Our Voice is a monthly series that highlights students and alumni by Rinzin Dorjee, a student programming assistant at the CSGD. The goal of Our Voice is to create a space for conversations related to LGBTQ issues and the Duke experience from the perspective of students and alumni from different social, cultural and political backgrounds. For Octoberâs installment, Rinzin interviews Nandhini Narayanan from Chennai, India pursing a Masters in Engineering Management.
Rinzin: Hi, I am really happy that you agreed to have this conversation with me. I know we have met before but for our readers, could you introduce briefly, where you are from, where you grown up, etc.?
Nandhini: Sure! My name is Nandhini. I am from Chennai, India. I grew up in a lot of cities in India and I speak about four different Indian dialects. I love India because of its unique culture and food! I enjoy reading and usually read a book ever week. Being here at Duke is extremely hectic but I am not going to give up reading.
Rinzin: What kind of books do you read? Is there one youâd particularly recommend to our readers?
Nandhini: I like reading science fiction. I think Iâd like to recommend âThe Fountain Headâ. It proved a wonderful read. Everyone should read it.
Rinzin: So, I understand that you are a graduate student here at Duke. What is your stroke? What do you enjoy during your free time? (I doubt anyone here at Duke has it!)
Nandhini: I enjoy meeting new people and Duke is a great place for that. I am into my first semester here at Duke now and so far, it has been great. I will be studying engineering management for the next 18 months of my stay.
Rinzin: What was your first impression of Duke?
Nandhini: Gorgeous campus, friendly people who would hold door for you and say hi despite being complete strangers.
Rinzin: How is being here at Duke different from your previous institution in India, especially as relates to the LGBT community? Have you any experience with LGBT individuals at your previous school?
Nandhini: Yes, there is a huge difference. I worked with HIV positive men while I was in India for some time and I realized that there isnât really an open discussion or a discussion of any sort that would bring attention to these kinds of issues. And these things really need to be talked about in an open discussion! I think people back home still associate the term âGayâ with being happy and the like. We are still in that state, probably at least 50- 60 years behind in terms of our knowledge regarding LGBT issues. People are still not aware of what it means to be an LGBT individual or if such an individual exist in the society at large or in their family. Kissing someone you love is still seen as an aberration. I honestly think that we are 60 years behind. It is quite sad in that sense.
Rinzin: I was born in India and I have lived there before leaving for the UK. I had the impression that a lot of adolescents are developing an interest in LGBT issues, if not the wider Indian society. What is your opinion on this?
Nandhini: Yes, this is true. A lot of youngsters are learning about these issues directly from US TV series such as Glee, which for one is quite US centric but it deals with LGBT issues to some extent and because it is such a popular show in India, it has its perks. There are several LGBT related organizations in India such as LGBT India that support groups in elevating the level of education regarding LGBT issues, exposure, awareness and what it means to be an LGBT individual.
Rinzin: So, now that you brought up this important point. What does it mean to be an LGBT person in your opinion?
Nandhini: I personally think being an LGBT person means being absolutely no different from a straight person. For the individual, it would mean coming to terms with his or her or their own skin, that this is who he or she is or they are. In the US, you have actual space to do this and people living here are fortunate in that way. Like I said earlier, being an LGBT person means nothing different from being a straight person. You do not wake up in the morning and become a straight person, an LGBT person, a dinosaur. You are who you are and everyone should respect you for your being.
Rinzin: Why do you support LGBT rights? Why do you think it is important?
Nandhini: Because it is human to stand up for it. A hundred years ago, people discriminated against people because of their skin color and look where we are now. We have so much to learn from each other if we overcome our differences. There is no reason whatsoever why someone should isolate or discriminate against someone who is different, who has a different sexual orientation. I think I am just being human when I say I support sexual and gender diversity. I need to and have to associate with someone who is different, who has a story to tell. This is one of the reasons I left India so that Iâd be exposed to more cultural openness and understanding. I am a biologist. I tell you one thing â homosexuality exists in nearly all mammals but homophobia exists only in humans. What does this say about us? Come on, we can be so much better! Like I mentioned earlier, shows like Glee has played a big role. Its popularity among the youngsters has sparked a lot of awareness and discourse, have led to many political statements. I mean in India, even heterosexual relationships are under scrutiny, let alone homosexual relationships. Important issues related to the spread of AIDS and different types of STIs are not very much talked about. Itâs considered taboo. What is education and awareness in this country is seen as taboo there. How can I emphasize this enough? In India, people get disowned because some parents do not approve of their partners and these are heterosexual relationships. My cousin married someone of a different religion and she was disowned instantly. So, you get what I mean when I say we are about 60 years behind. On the bright side, many Bollywood movies such as Dostana brought discussion related to LGBT issues to the dining table. My friend who took his family to see this movie was able to discuss homosexuality with his parents after watching it. Dostana had a huge reception at the LGBT community in India.
Rinzin: It is always very interesting to hear what someone from a different cultural background has got to say about being an LGBT individual in a different cultural context. It is insightful in that it gives a picture, very different from the US centric one that we are aware of. To wrap up, could I ask what is one of your favorite quotes?
Nandhini: There are quite a few. Do you know this one â âit is not the mountain ahead that wear you out, it is the pebble in your shoesâ. Again, this relates back to how it is crucial for people to change their mindset and try to look at the world differently. Respect everyone for who they are irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation and learn from their personal experience. We have so much to learn from each other.
Rinzin: Lastly, what is the one most played song on your Iphone?
Nandhini: Adam Lambert! His voice is made in Godâs design studio. I love what he stands for â being bold and different. When he competed in American Idol, his style was deemed too theatrical and despite being predicted by judges that he will not stand a chance, he kept forging ahead and pulled it off in the end. His voice is so powerful. It gives me chills.
Rinzin: And, your most embarrassing moment so far at Duke?
Nandhini: Ordering food anywhere on campus!
If you would like to be featured in an issue of Our Voice please contact the CSGD at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject title : "Our Voice"