Vikrant Lal: Tasting the Science of Love

I met Vikrant in 2003 when he arrived on my doorstep (or, more accurately, he arrived at my door after 7 flights of 400-year-old stairs) in Naples, Italy which was in full summer swing. He was on a tour of Europe with his Glee club and I hosted him and two of his friends (one of them being from my Southern Illinois high school) in my balmy top-floor apartment that overlooked the bay of Naples and Vesuvius: an inferno with the window’s closed or a cacophony of Vespas, cars and people yelling for “Antonio” with the windows open.

He never stopped smiling or saying thank you, in spite of the heat.

Eight years later, thanks to Facebook and a lovely tag on a photo memory of that eventful weekend, Vikrant and I reconnected. We  chatted about project1979 and somewhere in the conversation this cheery man mentioned that he was out of work after caring for his parents who he lost to cancer in less than two years.

I was inspired to share his story in the “Faces of project1979” feature. People like him, with his drive, kindness and effervescent perspective are gifts. His story is my gift to you!

Could you describe what you do? How did you get into that? My parents couldn’t save any money for college, so I applied to only one school, Rutgers University. I wanted to go to a big school, and I knew it had a really strong and well known environmental program. I was interested in environmental science (I was obsessed with Captain Planet as a kid) primarily because the first person to ever validate me as a person was the head of the middle and high environmental clubs called the Green Team. In 6th grade the confident and outdoorsy Ms. McNulty not only pronounced my first name correctly but told me it was “awesome!” However, after 1 year into college I realized that I needed to do something that was based on my true abilities and interests. I liked nutrition, but didn’t want to become a dietitian, so my course led me to majoring in Food Science and I’m glad it did! I am now a technical manager in product development at a nutritional company which sells nutraceuticals and vitamins.

You have had a lot of changes in the last few years. Best piece of advice given or received? Don’t underestimate people for their capacity/abilities. I didn’t realize how many people came out of the woodwork to help the family when both of my parents were ill- people were there. You never realize how much you can help people or how you affect people. Don’t misjudge what people can do or who is there to support/help or their capacity to understand or be loving.

What is the biggest hurdle you’ve tackled in becoming the fabulous you? I knew I was “different” at age 5. Growing up in a (sexually) strict and modest culture, I assumed I was shy. For an 8th grade dance we were asked to submit songs we’d like. I said “I hope ‘What a Man’ plays”. People asked why but I didn’t know except I loved that song! But I wasn’t supposed to, right? Then I started thinking that there was something wrong with me. Years later I was doing really bad in school and my mom didn’t know what was wrong. I thought it would shame the family if I told them. During Spring Break my Freshman year I was home working to make extra money for school and my Mom asked me abruptly in the car one day: “Is it your sexuality?” My mom knew the word sexuality? What? She said:“I watch Oprah. I watch General Hospital” I denied it at first and it took at whole year to tell her. I first told my brother that Thanksgiving and he said “duh”. Then I took mom out to dinner and told her. First she blamed herself and I said: “This is how God made me. I don’t have a choice.” I kept it from my dad for four years-I finally told him when I was living on my own, working after college. I thought he might disown me but when I told him he was calm. “How is this the first time we took the time to talk to each other?” I thought that this is how fathers and sons should talk. He said: “You’ll turn into a gay-stop doing this.” The turning point with him and I was when the Indian prince Gohil became famous for being out. He saw the special on Oprah (I owe Oprah so much-she’s the reason why my parents and I had such a good relationship) and said: “I think I understand now that it wasn’t a choice”. I am so happy and grateful that I came out to them and got a few years to share that with them and got to have a relationship with them. Presently, I am trying to create resources for Indian parents because my parents didn’t have anyone to talk to-they were so afraid. I have been reaching out to people through my family and eventually want to help with Indian gay wedding planning. I’ve learned that the primary concern Indian parents have in regards to gay partnership is who will cook. Food the most important concern!

You’re a pretty positive guy. How do you do it? Where do you draw your greatest inspiration? My mom was my biggest inspiration. When she knew her reality she always worried about how other people were doing and was concerned if people had eaten in the hospital (which would make everyone in the room laugh). She always had a smile on her face and wanted to make sure everyone was smiling and happy. That’s the kind of person I want to be remembered as, remembered as being the best that I could be. You never know when you can go.

Theme song of your childhood (under 18)? “Proud” for the series “Queer as Folk”-it makes me happy for being part of this time when a lot of change is taking place. The songs helps me to take the time to think about what people are going through.

When you look back at the decades of your life, what do you feel makes you proud to be part of our generation? I am happy to be the first generation born in the U.S. and part of the legacy of bridging the two cultures. I am so happy that my parents were able to give me the opportunity to be here and that I am part of a generation that gets to share my culture with other people. As a kid I had to explain that we don’t eat monkey brains (It’s all about “Indiana Jones”) and that we’re mainly vegetarians. I’m happy that we are the generation that is bringing other cultures and thoughts together, trying to teach each other about misconception. We actually are quite alike: everyone is trying get through life and be happy.

2 Responses to “Vikrant Lal: Tasting the Science of Love”
  1. Anna Keizer says:

    What an inspirational story! You go, Vikrant! 🙂

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