Guest Post: Nandini Bajpai on Sister of the Bollywood Bride

Nandini Bajpai was my student years ago when I taught classes on writing for children on writers.com. (Aside: I’m happy to see that VCFA graduate Kelly Bingham teaches there now.)

Anyway, all this to say that Nandini’s new book, Sister of the Bollywood Bride, published first by Scholastic India in 2013 under the title Red Turban White Horse: My Sister’s Hurricane Wedding, and out this year in the US and Canada from Little, Brown, is a funny, sweet romp. Life in an affluent Indian American community is drawn with humor and loving care in this story of teenaged Mini who finds herself stepping into the role of her sister’s wedding planner.

I aked Nandini to tell me something about where the dualities in this book came from.

She wrote:

The immigrant story often talks about alienation from the dominant culture. Of feeling like a stranger and having to learn to fit in and assimilate with the mainstream. But sometimes the learning has to go in reverse when a child of immigrants feels at a distance from their parents’ culture, especially after the loss of a parent who could have been a link back to the ancestral culture for them. And never more so than at big life events like a wedding in the family.   

Mini isn’t thinking about any of this when her older sister decides to get married. She just wants Vinnie’s big day to be perfect because she loves her sister, and seeing the jewelry their mom left for Vinnie’s wedding, and the hopes and dreams it represents, prompts her to dedicate her summer to making it happen. It’s probably good that she doesn’t really know what she’s getting into until she’s actually taken it on!

That starts her journey from comfortable American spaces like her suburban neighborhood and high school friends, to uncomfortable and mostly Indian ones. From Zoom calls to Mumbai with her flaky and successful Indian aunt, to chats with the helpful Indian moms at her tutoring center, to reconnecting with family friends like a sought after local wedding decorator, trading traditions with the groom’s South Indian family, returning to the local temple they stopped attending after losing her mom, managing various vendors of wedding services and more, Mini jumps headfirst into a steep learning curve with nothing but a tight budget, a used car, a faithful dog, and friends, old and new, to help her navigate it all.

When things run into a hurricane sized obstacle every part of Mini’s community, American and Indian, has to come together to save the day, and Mini is finally able to knit back all the scattered pieces of her emotional world and get closure on the grief of losing her mom all those years ago. 

I really wanted to upend some notions of the classic immigrant story with this book, like the idea that immigrants are always better off than the people in the old country, which in the time before Crazy Rich Asians (this book was first published in 2013) was pretty unheard of. I wanted to write ordinary, everyday American spaces and glamorous Indian ones without sacrificing authenticity. I wanted to show a protagonist who is comfortable and confident in her Americaness but uncertain of the Indian part of her identity. Another departure–the marriage at the center of this Indian wedding book is definitely not arranged. Also, the loss of a grandparent in the old country is oftentimes the loss immigrants deal with, but I decided to reverse that too, with Mini’s Indian grandfather and aunt mourning the loss of her immigrant mom. Yes, there is pain in this book but it’s more personal than the trope of immigrant identity and assimilation, and there is purposefully a boatload of celebration and joy!   

Sometimes a different perspective can shed new light on a story we think we know, and that’s what I tried to do. Given all the things this book has backwards it’s probably fitting that it was published in India first before finding a home in the US. I am thrilled to have it in the hands of readers in the US now!   

I love that this book was first published in India, since my own Book Uncle and Me was also published first by Scholastic India and then by Groundwood Books for the North American market. Nice to see Nandini’s Mini making that same journey.

Nandini is passionately devoted to rescue dogs, and her (sadly late) beloved Yogi plays a role in this story.

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