Arranged Relationships: Do They Stick Like Mehendi?

A Match Made in MehendiA Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Book Group, for giving me a signed ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Anyone can claim to have good values and integrity. It is the matchmaker’s work to determine if the claims are really true.

Most Asians are not strangers to matchmaking. We typically see it in books, TV shows, and movies. The tradition is supposedly helpful because it protects the wealth and bloodline of families. However, matchmaking is also infamous in that it prevents people (particularly teens) from finding true love. Young people value their agency, and they resent it when their parents try to control their future. So in a way, matchmaking is a form of extreme parental interference. Now that I’m 25, I still dislike the idea of my parents forcing me to marry a “family friend” or some other stranger.

A Match Made in Mehendi depicts matchmaking in a more positive light. Simi, the female protagonist, belongs to a family of Indian vichole or matchmakers. Simi’s mother and aunt excel at helping parents find ideal matches for their children, and they want her to join the business. Though Simi would rather be a tattoo artist someday, she gives digital matchmaking a try. With the help of her brother (Navdeep) and best friend (Noah), she launches a matchmaking app in her high school. The app is initially successful. Many of Simi’s classmates become couples, and she and Noah become famous. Sadly, Amanda Taylor, the most popular girl in school, isn’t happy because the app matched her ex with someone “very beneath” her. To no one’s surprise, she decides to exact revenge.

For the most part, the book was too juvenile. As a nerd, I was able to connect with Simi and Noah. But I couldn’t sympathize with their strong desire to achieve popularity. I think that in reality, nerds are not fated to be bullied or discriminated in school. I certainly wasn’t; my love for books and homework made me respectable among my basketball-loving peers. Also, are popular girls always mean? Do they need to have a gang of spineless followers? Stereotypes like these can be entertaining at first but harmful in the long run. Adhering to them will only result in undue stress or drama.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the strong family dynamics. YA books without problematic parents are pretty rare. Unlike most characters, Simi didn’t have petty arguments with her mom and dad. Moreover, she felt guilty about keeping secrets from them. In retrospect, most of the hilarious scenes in the novel involved Simi eating, laughing, and sharing stories with her family. Healthy family relationships must be a cultural thing. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but Western authors can learn a lot from Eastern ones.

Ultimately, I gave A Match Made in Mehendi 3.5 stars because of its fresh take on traditional matchmaking. I don’t necessarily encourage arranged marriages, but I acknowledge their usefulness to people who are too shy and reserved to look for a romantic partner. If you have a small social circle, there’s no harm in asking for professional recommendations. Digital matchmaking is another matter since algorithms are vulnerable to hacking or manipulation. When all else fails, just remind yourself that true love waits.

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