A Match Made in Mehendi is a YA Contemporary Romance by Nandini Bajpai that highlights the story of an Indian-American teenage girl, Simi, who wants to bring the art of matchmaking to a digital platform and figure out her own dreams and matches along the way. Today, I’m lucky to have Nandini Bajpai answer some curiosity-filled questions of mine as a token to celebrate the release of this lovely YA romance story of a brown girl.
🔅tech meets tradition
A Match Made in Mehendi was announced for publication in November 2017. How exciting, nerve-wrecking, or surreal was the time between the announcement and the release date of September 10, 2019?
Great question! After the initial excitement wore off it was quite nerve wracking because I had to rewrite the whole story very quickly, aging it up from middle-grade to young adult. I was very happy to put in the work because the concept made much more sense as YA and I also got to develop Simi’s two crushes who did not exist in the first draft. Then there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” between edits, as is the nature of publishing. Finally we reached the really exciting and surreal stage when the cover art, book design, and pre-publication PR took over. It’s been quite a ride!
The book introduces Simi’s family as professionals in the art of matchmaking. Was there any specific idea that sparked your interest to showcase the passed-over-generations work of vicholis?
To be honest, the initial idea was not mine but after I started writing it was fun to create a dating app that was deeper than just swiping based on how people look. I’ve always been interested in how first and second generation Desi American families have adapted to life in the US. How kids born and/or raised here view their parents’ traditions and what they choose to change, keep, or leave behind. Arranged marriage is one of those things that has been widely misunderstood and it felt good to lift the curtain on that process a little bit in an entertaining way.
It’s easy to guess by the title that Simi is largely involved in mehendi as a medium of creating art and mehendi is essentially a huge part of weddings in the south-asian culture. Does the link lie there on purpose since Simi is an Indian-American and descended from a vicholi lineage?
Yes, very much so. Simi is a talented mehendi artist and she loves the medium for its connection to her roots, but she uses it in a very non-traditional way to express her art. It was interesting to take a centuries old tradition and put it in the hands, literally, of an American teenager and see where she takes it.
The story certainly breaks stereotypes in terms of bringing different POC characters under spotlights–like a Filipino-American girl who is a great soccer player–that is, otherwise, often seen shining only on YA characters who fit a certain picture. How do you think this book would impact POC readers?
You noticed! Yes, the girl that Simi and her dating app match with the most popular boy in school is a Filipino-American girl who is talented at soccer, and very focused on doing well at her sport! One of her role models is Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, an amazing athlete and Filipino-American woman who played for Team USA. It’s fun to break stereotypes and show Asian American girls being passionate about different things, and also getting the cute guy!
Speaking of breaking stereotypes, the potential relationships that result from Simi’s matchmaking app are surprising for the boundaries they break in terms of culture, ethnicity, and status. Would the possibility of such relationships positively affect the viewpoints of young adults regarding the boundaries that have always been set in high school?
I hope so! I think it’s good for everyone to have friends, not only boyfriends or girlfriends but also regular friends, from all kinds of backgrounds. I know it’s comfortable to stick to what you know but instead of staying in perceived lanes if people just talked to each other and interacted more they might find they have a lot more in common than they think. At the very least it would improve their understanding of the actual community they live in which is always changing and evolving in our melting pot nation.
In February 2019, A Match Made in Mehendi made it to the list of ‘11 Books With South Asian Characters You Should Read In 2019’ along with some great titles like There’s Something About Sweetie, Midsummer Mayhem, The Tiger At Midnight, and other amazing ones. What is your opinion on the south-asian representation in literature? Cherishing and appreciating the progress already made, do you think there is still a long way to go?
Honestly, I do think there is more progress to be made, though I love that there are so many different titles out there right now. Having more diverse books is good for everyone. Asian-Americans may not be a huge percentage of the population of the US, but just think of how many Asians there are in the world…they are the largest group of humanity globally. Asian culture is a huge universe of centuries old languages, ideas, art, religion, and social practices which most people here have very little knowledge of. YA books are an easy gateway to begin to understand Asian cultures, especially when they feature the very people that can bridge the distance between the US and Asia…Asian-Americans, including South-Asians.
Simi’s story is soon to be released and it has already impressed the early readers, and without a doubt, it’ll win a lot of hearts once it hits the bookshelves. For all those who are going to love the story and the writing, would you like to share any future writing project or progress with your readers?
Thank you! I hope you’re right. I am currently working on two new projects but they are in the early stages. One of them is very much a contemporary rom-com, and the other is a fantasy set in an India-inspired world. I am also hoping to find a home for my two YA novels that were published in India so they can reach a wider audience in the US and other markets. Stay tuned!
Lastly, and for fun, which character in A Match Made in Mehendi is most inspired by you?
Oh, that’s a hard one! I’d say there’s a bit of my younger self in Simi. There’s also quite a bit of me in her older cousins Preet and Geet!
And that’s a wrap! Thank you so much, Nandini, for being such a vocal writer and answering all these questions. It was a pleasure to interview such a soul. For all the readers, A Match Made in Mehendi is out now so quickly grab a copy and dive into Simi’s ambitious plans and witness high school students being romantically arranged through an app.
Disclaimer: This interview was made possible by the CAKE Literary for I participated in a blog tour meant for the release of A Match Made In Mehendi. Thank you for this opportunity, Nandini Bajpai and the team of Cake Literary!
Title: A Match Made in Mehendi
Author: Nandini Bajpai
Publisher: CAKE Literary (LBBYR)
Publication date: 10 September 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
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.
Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, one of four sisters and many cousins, in a family that liked to read. She lived and worked in India, Australia, and the US, before settling in the Boston area with her husband, kids, and a fluctuating number and variety of pets. Although she dabbled in corporate finance, business analysis, and fostering shelter animals, her first love is writing.