A Match Made in Mehendi


By Nandini Bajpai

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For fans of Brandy Colbert and Jenny Han comes a lighthearted novel about tradition, high school social hierarchy, matchmaking, and swiping right (or left!)

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.


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Sometimes an accident is no accident, but a way to bring hearts together. Those who make such accidents happen are blessed indeed.


chapter one

Matching furniture is like matching couples. There must be balance, harmony, and excitement between the sofa and the side table, the lampshade and the rug—just as there is balance, harmony, and excitement between two people who are perfect for each other.

Sound ridiculous?

Welcome to my life, where this isn’t a bit of feng shui or vaastu. It’s actually the way my family sees pairing people. My mom and masi are third-generation professional matchmakers, so that’s the way they see everything. Stuck with them since birth, I can usually put up with this. But today they’re making me want to rip the stuffing out of the beautiful silk cushion I’m holding, just like our dog, Sweetie, did when she was a puppy.

“These colors are a great match, no?” Mom thinks maroon and gold are predestined to be together. “The pattern on the cushions has such positive energy. They balance the coffee table nicely, too. What do you think, Simi?”

I tilt my head to squint at the abstract geometric design of the cushion. Someone give me a medal for not screaming. “Can cushions really have energy?”

“Simi!” Mom yells, and I know when she says my name like that she’s either going to buy this thing or walk out of Singh’s Emporium and start over. Again.

The late afternoon sun spills through the showroom windows of Singh’s, a cluttered, comfortable Indian furniture store popular in this part of New Jersey. It’s the day before sophomore year starts, and everyone else is probably last-minute speed-reading summer book assignments or taking the final beach trip of the season, but I’m stuck in Peach Tree Mall with my family, picking out couches, chairs, and coffee tables for my masi’s new house.

Actually, correction—I’m picking furniture with the women in my family. My older brother, Navdeep, got to ditch, along with my dad and uncle. Male opinions were deemed unnecessary, I guess. It’s just my mom, my masi—mother’s sister—and my cousins Preet and Geet. They didn’t want to be scooped up and dragged along, either, but our moms always get what they want.

And they never settle for the first thing they like, or even the fifth. They believe in options. And bargains. And the best deals, no matter how much comparison shopping that might mean. This is legit the fifth store we’ve been at today. No one needs to go to that many furniture stores just to find a place to put their butts.

“Guys, this is as good as it’s going to get.” Preet’s had enough. “I need to get back to my apartment. I have a package coming later. Will you both please stop fussing and buy it already?”

“You’re sure?” My mom puts her glasses on to look closely at the upholstery.

“Sure, I’m sure!” Preet waves a hand, making her armful of silver bangles jingle. She looks fabulous today, as usual, in a white sequined chiffon top paired with dark-wash jeans—which, on me, would be borderline cheesy. She’s all silky black hair and the kind of curves I thought I’d get when I started high school. But nope. I got nothing. Sad face.

I run my fingers over one of Masi’s potential new chairs.

“Comfortable but not too comfortable,” Preet says, rolling her eyes. “Which is perfect because you know that our Punjabi peeps never leave if they get too cozy, am I right?”

Mom laughs and pats her back playfully. “You have a point, Toofan Mail.”

“Ugh, Manju Masi, don’t call me that anymore.” Preet frowns at the childhood nickname my mom gave her—after the super-speedy train on the old Indian Railways.

“You’re always straight to the point,” Mom says. “And with so much excitement.”

Props to Preet: I think she just sold them the couch.

Maybe that means we can get out of here and head to the art store. I don’t have enough expandable folders or 2B pencils or Post-it notes, and I’m all out of Venetian Sea blue number 34 in my watercolor set, which is critical. This is so not the right way to start sophomore year.

“What do you think, Geet?” Masi asks my other cousin.

