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Naina Kumar on the inspiration behind Say You’ll Be My Jaan

Naina Kumar on the inspiration behind Say You’ll Be My Jaan

Say You’ll Be My Jaan, my debut fake-engagement romcom, is the first book I’ve ever written. It’s a romantic comedy filled to the brim with my favorite tropes (fake dating, only one bed, grumpy/sunshine), but with the added cultural specificity of my own personal experiences.

The idea started when I moved back in with my parents during the pandemic. Though they had mentioned the topic of matchmaking before, they started bringing it up more frequently once I was back in the house living right down the hall. The idea of matchmaking or an arranged marriage wasn’t new or strange to me. Most of the couples in my extended family, including my parents, had arranged marriages, and I’d grown up hearing my parents’ story many times. My parents were introduced by their parents. The families all got together and met, my parents went into the next room and had a brief conversation, then they went back and told their parents “yes,” and got engaged the same day. They’ve been married for more than thirty years now, and are incredibly happy together, but even though it worked for them, an arranged set-up is not something I’ve ever been interested in for myself.

I wanted to explore why I felt that way and I started with two characters who were also not interested in having an arranged marriage, though they both had very different reasons. Meghna’s sincerely looking for a partner she can marry, but she wants romance. She wants someone who will sweep her off her feet and she’s not convinced she’s going to find that person through her parents. She also happens to still be hung up on her ex, but once she finds out that he’s about to get married to someone else, she decides to try an arranged set-up in the hopes that she’ll finally be able to move on. But the man her parents introduce her to, Karthik, never wants to get married. He’s seen too much of his parents’ toxic relationship and is terrified that he’ll end up repeating his father’s mistakes.

The two clash at first but end up faking an engagement – Meghna so she can have a date to her ex’s wedding and Karthik so he can get his matchmaking mother off his back for a little while – but of course, the two of them end up falling in love. Writing their story was so much fun, and the process helped me better understand my own views about love and marriage, and how my culture and family have influenced those views.

Meghna and Karthik go down a long, windy, nontraditional road over the course of the story, but they start with an arranged meeting and end up in love. On their own terms. In their own way. It’s a blend of tradition and modernity common in the South Asian diaspora, and I hope others will find it relatable. I enjoyed writing Meghna and Karthik’s story so much, and I hope readers will enjoy it as well!

Say You’ll Be My Jaan is published by Penguin on 18 January 2024

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