Of all the charming misfits on television, there’s no doubt Raj from The Big Bang Theory — the sincere yet incurably geeky Indian-American astrophysicist — ranks among the misfittingest. Now, we meet the actor who is every bit as loveable as the character he plays on TV. In this revealing collection of essays written in his irreverent, hilarious, and self-deprecating voice, Kunal Nayyar traces his journey from a little boy in New Delhi who mistakes an awkward first kiss for a sacred commitment, gets nosebleeds chugging Coca-Cola to impress other students, and excels in the sport of badminton, to the confident, successful actor on the set of TV’s most-watched sitcom since Friends.
Going behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory and into his personal experiences, Kunal introduces readers to the people who helped him grow, such as his James Bond-loving, mustachioed father who taught him the most important lessons in life: Treat a beggar as you would a king. There are two sides to every story. A smile goes a long way. And, when in doubt, use a spreadsheet. Kunal also walks us through his college years in Portland, where he takes his first sips of alcohol and learns to let loose with his French, 6’8” gentle-giant roommate, works his first-ever job for the university’s housekeeping department cleaning toilets for minimum wage, and begins a series of romantic exploits that go just about as well as they would for Raj. (That is, until he meets and marries a former Miss India in an elaborate seven-day event that we get to experience in a chapter titled “My Big Fat Indian Wedding.”)
Full of heart, but never taking itself too seriously, this witty and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows a young man as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending culture and language (and many, many embarrassing incidents) to somehow miraculously land the role of a lifetime.
5 reasons why you should read -Yes, My Accent is Real
Read an Excerpt
Everything I Know about Kissing I
Learned from Winnie Cooper
New Delhi, 1993. I was twelve years old and I had two great loves in my life. The first was Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Cable had just come to India and I was obsessed with Small Wonder, MASH, Doogie Howser, M.D., and my beloved Winnie.
My second great love was a friend of my cousin’s named Aditi. She was two years older than me, she wore shorter-than-normal skirts, she smoked, and she always smelled like cigarettes and perfume. I can still clearly remember the scent of that perfume—lemony but also just a little masculine, as if she’d finished her morning perfuming ritual with a splash of her father’s aftershave. She had a mole like Cindy Crawford’s and she was light-skinned, with hazel brown eyes. Every guy I knew had a thing for Aditi.
But I had one advantage over the other guys: she was my cousin’s best friend, and my cousin happened to live directly above me and my parents. Whenever Aditi and my cousin would hang out, I would follow them around like a puppy. Even though they went to the girls’ school and I went to the boys’, I always timed my walk from the bus so we’d somehow wind up together. Oh, hey there, what a surprise seeing you two on this fine walk to the school bus this morning! In the evenings I’d be there as they talked about boys and kissing and sex and stuff. Sometimes I’m not even sure if they remembered I was in the room; they would gossip and giggle while I bounced a ball off the wall. Literally. I became Aditi’s good friend. A younger brother if you will. Safe, innocent, G-rated.
“Have you ever kissed a girl?” she asked me one day.
“Never.” I couldn’t make eye contact. We were in my bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed, side by side. The curtains were drawn closed, like always, to shield the room from the scorching New Delhi heat.
“Never?” she said, teasing.
My father was at work, my mother was taking a nap, and my cousin had gone upstairs to take a shower or something. We were alone.
Suddenly the electricity went out and the room darkened. This may sound overly convenient—and, frankly, a little implausible—but it was actually pretty common to lose power during the summers, especially in the afternoon. The government arranged something called “load shedding” to ration electricity during high-consumption months.
I could barely see her face but I could sense her next to me on the bed.
“Kiss me,” she said.
I froze. My twelve-year-old self was terrified. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. Is she joking? She must be joking. She has to be joking.
She was not joking.
I had been dreaming of this moment for months, though I never in a million years thought it would come to pass. So of course I said the only thing that made sense: “No, no, I don’t think it’s the right thing.”
Kunal, you idiot, what are these words coming out of your mouth?
The lights came back on. She looked me in the eye and I looked away. I thought the moment had passed . . . and then, just like that, she scooted over to me and planted her lips on mine.