She grunts, barely looking up from her college textbook and hunkering down in her oversize periodic table sweatshirt. She calls it her signature I-refuse-to-be-pressured-about-beauty-norms look. Mom and Masi have given up trying to influence what she wears. Her boyfriend—whom the whole family (including me) loves—doesn’t care what she wears, either. They met their first year of college during Organic Chemistry and formed an instant bond—no pun intended.

Preet, on the other hand, broke up with That Creep Ravinder senior year. She’s here today on the understanding that Mom and Masi honor her strict no-discussing-dating-and-marriage-and-matchmaking rule.

“It checks all the boxes,” Geet replies. “Like Preet says, it’s perfect. So can we go now?”

“Should I write up the invoice, madam?” the furniture salesman asks Masi, hoping to seal the deal.

“Yes, we’ll take it,” Masi says.

Finally! I take a big gulp of the milky, sweet chai the salesman served us earlier and sputter because, somehow, it’s still hot.

“Careful.” Mom reaches for the cup.

“Mom, stop.” I set it down without spilling. “Ugh, I’m tired of sitting. I’m going to look around while you finish up.”

“Don’t touch anything, Simi!” Her warning echoes after me.

“Okay, okay.” It’s annoying when Mom just assumes I’m going to wreck stuff, though my history with breaking china isn’t stellar, to be honest. But I’m older now. She should have more faith in me.

The store smells faintly of sandalwood incense and a lemony wood finish. Carved Kashmiri screens separate the space into various sections—living room, bedroom, kids’ room. I catch a glimpse of myself in a gilded wall mirror and strike a pose.

Long, skinny legs, denim shorts that barely stay up on my flat butt, flouncy peasant top, flip-flops, a beaded hemp anklet on my left foot (a new trend), the paisley mehendi pattern I painted along my wrists and ankles yesterday, and lots of bouncy waves in my waist-long hair. Maybe I should’ve added the blue highlights my best friend, Noah, suggested. Even though Mom would hate them. Which means I should definitely get them.

I give a wooden swing painted with horses and elephants a little push and watch as it glides gently back and forth. There’s a tiny painted rider with a flamboyant mustache on one of the elephants. I click a picture of it and text it to Noah.

Welcome back to Jersey, beach bum.

Nice mustache!

Not as nice as your tropical vacation.

Hey, what are you wearing for first day of school?

Not sure… maybe a mustache?

That’s not what I meant when I said take risks!

Fine. Fine. Come to my house in the morning. We can walk to school together.

I wander deeper into the store, dodging a large puddle and an orange plastic cone beside it; glancing up, I see that the ceiling’s sprung a leak. I flop into the soft cushions of an armchair nearby. I pull out my little sketchbook and look around for something to draw.

Drawing’s my thing. And I’m good at it. I’ll be a famous artist one day, and all my sketches will be worth millions of dollars. No matter how much Mom complains about art not falling into one of the approved careers for Desi people. I don’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. And in my family, of course, there is a fourth career category that’s 1,000 percent parent approved—matchmaking. But I’m not doing that, either.

The puddle on the floor grabs my attention again. It could be a good subject for a still life. Hmm. I could make it a magic portal leading to somewhere other than this awful furniture store. Or… the vase beside the armchair is probably better. I need a “serious” art portfolio for the start of the school year so I can impress my art teacher, Ms. Furst.

I examine the vase and all its delicate floral motifs and exotic tropical birds. I hum a little as I pencil in the outline of the vase and add swirly paisleys to it.

The voices of Mom, Masi, and other customers hum in the background, a mix of Punjabi, Hindi, and Jersey accents that’s typical in this area, but my little corner is peaceful. I hold the picture at arm’s length and compare it to the actual vase. I’m missing something, but what?

“That’s really good.” The comment comes out of nowhere.

I leap out of the armchair and back up—straight into the orange cone and the puddle. “Yuck!” I jump around and my feet skid.

