Narrated in first person, Sandhya Menon’s funny and quirky debut, ‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ tells the story of two Indian-American teenagers, who have nothing in common, except their shared pedigree. But what happens when their parents secretly set these opposites to get “arranged” for marriage?
Dimple Shah, a plain looking girl who loathes getting dressed up and wearing make-up, much to the chagrin of her Indian mother, has her life all figured out. Stubborn, talented and ambitious, Dimple’s last desire in life is to get married and settle down. However, like all Indian mothers, her mother’s sole vocation in life is to find the “ideal Indian husband” for her daughter.
But since it’s not the ’60s, but the new millennium, her parents clandestinely set her up with Rishi Patel, hoping for them to fall in love and get married. Not expecting much from her mother when it comes to her career, Dimple Shah is genuinely surprised when her parents allow her to take a summer course for aspiring web developers, Insomnia Con, till she finds out about Rishi Patel.
Rishi Patel, a conventional guy with respect for his culture and tradition, is completely opposite to Dimple Shah. A romantic at heart, he agrees to go along with his parents’ plan and already sees Dimple as his future wife before meeting her. Very much his parents’ son, Rishi does everything his parents expect from him, even to the extent of sacrificing his artistic talent for an engineering degree at MIT. And while Dimple has no desire to fall in love and get arranged, Rishi is very much desirous of being “arranged” with Dimple. But he is also in for a big surprise when he meets Dimple Shah.
Their first meeting turns out to be a disaster, with Dimple throwing coffee all over Rishi and from there the narrative meanders through their lives at Insomnia Con where from hating Rishi at the first sight, Dimple becomes friends with him. Since it is a romantic young adult novel, the major part of the book is about the romantic lives of Rishi and Dimple, but that’s not where the story ends. It is not just about finding the right life partner but also about finding one’s true self which at times gets lost in a cacophony of voices. Dimple becomes a catalyst in Rishi’s life and encourages him to fight for his art and to own up his true self.
The novel also gives the reader a glimpse into the cultural war happening between the immigrant parents who although have left India, but are unable to leave their cultures and traditions behind; and their children who have become acculturated to American life and are more American than Indian. At one point in the narrative, Dimple points out to her mother, ‘“Yeah, but I didn’t come to America,” … “I was born here. This is my home. This is my culture.”
But still, a deep thread of tradition runs throughout the narrative. Rishi, unlike other teenagers, openly embraces his culture and is not ashamed of it, and though, Dimple has mixed feelings about it and debunks parts of her culture especially the marriage part of it, she remains an Indian at heart. And even if the story is largely set in San Francisco, it is thoroughly Indian.
‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ is not a simple love story. The book also deals with serious themes like teenage bullying, the teenage angst at being stuck between their parents’ wishes and between finding their own identity, and why can’t women have it all and why do they always have to choose between love and a career.
Full of teenage drama, romance, and humor, and at times, sarcastic swipes at infamous aunties and overbearing mothers, ‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ has all the elements of a young adult romance. Albeit, Rishi’s character is not completely believable for an eighteen-year-old teenager, he wins over the reader with his charming and goofy personality. The book is not inhabited with cardboard characters and after going through the crises of their own, both of them grow in the course of the narrative.
Recited in simple language, the author has taken an age-old story of – opposites meet, clash, and fall in love – and given it a tweak to make it her own. And though everyone kind of knows the ending, it is the journey which is satisfying with the reader constantly rooting for Dimple and Rishi to make up their mind already and end up with each other. If nothing more, it will jog the memory of the reader to their teenage romance and drama, and the book is worth reading for that if nothing else.