Tag Archives: #inclusivity

Maulik Pancholy’s Book ‘Best At It’ Confronts Being a Gay Indian American In the Midwest

This delightful debut novel by award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy is the story of Rahul Kapoor, an awkward 12-year-old Indian American gay middle-grade boy coming into his own in a small town in Indiana. One of Time Out‘s “LGBTQ+ books for kids to read during Pride Month,” The Best at It has also garnered a coveted Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association.

Pancholy, based in Brooklyn, New York, has a career spanning hit television shows (30 Rock, Whitney), animated favorites (Phineas and Ferb, Sanjay and Craig), the Broadway stage, and films. He also served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and is the co-founder of the anti-bullying campaign Act to Change.  

As an LGBTQ kid, Pancholy never saw himself in the books he read. And so, while it’s a work of fiction, this is also a deeply personal book that reflects his own struggles, coming to terms with his LGBTQ identity, and the joy of discovering how to be the best at being oneself. Moreover, it’s a love letter to his grandparents. 

Home denotes everything that’s safe and comforting for Rahul. His world consists mostly of his 72-year-old wheelchair-bound grandfather, Bhai, who is full of life, and almost like an older brother to him, as well as his best friend, Chelsea. Like many young second-generation (‘ABCD’) children his age, Rahul is embarrassed by his ethnic identity and wants to belong with the cool (read ‘white’) kids in school. 

Telltale signs of his being somewhat different from the others begin to show up early on—when he’s terrified of dancing with a girl and can’t help staring at a boy. His bullying classmate, Brent Mason, constantly picks on him for being different – making jokes about his culture and asking him if he’s gay. And then there is also Justin Emery, another classmate who Rahul is secretly attracted to, and wants to emulate.

Amidst all this confusion, Rahul’s grandfather tells him that if he dedicates himself to something that he is good at and becomes the best at it, then nobody can stop him and stand in his way. After many trials and errors—football team tryouts (which he fails miserably at) and professional acting auditions (where he faces racial discrimination)—he finally discovers his true talent and joins his school’s Mathletes’ team. Ultimately, Rahul finds that being the best is about finding something you love and doing it until you get better at it. 

Pancholy lightheartedly touches upon several serious themes, such as ethnicity, inclusivity, bullying, and sexuality. There is also a reference to the 2015 film The Man Who Knew Infinity, based on the life of the famous Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who faced racism, bullying, and prejudice in the early 1900s—which he managed to overcome, and came out as a winner.

The book is also filled with lots of stereotypes that good-humoredly poke fun at the Indian community, such as nerdy Indian kids who get perfect scores on their math homework, Indian ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ hooked to Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, and all Indian grandfathers having a “Mr. Rogers-worthy supply of cardigans”. 

Towards the end of the book, rainbow colors mark the celebration of Holi at an international carnival of dance, music, art, and food with participation from people of various countries. The festival of colors commemorates the triumph of good over evil—“the chance to forgive people and repair relationships.” And so, an important takeaway from the book is: “Being different is what makes us fun.” 

Overall, reading this fun and the breezy book is a pleasurable experience, largely due to Pancholy’s playful and infectious writing that is filled with childlike energy and enthusiasm.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Nose In Books, Feet In Socks: On Dr. Seuss

Growing up in the misty mountain valleys of South India, I relished every moment spent with my nose in books and my feet in socks.  Nestled in the range of Nilgiri hills, in a place too small to merit a dot on the map, is a place I was lucky enough to call home when I was growing up. The rainy climes and lack of digital entertainment options meant that we read as many books as we could, and used our imagination to come up with innovative games and entertainment options.

Enid Blyton lifted all of us children into clouds above The Magic Faraway Tree or whisked us away on the Wishing Chair. Tinkle comics & Champak took us for a spin (I am trying to remember some of the characters without the aid of the Internet – a cheap thrill in the current times – Kalia the crow, Chamataka the fox, Doob-Doob the crocodile, Tantri the Mantri, Suppandi, Naseeruddin Hodja, Vikram & Betaal and of course, that vague huntsman who should be the mascot for gun control laws, Shikari Shambu).  