My sketchbook flies out of my hands and hits the vase. It tilts with the impact. I watch, horrified and frozen, as the vase falls to the ground with a loud crash. It shatters into a million pieces.


And of course Mom predicted it.

chapter two

It takes only a moment for the vase to shatter, but the sound rings on and on in my head. I’m sure everyone in the store heard it. I’m sure everyone in the entire mall heard it. Maybe even out in the parking garage.

Simran Sangha—the high school sophomore who doesn’t break things anymore, because being clumsy is for freshmen—just evaporated.

The old blundering me stands there awkwardly, a startled-looking dude staring at the damage all around my feet in endless bits and pieces of pottery. My mind fast-forwards to how Mom is going to react in about a minute when she gets here and takes in this scene—her face embarrassed and apologetic about my clumsiness, shaking her head as she opens her purse to pay for another broken thing.

“Oh no, oh no, I’m so, so sorry,” I stammer.

The guy is tall and youngish and wears a neatly wrapped blue turban, jeans, and a white SINGH’S EMPORIUM T-shirt. He looks about the same age as my cousins. The desk near him is stacked with books with titles like The Essential Rules for Bar Exam Success and Multistate Bar Exam Study Aid.

“Don’t move,” he warns. “You’ll cut yourself. Stay right there while I grab a broom.”

I’m frozen in the middle of the disaster zone. Frustration bubbles like a pot of boiling masala chai. Argh! I make a face at the sign on the wall that warns: YOU BREAK IT, YOU BOUGHT IT. That vase looked pricey. There go my plans for new watercolor markers and sketchbooks. Mom will definitely take this out of my allowance.

I crouch, sitting on my heels to pick up the larger pieces of pottery while the employee returns and starts to sweep the fragments into a dustpan. “Again, I’m so sorry. Was the vase very expensive?” I hand the big pieces to him.

He just smiles and shrugs. Uh-oh. It’s probably a five-hundred-dollar vase.

I squeeze my eyes shut briefly, then open them, but nope, this isn’t a bad dream. “I better go get my mom.”

“You don’t have to tell anyone.” He points to the orange plastic cone next to me. “It was just as much my fault as yours. I startled you and the floor was slick.”

I bite my bottom lip and wonder if he means it.

The sound of footsteps echo. Too late! I cringe. Even if he wants to let it go, they’ve already heard the crash.

I brace myself and pivot around. But it’s just Preet, looking as pretty as any picture.

“Are you okay, Simi?” Preet swoops down, tossing back her long dark hair, and gives me a hug. “We heard the noise! What happened?”

“I kind of”—I screw my face up, embarrassed—“destroyed that vase.”

“Never mind that; are you hurt?” She scans me with anxious eyes, and I shake my head. “Thank goodness! We can pay for the damage my cousin caused, Mr.…?”

“It’s Jolly.” The turbaned guy is still holding the dustpan filled with broken pottery. His eyes have gone wide. The tips of his ears are turning slightly red, too. A shy grin tugs the corners of his lips up as he looks at Preet. The Preet Effect, on full display.

But wait. I’m used to how guys react to Preet. What’s interesting is how Preet is reacting to him. Instead of her practiced expert brush-off, she holds out her hand.

“I’m Preet,” she says. “This is my cousin Simran. Did you know that already? I’m guessing you might!”

I study Jolly. He’s pretty cute. And he doesn’t have player vibes like Ravinder did, with his wannabe-Bollywood-star look. Jolly puts the dustpan in his left hand and wipes his right hand on the back of his jeans before shaking hers, making the silver bangles dance on her wrist.

They’ve all reached us now: Masi, Mom, Geet, and the salesman.

Mom already has her hands on her hips and her mouth pursed with disappointment. “Oh, Simi, not again! How does such a halka-pulka child cause so much destruction? More bang per kilo than a box of barood! Are you hurt?” Mom pats my back, shoulders, and head, checking to make sure that I am still in one piece.

