Cover Reveal: A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai
Okay, let’s be real here: dating apps revolutionized the world of dating and matchmaking. As many cringeworthy (but hilarious) stories I’ve heard, I’ve also heard many success stories. But I’m not here to sell you on a dating app, I’m here to matchmake you with a book that you’ll most definitely swipe right on. It has all the characteristics I look for in a book: family tradition, high school hierarchy, diverse characters, and a pretty cover (you know that matters at least a little bit)!
A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai is about Simi, a high school freshman who comes from a long line of Indian matchmakers with a history of helping parents find good matches for their grown children. Simi accidentally sets up her cousin with a soon-to-be lawyer, and her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.” She starts a matchmaking service via an app, and then unintentionally shakes up the high school hierarchy by connecting a wallflower with the star of the boys’ soccer team.
If you haven’t already swiped right, you will by the end of this chapter excerpt.
Matching furniture is like matching couples. There must be balance, harmony, and excitement between the sofa and the side table, the lampshade and the rug—just as there is balance, harmony, and excitement between two people who are perfect for each other.
Welcome to my life, where this isn’t a bit of feng shui or vaastu. It’s actually the way my family sees pairing people. My mom and masi are third-generation professional matchmakers, so that’s the way they see everything. Stuck with them since birth, I can usually put up with this. But today they’re making me want to rip the stuffing out of the beautiful silk cushion I’m holding, just like our dog Sweetie did when she was a puppy.
“These colors are a great match, no?” Mom thinks maroon and gold are predestined to be together. “The pattern on the cushions has such positive energy. They balance the coffee table nicely too. What do you think, Simi?”
I tilt my head to squint at the abstract geometric design of the cushion. Someone give me a medal for not screaming. “Can cushions really have energy?”
“Simi!” Masi yells, and I know when she says my name like that she’s either going to buy this thing or walk out of Singh’s Emporium and start over. Again.
The late afternoon sun spills through the showroom windows of Singh’s, a cluttered, comfortable Indian furniture store popular in this part of New Jersey. It’s the day before sophomore year starts, and everyone else is probably last-minute-speed-reading summer book assignments or taking the final beach trip of the season, but I’m stuck in Peach Tree Mall with my family, picking out couches, chairs, and coffee tables for my masi’s new house.
Actually, correction—I’m picking furniture with the women in my family. My older brother, Navdeep, got to ditch, along with my dad and uncle. Male opinions were deemed unnecessary, I guess. It’s just my mom, my masi, and my cousins Preet and Geet. They didn’t want to be scooped up and dragged along, either, but our moms always get what they want.
And they never settle for the first thing they like, or even the fifth. They believe in options. And bargains. And the best deals, no matter how much comparison shopping that might mean. This is legit the fifth store we’ve been at today. No one needs to go to that many furniture stores just to find a place to put their butts.
“Guys, this is as good as it’s going to get.” Preet’s had enough. “I need to get back to my apartment. I have a package coming later. Will you both please stop fussing and buy it already?”
“You’re sure?” My mom puts her glasses on to look closely at the upholstery.
“Sure, I’m sure!” Preet waves a hand, making her armful of silver bangles jingle. She looks fabulous today, as usual, in a white sequined chiffon top paired with dark-wash jeans—which, on me, would be borderline cheesy. She’s all silky black hair and the kind of curves I thought I’d get when I started high school. But nope. I got nothing. Sad face.
I run my fingers over one of Masi’s potential new chairs.
“Comfortable but not too comfortable,” Preet says, rolling her eyes. “Which is perfect because you know that our Punjabi peeps never leave if they get too cozy, am I right?”
Mom laughs and pats her back playfully. “You have a point, Toofan Mail.”
“Ugh, Manju Masi, don’t call me that anymore.” Preet frowns at the childhood nickname my mom gave her—after the super-speedy train on the old Indian Railways.
“You’re always straight to the point,” Mom says. “And with so much excitement.”
Props to Preet; I think she just sold them the couch.
Maybe that means we can get out of here and head to the art store. I don’t have enough expandable folders or 2B pencils or Post-it notes, and I’m all out of Venetian Sea blue number 34 in my watercolor set, which is critical. This is so not the right way to start sophomore year.
“What do you think, Geet?” Masi asks my other cousin.
