that reason, this book is timely and relevant, and readers can feel what the protagonist is going through if they put themselves in their shoes.

Nikhil Out Loud is a story of courage, truth, real family values and friendship.

Kunal Mukherjee is a Palm Springs, California-based writer, and poet. Originally from West Bengal, he was raised in Hyderabad, India. He holds a Master’s degree in Physics, has done postgraduate work...