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Love Is Love

Nandini Bajpai on writing A Match Made in Mehendi

 

Love takes many forms and the presence and quality of love in teens’ lives impacts their social and emotional health. In A Match Made in Mehendi love is certainly a major theme.

The teenage years are a hotbed of stress, personal growth, social experimentation and the start for the search for romantic love. Societies have had different ways of conducting this search over the ages from arranged marriages set up by matchmakers to dating apps in the twenty first century. The world in which Simi lives in an Indian American community in New Jersey has the whole range of approaches happening 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. No wonder Simi wants to stay in the safe backwaters of her school’s social scene with her friend Noah, though both of them would like to find and date the perfect guy. But not for long.

Having seen these worlds up close in my life it was both very uncomfortable and very interesting to bring them together and see what happens.  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. There are so many different levels of assimilating and adapting that are right for different people, especially when it comes to finding love and looking back at history the only constant 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 possible forms.

Speaking of love in all its forms, romantic love aside there is a strong thread of love running through the book that’s as old as Simi’s family’s prized heirloom, The Shagun Matchmaking Guide, as new as the cutting edge dating app Simi helps develop, and as sweet as Simi’s favorite homemade desert, atte ki pinni.

Yes, there is the heady emotion Simi experiences with her two crushes, but there’s also the strong friendship between Simi and her best friend Noah that strengthens through their collaboration on the app. They’ve stuck together since elementary school and when all else fails they’ve got each other’s backs. There’s also Simi’s brother, Navdeep, the tech whiz behind the app. He may not look like he’s even paying attention, but he always comes through for Simi, because that’s what family does.

And although Simi may be reluctant to join the family business the intergenerational bond between Simi, her mom, aunt, cousins and grandmother is unconditional, and is the emotional foundation that gives Simi the confidence and courage to try to right wrongs and fix mistakes when she finds herself facing off against the school’s mean girl.

The final type of love, self-love, is something that Simi has to generate from within. Simi wants to step out of her comfort zone and become someone who makes a difference through her own actions instead of waiting for someone else to deem her worthy. She wants to be her authentic self – mehendi tattoos, experimental artwork, crazy Punjabi family and all. She wants to be someone who matters.

Simi is able to do that not by becoming popular with her peers or looking outward to family or her romantic interest for validation but by pulling off the hardest act of all – accepting and loving herself.

I hope readers find A Match Made in Mehendi to be a delightful and entertaining read and also find deeper layers to reflect on imbedded in the story.