“I’m fine,” I mutter through gritted teeth, wiggling away from her hands. “And it was an accident!”

Mom spots the dustpan filled with shards. “It always is.” She sighs, opening her purse. “How much was it?”

“No need to worry,” Jolly intervenes. “It really was an accident.”

“Your store policy is clear.” Mom points at the large sign. “I insist!”

“If he says you don’t have to pay”—the salesman nods at Jolly—“then you don’t have to pay for it, ji.”

“Please understand, it’s really not necessary.” Jolly doesn’t raise his voice or anything, but suddenly it’s hard to argue with him. “The floor was wet and she slipped. We had only one cone marking it. There really should have been more. So it’s our responsibility. In fact, I insist on offering a discount for our mistake.”

“Really?” Mom shuts her purse with an excited snap. She can’t resist a bargain. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. Raju, take their bill and adjust the payment by fifteen percent.”

“I do apologize,” Mom says. “I’m Manju Sangha, and this is my sister, Meera. What is your name?”

“I’m Jashan Singh, Auntie,” Jolly says, “but most people call me Jolly.”

“Both such happy-sounding names,” Mom says, smiling. “And such a lovely shop. You see, we just found the perfect sofa set for Meera here. She’d been looking for months. Then I told her—we must go to Singh’s! They have the best options anywhere!”

Jolly smiles at them.

“This way, madam.” The salesman leads Mom and Masi away to the checkout counter.

“We’ll be back.” Mom looks over her shoulder. Her eyes find me. “Stay here and… Don’t. Break. Anything else.”

Not even a thank-you that my clumsiness scored them a discount?

“You are so kind,” Preet murmurs to Jolly after they leave. Her smile is extra warm.

Jolly waves off the praise. But his ears go even redder.

I raise an eyebrow. I may be in trouble right now, but they’re so vibing.

“Simi, you’re bleeding!” Preet points to my hand.

“What?!” I look down and, to my surprise, a small trickle of blood drips from my right palm.

Jolly lifts it and examines the cut.

“It looks clean,” Geet says clinically.

“There’s a first aid kit in my office,” Jolly says. “I can go get it. Or you all can come with me?”

“My mom has Band-Aids in the car. She’ll be fine,” Geet insists.

Honestly, can’t she see Jolly’s trying to buy more time with Preet? Duh. So obvious.

“It really hurts,” I whine, because someone has to help Jolly out. “And I don’t think Masi has a kit in the car anymore.”

“Let’s get one from the office,” Jolly replies.

Preet takes my arm and pulls me along. Geet follows close behind, looking annoyed. I try to hide my grin.

Jolly ushers us toward a plush office in the back. There’s a big dark wood desk, a carved-wood-and-velvet sofa set, and a coffee table in the middle, covered in more fat textbooks. He pulls a first aid kit from a drawer in his desk. He clears away the books, piling them on the desk as he gestures toward the sofas. “Please, sit.”

Preet takes the first aid kit from him and binds up my cut expertly, after cleaning it with an antiseptic wipe. “Oh, you have a cut, too.” She points to his wrist.

“It’s nothing.”

“Here, let me.”

I jump up quickly to make room for Jolly to take my place beside her. This time Preet’s hands are not quite so steady as she works. Jolly’s making her laugh, and her bangles jingle prettily. Their heads tilt close together as she presses the Band-Aid along his wrist.

“It’s really nice of you not to charge for the vase,” Preet tells him. “And to give my mom a discount. I think you’ve earned a lifelong customer. She’s so going to recommend your store to everyone now.”

“It was the right thing to do. The important thing is that Simi isn’t hurt,” he says.

“I agree.” Preet clicks the first aid kit shut. A strand of hair tucked behind her ear falls forward, and she pushes it back with one hand. She gives Jolly an impish smile.

He grins back.