She grunts, barely looking up from her college textbook and hunkering down in her oversize periodic table sweatshirt. She calls it her signature I-refuse-to-be-pressured-about-beauty-norms look. Mom and Masi have given up trying to influence what she wears. Her boyfriend—whom the whole family (including me) loves—doesn’t care what she wears, either. They met their first year of college during Organic Chemistry and formed an instant bond—no pun intended.
Preet, on the other hand, broke up with That Creep Ravinder senior year. She’s here today on the understanding that Mom and Masi honor her strict no-discussing-dating-and-marriage-and-matchmaking rule.
“It checks all the boxes,” Geet replies. “Like Preet says, it’s perfect. So can we go now?”
“Should I write up the invoice, madam?” the furniture salesman asks Masi, hoping to seal the deal.
“Yes, we’ll take it,” Masi says.
Finally! I take a big gulp of the milky, sweet chai the salesman served us earlier and sputter because, somehow, it’s still hot.
“Careful.” Mom reaches for the cup.
“Mom, stop.” I set it down without spilling. “Ugh, I’m tired of sitting. I’m going to look around while you finish up.”
“Don’t touch anything, Simi!” Her warning echoes after me.
“Okay, okay.” It’s annoying when Mom just assumes I’m going to wreck stuff, though my history with breaking china isn’t stellar, to be honest. But I’m older now. She should have more faith in me.
The store smells faintly of sandalwood incense and a lemony wood finish. Carved Kashmiri screens separate the space into various sections—living room, bedroom, kids’ rooms. I catch a glimpse of myself in a gilded wall mirror and strike a pose.
Long, skinny legs, denim shorts that barely stay up on my flat butt, flouncy peasant top, flip-flops, a beaded hemp anklet on my left foot (a new trend), the paisley mehendi pattern I painted along my wrists and ankles yesterday, and lots of bouncy waves in my waist-long hair. Maybe I should’ve added the blue highlights my best friend, Noah, suggested. Even though Mom would hate them. Which means I should definitely do them.
I give a wooden swing painted with horses and elephants a little push and watch as it glides gently back and forth. There’s a tiny painted rider with a flamboyant mustache on one of the elephants. I click a picture of it and text it to Noah.
Welcome back to Jersey, beach bum.
Not as nice as your tropical vacation.
Hey, what are you wearing for first day of school?
Not sure…maybe a mustache?
That’s not what I meant when I said take risks!
Fine. Fine. Come to my house in the morning. We can walk to school together.
I wander deeper into the store, dodging a large puddle and an orange plastic cone beside it; glancing up, I see that the ceiling’s sprung a leak. I flop into the soft cushions of an armchair nearby. I pull out my little sketchbook and look around for something to draw.
Drawing’s my thing. And I’m good at it. I’ll be a famous artist one day, and all my sketches will be worth millions of dollars. No matter how much Mom complains about art not falling into one of the approved careers for Desi people. I don’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. And in my family, of course, there is a fourth career category that’s 1,000 percent parent approved—matchmaking. But I’m not doing that, either.
The puddle on the floor reclaims my attention. It could be a good subject for a still life. Hmm. I could make it a magic portal leading to somewhere other than this awful furniture store. Or…the vase beside the armchair is probably better. I need a “serious” art portfolio for the start of the school year so I can impress my art teacher, Ms. Furst.
I examine the vase and all its delicate floral motifs and exotic tropical birds. I hum a little as I pencil in the outline of the vase and add swirly paisleys to it.
The voices of Mom, Masi, and other customers hum in the background, a mix of Punjabi, Hindi, and Jersey accents that’s typical in this area, but my little corner is peaceful. I hold the picture at arm’s length and compare it to the actual vase. I’m missing something, but what?
“That’s really good.” The comment comes out of nowhere.
I leap out of the armchair and back up—straight into the orange cone and the puddle. “Yuck!” I jump around and my feet skid.
My sketchbook flies out of my hands and hits the vase. It tilts with the impact. I watch, horrified and frozen, as the vase falls to the ground with a loud crash. It shatters into a million pieces.
And of course Mom predicted it.
Fifteen-year-old Simran “Simi” Sangha comes from a long line of Indian vichole-matchmakers-with a rich history for helping parents find good matches for their grown children. When Simi accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.”
But Simi is an artist, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with relationships, helicopter parents, and family drama. That is, until she realizes this might be just the thing to improve her and her best friend Noah’s social status. Armed with her family’s ancient guide to finding love, Simi starts a matchmaking service—via an app, of course.
But when she helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the boys’ soccer team, she turns the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy, soon making herself public enemy number one.