June 15

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When Life Hands You Ideas by Nandini Bajpai

The path to publication from idea to ink is different for every book. Sometimes life hands you an idea and sometimes the idea comes from something in your own life.

The first was true of my U.S. debut A Match Made in Mehendi since I don’t actually come from a family of matchmakers and the original idea was not mine either. I had to work from what I knew about matchmaking growing up in India, figure out the rationale behind the app, and breathe life into Simi, her family, and friends by really thinking about them and getting to know what they were about. I’ve always been interested in what the next generation of immigrants decides to keep, to change, and to let go from the cultural heritage their families have brought with them, so I enjoyed the challenge. It was a fun experience to watch the Sangha matchmaking tradition evolve and adapt along with their newest matchmaker, Simi. I definitely learned a few things along the way and I hope my readers did, too.

The second path to publication, when something unique from your own life nudges you into writing an entire book, was true of my second book to be published in the U.S., Sister of The Bollywood Bride. This book is about a teenager, Mini, raised by a single dad after loosing her mom to cancer at a young age. Mini’s older sister Vinnie is getting married, which would normally be a joyful occasion in their Indian-American family, but because their father and even Vinnie herself are incredibly busy, it appears that the wedding is going to be pretty underwhelming. That’s when Mini, the baby of the family, sees in the jewelry their late mother left them a message to give Vinnie the warm and wonderful wedding she deserves. She’s smart and resourceful and uses her network to plan the event within the family’s tight budget. When things start to go wrong, everyone in Mini’s community pulls together to tackle the obstacles thrown in her path and literally save the day.

This story idea came directly from my life when the wedding of my sister-in-law in 2011 was in jeopardy due to a rare New England Hurricane. As the storm track altered course to a direct hit for Boston, and we were all scrambling to reschedule and revise the rain day plans, which had not accounted for an actual hurricane, I was thinking that no one would believe this scenario if I put it in a book. And also, that if it all turned out okay, I should definitely put this in a book. After the rain-drenched yet spectacularly memorable wedding was over, I got to work dreaming up a story idea that used the broad strokes of what happened to our family and how we managed things as a backdrop.

I had the backdrop but I also wanted a character I could cheer for who could carry the story, and that’s when I thought of Mini. A young girl who may have lost the strongest link she has back to her culture in her mom, but who is willing to figure things out to give her big sister a dream wedding. Mini is a lot like some of the young people in my life who are sometimes even more capable than the adults around them. Mini goes above and beyond in organizing an event her mother would have approved of had she lived to see it. And in the process of doing that she finds community, reconnects with her extended family, falls in love, and gets closure on the lingering grief of their mother’s passing.

I really enjoy writing books that center joy and celebration in Desi-American families even when there is loss to make the experience bittersweet. These are the moments that celebrate our common humanity and the universal emotions of love and connection that bind us all, and I hope that Sister of the Bollywood Bride will bring a bit of that to anyone that picks it up.        

Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, before settling in the Boston area with her husband, kids, and a fluctuating number and variety of pets. She is the author of A Match Made in Mehendi and Sister of the Bollywood Bride.