As we grew older though, we moved away from Children’s comics and fantasy books. As more serious fare gradually replaced this wonderful array, I never expected to revisit that wondrous feeling of picking up a children’s book where you know not what magical world opens up to you, and when. But that is exactly what happened when I had children here, and we journeyed into these marvelous worlds together. I had never read the Thomas Train series or the Curious George series or the Berenstain Bear series or any of the books by Dr. Seuss as a child and I got to experience all of this with them for the first time. Oh! The simple pleasures of reading a book like any of these for the first time are gift enough, but to be blessed to be able to read it for the first time as an adult is surreal. It was like growing up all over again. To that, I am eternally grateful.

One morning, the old body was off to a slow start, and I was yawning sleepily in the car. The elementary school-going son looked at me, shook his head with pity and said, “I know what will wake you up! Let’s listen to Horton Hatches The Egg” and we did. The son & I were soon cracking up with loud laughter in the car – sleep had flown, and the nonsensical plot had truly woken me up surer than caffeine could. It is a marvelous book and takes one through the hilarious plot of an elephant hatching an egg. 

I don’t think the little fellow knew about Dr Seuss’s quote on nonsense waking up the brain cells, but it worked like a charm:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”

Today, some of Dr. Seuss’s books are being pulled back to have a more inclusive perspective. We know the world changes, but the underlying sentiment he sought to share with the world is one of inclusivity, as he knew first-hand what it was to be ostracized. He knew what it meant to not feel welcomed, and most of his books encouraged us to open our minds and embrace the world. 

March 4, 2021 Article in the NYT.

The current news about the books makes for a great conversation starter on racism with children – for some of his books such as Sneetches examine racism, and how we are more alike than different in spite of our physical differences. I remember being shocked to learn Enid Blyton’s books came under similar criticism. When I was a child reading these books, all they did was transport me to a magical place. I was a brown-skinned girl growing up in South India, but that did not stop me from imagining the 90-ft Eucalyptus tree at the end of our street poked its topmost branches into the revolving worlds in the clouds. But when I re-read them now, I see the point: I must confess that this has led to many interesting discussions with the children.

As the world evolves, and we continue to grow as individuals, it also gives us an opportunity to look for places in the writing that were reflective of the times. For instance, what we identify as unacceptable today was considered acceptable 20-30 years ago. This, in my mind, is a hugely positive aspect of human-beings. Isn’t being able to stop, evaluate ourselves and become better versions of ourselves one of the greatest accomplishments of being human? 

I read Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, by Judith & Neil Morgan, a biography of the beloved author, Dr. Seuss

Ted Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in a well-off family. His father, after running the successful family business for several years, later worked for the public parks system with access to a zoo. He puts many of his influences down to the natural loafing around in the countryside with access to animals as a child. His mother had a knack for reading things in verse to him in a way that stuck in his brain. Over his brilliant career, he would combine both these influences in a charming manner to enable an entire generation to love reading.

Ted was a school-going child in Springtown, Massachusetts, when the First World War started. The Geisels were first-generation German Americans and though they were citizens at the time of war, the world around them did not treat them kindly. It is disheartening to read that young Ted Geisel was persecuted for his lineage. This boy went on to write books that are loved and adored by children of all races, religions, nationalities, and backgrounds. His books only ask for an open mind whether it was imagining an elephant gingerly climbing up a tree to hatch an egg or eating green eggs and ham. 

His college sweetheart, and later, wife, Helen Palmer, was the first person to suggest to Ted that he may be better off drawing and writing than pursuing an academic career at Cambridge. He says this was around the time he realized that writing and drawing were like the Yin and Yang to his work. 

Excerpt from the book:

One day she watched Ted undertake to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost; he drew the angel Uriel sliding down a sunbeam, oiling the beam as he went from a can that resembled a tuba.

“You’re crazy to be a professor. What you really want to do is draw.” she blurted out. She glanced at a cow he had drawn and said, “That is a beautiful cow!”

Praise from the one you love is truly lovely, and it set him on the course of his career.

I am truly grateful for Dr. Seuss’s books. He and so many authors gave me the gift of finding wonder and magic in an immigrant’s journey.  Read Across America Week was started during Dr. Seuss’s birthday week, and continues to enthrall children. In my son’s school, this year was the multicultural reading week. He told me about some excellent books they read in school this week:  Under the Hijab, The Roots of Rap, My Papi has a Motorcycle, etc, and I am looking forward to reading these myself.


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.