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When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
If you have read the blurb of this beauty – then there will be a part that will definitely resonate with you, especially if you are a Desi who has grown up being stuck between the traditional ways of your parents and society; but also has been able to open yourself up by having your thoughts and opinion influenced by the whole wide world through the powers of internet – yes, I am talking to the generation who is living in the finite divide between being open and being true to your own traditions.
Nishat, our protagonist is a the first generation Bangladeshi Muslim living in Ireland, a predominantly white and Catholic community – they are a minority community and face a discrimination that, no matter how subtle still makes Nishat and her sister Priti feel uncomfortable in their own skin and identity.
The fact that Nishat is homosexual is open to the readers right from the get go, from Nishat admiring a girl she had a crush on as a pre – schooler, though she admits she didn’t exactly know it was a crush then, at a Bengali wedding of her cousin – we also read about Nishat’s conviction to come out to her parents – a fact that took a lot of courage, especially considering the way it turns out at first – for a proud Muslim family, this is something that is abominable and Nishat’s understanding that though she is firm in her own sexuality; it breaks her heart to see her parent’s acting like she doesn’t matter, that “this” will bring shame to their family. Just saying, IT IS hard to change a whole way of thinking, but do know that a parent’s love can surpass any hurdle.
The book, however, is all about a business competition being held in Nishat’s school. Nishat’s idea of opening a henna business, the art of henna being passed down to her, not just within her culture; but also in her family, by her own grandmother – is something that she knows she can actually be good at!
But when her crush, Flávia uses the same idea for the competition – she sees it as a betrayal and stealing of her culture. The icing on the cake? Flávia’s business parner is none other than Chyna, a white girl who is not just racist but is also a bully to Nishat! Along with this, Nishat also has to handle the fact that she has been outed via “text message”to the whole school – a catholic all – girl school, which has quite the effect on her mental health!
The Henna Wars was nothing short of stupendous – as a Desi reader, it was easy to see reflection of my own culture within the book – Nishat’s culture, so close to my own, felt coming home within the pages of the book. The sensitive way that the author has handled the issues of homophobia, racism and the cultural appropriation is commendable (yes, I had a couple of issues, but they were not major ones in the whole scheme of things)– and it is a book that is recommended to EVERYONE!
Adiba Jaigirdar is a Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. She has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland.
She is a contributor for Bookriot. Previously, she has published short fiction and poetry in various journals and anthologies.
All her work is aided by copious amounts of (kettle-made) tea and a whole lot of Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe.