Shaking Up Tradition! with Nandini Bajpai
by Nandini Bajpai, author of A Match Made in Mehendi
I grew up in New Delhi in a large family with three sisters and lots of cousins. I also went to a women’s college, which was kind of like an Indian Wellesley or Barnard. Many of the girls I grew up with had arranged marriages and they were not the stereotypical negative experiences you might expect. It was usually families doing a lot of legwork and research to find someone their son/daughter might like, and vetting them thoroughly before making introductions. Then it was left up to the couple to make the final decision. There were plenty of meet cutes, romantic moments, disappointments, heartbreaks, and happily ever afters in these stories as in any other way people meet up—believe me, I’ve heard them all. Sometimes the families found matches through family networks, put out classified ads in newspapers, and sometimes they had help from professional matchmakers.
My husband grew up in the US and had a very different experience here, as did many young people I know—my nieces and nephews, and my own kids. The world in which Simi, the protagonist in my novel A Match Made in Mehendi, lives in an Indian American community in New Jersey has a bit of both approaches occurring simultaneously—from the matches her mom and masi carefully arrange in their matchmaking business to the drama and messy relationships in the hallways of her school.
Having seen these worlds up close in my life it was both a very uncomfortable and very interesting experiment to bring them together. What if Simi took the techniques used by the matchmakers in her family and applied them to the high school dating scene? How would her peers, some of them Indian American and the first generation to grow up in America, react? How would kids that are more privileged react when kids they don’t consider worthy start to get attention and find partners the entitled ones have set their sights on? What if everybody gets out of their perceived lane to actually cross the lunchroom floor and be with people that they share common values with whatever their background? And what would happen if their parents found out?
It was fun to have Simi be the catalyst that dares to go there and set it all in motion. She sees the world through her Desi lens and though her approach doesn’t always work it gives the social status quo a much-needed shake up. All communities change and evolve, especially immigrants and the host communities where they settle, and the next generation has to make up their own rules. Looking back at history the only constant in these social norms is change. I hope that A Match Made in Mehendi expands the way people think outside their own lived experience and makes them more open and accepting of love in all its forms.
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.