I usually hate this kind of stuff. Being the kid of a matchmaker means you’re stuck in the middle of lovey-dovey romantic crap all day long. But seeing Preet like this makes me happy. The sparks flying between her and Jolly could seriously power the national grid. Talk about chemistry. I can almost hear the faint sound of wedding dhols drumming in the distance.

Jolly looks over at me and Geet. “Would you like something to eat?”

She shakes her head, but I pipe up. “Yes, please.”

“Ravi, chai samosa lah,” Jolly calls out, and within minutes, one of the other salesmen has brought out the tea and snacks.

I reach right over and grab a samosa. The crispy crust is hot and stuffed with potatoes and peas. I sigh with delight as I dip mine into the spicy green chutney and take a big bite.

Preet and Jolly laugh at me.

“What?” I say with a mouthful. “They’re my favorite.”

They turn back to each other, chatting away like Geet and I aren’t in the room. The scent of fried yumminess, peppery and warm, curls around them on the sofa like an invisible blanket.

I elbow Geet and nod toward the sofa, where Preet has now gently placed a hand on Jolly’s arm, her head thrown back in laughter. “Geet Di, maybe we should, you know, look at rugs or something?”

“Why?” Geet says.

I nudge her meaningfully. Is she honestly not seeing this?

She likes him? she mouths at me, and I nod. She can be pretty slow for a onetime National Merit Scholar.

She narrows her eyes, watching Preet and Jolly with a small crease between her brows, as if she’s observing an experiment. In her head, she’s probably going through the list Mom and Masi use when they make a match:

JOLLY’S CASTE: The turban tells us he’s Jat.



AGE: Late twenties

STATUS: Available? No wedding ring visible.

EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT: Needs further investigation.

Eavesdropping reveals interesting details: Jolly’s the son of the furniture store’s owner. He’s looking after it while his father is in India on a buying trip. And he’s a lawyer. Or will be soon, anyway.

“Yeah, I’m taking the bar exam in six weeks,” Jolly says. “My dad always tells me to leave my law books home—he’s afraid I’ll end up distracted and knock something over.” He flashes a smile at me.

Preet laughs. “Oh, you should see some of the things Simi has knocked over in her life—lamps, gigantic bowls of watermelon, garden ornaments. And then there was that incident with the bike, the day she got her training wheels off; remember, Sim?”

Preet’s still laughing, but a glance at my ruby-red face and she shuts right up. “But, I mean, it runs in the family, nah?”

“I’m not listening to this,” I say, mock-offended, and sneak out my sketchbook. I roll my eyes and practice drawing random figures while we wait for Mom and Masi to return. I sneak glances at them—moving close, mirrored hand motions, eye contact—all signs of a couple liking each other, at least according to leading relationship experts Mom and Masi.

I do a quick sketch of Preet and Jolly. Not to brag or anything, but it’s great. Catches the moment and everything. I decorate the air around them with little hearts and smiles. Yeah, I’d totally ship them if I were the matchmaking type. Which I am not.

The door swings open and Mom and Masi scurry over, their arms full of fabric swatches. Looks like the discount has triggered some more shopping.

“All done?” I say, standing, ready to go.

Mom notices the Band-Aid on my hand. “Simi, are you hurt?”

“Just a scratch. Preet took care of it. Can we go home now?”

“Just make sure you don’t forget anything,” Mom says. “Your cell phone, your book…”

“Here.” Masi picks up my sketchbook and turns it over before handing it to me. “What’s this?”

The sketch of Preet and Jolly—in all its heart-sprinkled glory!

“Good God,” Geet mutters.

“Hai Rabba,” Mom echoes in Punjabi.

I flush to the roots of my hair, but I’m pale compared with Preet’s rosy cheeks.

“It’s just a sketch for my figure-drawing class. I didn’t mean anything by it. Just trying to draw from life…” I realize the implication of my words as soon as they’re out. Oops.

“Oh, you know Simi; such an overactive imagination. Remember when she was seven and thought Jeetu Uncle was a Bollywood star?” Geet says, trying to run interference.

