How ‘Lolita’ Freed Me From My Own Humbert | With Jameela Jamil

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Brian Rea for The New York Times
Brian Rea for The New York Times

"Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about a man’s sexual obsession with a young girl, is famously controversial. But when Bindu Bansinath started to read it, it unexpectedly became a kind of road map for her, showing her a way out of the situation she was in.

She tells the story in her piece, “How ‘Lolita’ Freed Me From My Own Humbert.” It’s read by Jameela Jamil. Jameela starred in “The Good Place” on NBC and she’s the host of the new podcast “I Weigh with Jameela Jamil.”

Where Are They Now?

Bindu Bansinath was twenty-one when her essay was published in February of 2018, in the middle of the #MeToo movement. She says she thought a lot about what it would be like to publish this story.

"For so long I’d carried that experience with me as a secret, as something I was supposed to hide. And then I was going to put it out for the whole world to read and see," she says.

"At that time a lot of #MeToo voices were coming out, and there weren’t very many from South Asian women. I felt like what I could do in terms of reach with this essay was more important than my personal anxieties about putting it out."

And her essay did reach a lot of people.

"I was really worried about how it would be received, but I was warmed and heartened to see how many people called it brave, or privately shared with me that they had had similar experiences. They were moved by the essay, and that was quite something to hear," she says.

Bindu doesn’t know whether the man who abused her has read the piece. He spent several months in jail before being released. Now, he is a registered sex offender. And Bindu says that after he was released, she did worry about her own safety.

"I was nervous because in the end I really did speak out against him," she says. "I always felt the anxiety of [having] changed the course of his life, even though he changed the course of my life. I was always afraid that he would feel vengeful about that, and I would have to face that in some way."

"At the same time, there’s a part of me that hopes that he read it, and knows that manipulating me into silence or manipulating anybody into silence won’t work."

Bindu says that the experience of coming to own her own narrative was powerful. But it wasn’t the end of her healing process.

"The aftermath of these experiences definitely does come up in my daily life, in my relationships — kind of in everything," she says. "I really struggle with romantic relationships, and [it] is a really frustrating thing."

"I had this terrible experience, and I don’t want to have more terrible experiences. I want to meet good people or kind people," she says. "But in fact, you sometimes seek people out that replicate the patterns that were going on in that relationship."

"I know that I can be in unhealthy relationships. I know that I enter them and stay in them longer than I should," she adds. "I understand it, but I still do it. There are so many things I have to rewrite in my body. [I have to rewrite] what love means to me, and what a good relationship looks like. So I’m still searching for that."

"If you go through something like this, you learn to devalue yourself because someone is devaluing you," she says. "It can be really hard to work from a place of that little self-esteem and that little sense of self worth. But an important part of healing is ... loving yourself and being aware of what your worth is."

"If I can’t afford myself that kind of graciousness and humanity, then I think about, if my friend was in this situation, would I let them accept what I am accepting. And obviously the answer is no. So I think [you have to drive] home that you are worth so much. And if you can’t see it, think about the people you love, and treat yourself like one of them."

Voices In This Episode

Jameela Jamil works as an actress, writer, host and advocate. Jameela was first seen on American television starring as Tahani in Mike Schur’s Golden Globe-nominated series The Good Place, opposite Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. In 2020 Jamil will reprise her role as host on the TBS game show THE MISERY INDEX. She will also voice the character Auntie Pushpa in the Disney series Mira, Royal Detective with an all-Indian cast that includes Freida Pinto and Kal Penn. In addition she is one of the judges on HBO Max’s new competition show LEGENDARY.

Jameela is an advocate for many causes and in 2018 launched a movement and activism platform called I Weigh. What started as an idea and an Instagram page became a platform and community of change makers who come together to share ideas, experiences and ultimately mobilize activism. Through original content, editorial and podcasts, the platform explores social issues that stem from mental health to climate change to the representation of marginalized groups. In April 2020 ‘I WEIGH with Jameela Jamil’ Podcast launched with Earwolf in which Jameela speaks to different thought-leaders, performers, activists, influencers, and friends about how they are working through their past shames to find where their value truly lies. With hilarious and vulnerable conversations, I WEIGH will amplify and empower diverse voices in an accessible way to celebrate progress, not perfection. The podcast has featured names such as Gloria Steinem, Reese Witherspoon, Demi Lovato, Billy Porter, Tarana Burke, Ashley Ford and Deshaun Wesley to name a few

Jameela has also appeared on various talk shows including Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan, The Talk, GMA, The Today Show, Seth Meyers to name a few. She has also appeared on various fashion and editorial publications such as Glamour, Vogue UK, Elle, In Style, Allure, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and Stylist.

Courtesy Bindu Bansinath
Courtesy Bindu Bansinath

Bindu Bansinath is an MFA candidate and freelance writer based in New York City. Her previous publications include New York Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Electric Literature, and more. She has work forthcoming in the Paris Review and Bon Appetit, and is at work on her debut novel.

Headshot of Caitlin O'Keefe

Caitlin O'Keefe Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Caitlin O'Keefe was a producer of podcasts and new programming at WBUR.



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