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As in 2021
Could a story about an arranged marriage be radical? As an Indian-origin writer in the US, Sandhya Menon observed that the idea always generated interest but readers came to it with a set of presumptions. So, she took the age-old trope and remade it — as an Indian teenagers’ love story.
Now, the young adult romantic comedy ‘When Dimple Met Rishi’, a ‘New York Times’ bestseller and inspiration for the 2020 Netflix show ‘Mismatched’, is on Time magazine’s ‘100 best YA (young adult) books of all time’ list, sharing space with iconic works like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl’ and ‘Lord of the Flies’. “It is so humbling to be the only Indian-origin author on the list,” Menon, 38, told TOI from her Colorado home.
Time, while releasing this year’s list on August 11, wrote, “The function of story, especially for young people, is to bear witness to their lives, marking them as valuable and seen and part of something.” It was what Menon was going for with her book.
Born to Keralite parents in Mumbai, Menon went to the US when she was 15. “It was a stark experience for me — going from the home of immigrant parents to school and then having almost another identity to become acceptable to people,” Menon, a licensed therapist, said. “I had to tone down things like my religion. People didn’t understand what Hinduism was.”
The hostility she saw sometimes made her think about cultural representation. “I remember going to the post office with mom once. In line, someone randomly started yelling that we should go back to our country. It was awful and scary … There were many instances I was made to feel like an outsider,” Menon said.
“As a child, you internalise it and feel you are not good enough. I went through a stage I struggled with my cultural identity, which is why I am grateful I am being able to write and there is representation for Indian-American kids who might be going through similar things,” she added.
‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ was her debut novel. It took her three months to write and two years to publish. “In 2015, when I wrote the book, there was a lot of interest in arranged marriage stories. I was really tired of seeing the same story — where the girl is forced into marrying someone 30 years older and is just a pawn for her father and husband...I wanted to put a different story out there about arranged marriages and Indian-American young adults.”
The Time’s first YA list came out in 2015. On the updated list this year, half the books are from the past decade. The reason, Menon said, is that young adults are looking for a wider range of stories.
“The new generation of young adults sees the world differently. They are not keen on stereotypes and non-inclusive narratives … It is why the YA genre has been so critical when it comes to diversity.”