Nithya Swaminathan: The DLG-Proust-Actors Studio Questionnaire

by Joseph McKeown

At a park in Washington D.C.

At a park in Washington D.C.

Nithya moved to the United States on a whim. While attending high school in Singapore, the day before she had to send her list of the colleges where she planned to apply to her counselor, she had one space left. She Googled “liberal arts colleges” and Swarthmore came up. “I didn’t do any research,” she says. “I just put it down—I hadn’t visited—and it was the first school I got into.” To be fair, after she was accepted, she did do a little more research, but she showed up on campus ready to start having never visited. But the decision paid off. “I loved it,” she says. “Swarthmore is really great, such a great experience. I mean, it was really stressful as well. But now when I look back, all I had to do was read books and write about books. Why did I complain about that?”

Born and raised in Mumbai, her family moved to Singapore when she was thirteen when her dad received a job offer there. She says about Singapore: “It’s a really convenient, organized, clean place, but sometimes it can get a little too comfortable. It’s nice to live there for a few years.” In Singapore, she attended an international high school that had sixty-three different nationalities among students and faculty. This kind of diversity also attracted her to New York City, where she attends New York University School of Law.

Nithya joined the firm as an intern this summer, and she will start her second year of law school this fall. She says her love of reading and writing led her to apply to law school. “I wanted to be an academic for a long time,” she says. “But sometimes it felt like no one is actually reading what was being produced or it didn’t seem super useful. Like, I’m writing about the way commodities are portrayed in Victorian literature—is that super useful? I like the idea that in law you’re reading and writing but it’s going to a very specific useful purpose.”

Questions taken from and/or inspired by the Proust/Inside the Actors Studio/Bernard Pivot/AnOther Magazine questionnaires.

What is your least favorite word?
Crud, fudge, shoot, and similar approximations of swear words. I think if you want to swear, you should go the whole way.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’ve always thought that being a television or movie critic would be fun. I think the person who writes episode reviews of The Bachelorette on Vulture has the job I want the most.

What is your idea of happiness?      
Lying in the sun with a book after a long swim.

Where would you like to live?          
In Coonoor, India—it’s a small town in the hills, close to where my grandparents live. It’s peaceful, quiet and people from all over the country end up there.

Who are your favorite prose authors?         
P.G. Wodehouse, Elena Ferrante, Salman Rushdie, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and Leslie Jamison. They all write with honesty and humor.

What is your favorite film?
In the Loop, a film that is both hilarious and shockingly pertinent right now.

What would your last meal be?       
My mother’s sambar (lentil stew) rice and potato curry—classic South Indian comfort food.

What do you hate the most?            
Close-minded people frustrate me.

What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?
The ability to make art of some kind.

For what fault have you most toleration?
I’m very tolerant of people who are prone to stressing out over small details or getting anxious, mostly because I empathize with that tendency.            

What makes you laugh?
Memes and British television.

What makes you cry?
Sick dogs, old dogs, and movies about dogs.

What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
I have a very limited grasp of cardinal directions, and every day I thank Google Maps for being the sole reason I get anywhere on time.

What do you most like about the age we live in?
How easy it is to share your life with people who are far away. My family lives in Singapore and India, but they stay updated despite the twelve-hour time difference.

What is the biggest risk youʼve ever taken?
I decided to go hiking in Sicily by myself the summer before law school, which definitely felt scary in the moment.

What is a book or movie that has changed your perspective on life?
Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
For curiosity and empathy to transcend national borders.