“She’s just a kid,” Preet says. She turns to Jolly to explain. “Very creative, you know?”

Jolly doesn’t say a word, but his face is suddenly serious. He holds Preet’s gaze with calm, questioning eyes. Preet stops talking for once. Her lips curve into a tiny smile as a silent exchange passes between them.

Masi sits down on the sofa, wearing a small frown.

Mom pats a hairpin back into her bun and squares her shoulders. Her eyes wander over the wall of the office where Jolly’s college diplomas hang, in between framed pictures of the Sikh gurus, hands raised in blessing. Her eyebrows rise. It’s finally clicked that Jolly isn’t an employee but the owner’s son.

Mom exchanges a quick glance with my masi, her expression thoughtful. “Beta, will you tell us more about your family? Perhaps we know them?”

“We’re from Kapurthala originally, but I was born here in New Jersey, Auntie.” Jolly is quick to respond. “My father is an engineer by trade, but he started an import-export business twenty years ago, including the furniture store. My parents are in India right now; that’s why I’m helping run the store.”

Mom sits by Masi, taking the sketch from her. “I do know your parents, though it’s been a while since we met,” she says. “You’re related to the Randhawas in Washington, DC, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s my mamaji,” Jolly says.

Masi nods approvingly, pulls her reading glasses from her pocket, and puts them on. There’s nothing to read. She’s shifted gears into dead-serious mode. “It’s nice that you’re helping with the family business. But where did you go to school, and what have you studied?” She’s looking for confirmation of the credentials she sees on the wood panels of his office wall.

“Georgetown Law,” Jolly says. “And Penn for undergrad. I’m an attorney.” He motions to his desk. “Or I will be, as soon as I pass the bar.”

“Beta, we would love to catch up with your parents,” Masi says. “It’s been too long since we saw them last. When are they returning from India?”

“In a week,” Jolly says, smiling. “I’ll have them call you as soon as they’re back.”

My mom and Masi grin, too. That gleam in their eyes means trouble.

They’re going to ruin everything by getting parents involved.

I open my mouth to say something but stop at the serene look on Preet’s face. She likes this guy, or she would have stopped Mom and Masi in their tracks. Nothing happens to Preet that Preet doesn’t want, that much I know.

Technically, no one broke the do-not-matchmake rule, either.

I just broke a vase instead.

chapter three

The first day of sophomore year—I’m hoping it’s perfect.

My outfit is Preet-inspired—a slim-fit denim skirt, white embroidered kurti top, and an armful of bangles. Flip-flops and a beaded hemp anklet over my mehendi design complete the look. The blend-into-the-background version of me would never put mehendi on during the school year or wear glass bangles to school—an accident waiting to happen. But the New Me loves bangles and mehendi. This year I’m listening to the New Me.

I send Noah a selfie.

Too much?

Nooo. It’s so you!!


  • "A breezy, high-spirited novel, full of helicopter parents and high school drama, Simi's story subtly updates familiar tropes while questioning teenage social norms."—Teen Vogue

  • "This sweet contemporary promises to be packed full of family and friendship drama."—BuzzFeed

  • * "A rousing story that is as enjoyable as it is heartfelt. [Nandini] Bajpai creates a memorable character in Simi, who shines at the center of the matchmaking web as she narrates this winning romance."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

  • "Simi is confident, principled, and unapologetic, and her voice glitters with optimism and honesty. A sweet and quirky romance told by a protagonist who will steal readers' hearts."—Kirkus Reviews

  • "Fans of Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi and Tanuja Desai Hidier's Born Confused will enjoy this feel-good story."—School Library Journal

  • "Bajpai creates a strong, sympathetic portrayal of Simi and her close-knit Indian American family. Many readers will enjoy this engaging first-person narrative, which ends with a promising romance."—Booklist

On Sale
Sep 10, 2019
Page Count
320 pages