At that point in life, my entire knowledge of kissing came from my true love, Winnie Cooper. I had just watched the episode where Kevin and Winnie share their first kiss, sitting on a swing, and I learned one very important lesson: As Kevin leans in to kiss Winnie, he closes his eyes. And he keeps them closed the entire time. Genius.
So that’s what you do when you kiss—just keep your eyes closed. Got it. Easy peasy. So when Aditi kissed me I closed my eyes, kept them shut, and I literally replayed that scene from The Wonder Years on an endless loop. I can’t remember what I was doing with my hands, or what my mouth was doing, or even what Aditi looked or felt like in that moment. When I closed my eyes, I was Fred Savage, and she was Winnie Cooper.
Afterward, I opened my eyes. Winnie was gone. Aditi was there.
“Okay,” she said, with no inflection. Dry. Like it was a verdict. My kiss had been found to be okay.
We didn’t discuss the kiss. Not in that moment, not later that day, not the next day, not ever.
But it did happen. Clearly what we had shared, my first kiss, was by definition special, magical, and I didn’t want to rock the boat by pushing my luck for an encore.
I gave that kiss a lot of thought. Maybe too much thought. I suppose you’re supposed to say that a first kiss is “lovely” or maybe “achingly sweet,” but instead I thought . . . well, that was weird.
I was hitting puberty and I could have been aroused by a dead duck, but back then, on that particular day, I felt nothing. Maybe I was overthinking things. Maybe I was worried about getting the kiss right, as opposed to just living in the moment. I struggle with that a lot, you should know. Living in the moment. I should have been thinking, HolyShit, I just kissed a girl, and instead I’m wondering about the meaning of that noninflected, dry “Okay.”
So, I took it upon myself and decided the most reasonable interpretation of her statement was, “Okay, now we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.”
I just assumed we were dating. We had kissed, right? When you’re twelve, a kiss has the weight of a marriage covenant. It was my signed, sealed, delivered moment. My cousin, Aditi, and I would hang out as always after school, but now I would tell my mother, “I’m going to see my girlfriend!” Since my girlfriend liked cigarettes I decided to take up smoking, stealing little white cancer sticks from my parents so I could practice puffing.
“We’re going to a party!” my cousin said to me one day.
“Aditi’s boyfriend’s party.”
I was confused. Wait, but I’m Aditi’s boyfriend. Nervous, baffled, and hurt, I tagged along as my cousin’s “+1” to my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s party. The room was filled with cool, older, dangerous-looking kids—grown men, really, sixteen years old—and they were drinking beer. Real beer. I scanned the crowd of giants and I spotted Aditi. With a guy. An older guy. She was holding hands with him. He was tall, with gleaming white teeth, and he wore Doc Martens, shoes that clearly meant one thing: I’m a badass and you suck at life. He spoke in a deep, manly voice that seemed to charm the pants off Aditi (literally, I imagined). My heart plummeted and I stared, speechless.
“Hey!” one of the bigger guys said to me. He must have caught me staring. “I’m going to kill you!”
I panicked and did the most manly thing I could think of: I ran for my life. I ran outside and he followed me. I ran faster. He still followed. Then I ran around a car to hide from him, and then, wait, wait, where’d he go—he ran right past me.
He was chasing someone else.Who was he chasing, and why? I’ll never know. But it taught me at
the tender age of twelve that everything in life isn’t always about you, even when you’re sure it is.
I left the party alone, finally realizing that Aditi was not currently my girlfriend, had never been my girlfriend, and would never be my girlfriend. I wondered why she had kissed me in the first place. Did she see me as so innocent, so G-rated, that I didn’t really count as cheating on her actual boyfriend? Or maybe she had never kissed anybody, and she knew she would be hanging out with these dangerous old guys, and she wanted to try it out? Maybe I was just some experiment, like a lab
monkey. Or maybe she just fancied me. Or maybe she somehow sensed that while the two of us were kissing, I secretly was fantasizing about Winnie Cooper.
Okay. What a stupid word.