Red Turban White Horse: My Sister’s Hurricane Wedding
by Nandini Bajpai
(Scholastic India, 2013)
Indian-American teen Mini (Padmini) Kapoor’s busy life (new driving licence, two part-time jobs and building up her portfolio as she looks towards college) goes into super-drive when she takes on the organisation of her older sister Vinnie’s desi wedding to fellow-medic Manish – in two short months. There’s the catering; the decorations and flowers; setting up the ceremony at the local temple; the mehendi (henna) ceremony; the saris for the bridesmaids and the perfect lehenga outfit for the bride to set off the gold jewellery designed by their mother, who died seven years earlier. And Mini is also determined to find a white horse so that the groom can arrive at the temple in traditional style. Budgets are tight but Mini is nothing if not creative – and when she gathers in all those who are willing and able to help, it is amazing what can be achieved.
The colourful cast includes Mini’s Dad, caught up in his new business venture; her dog Yogi; her best friend Jackie, whose Mom runs the second-hand designer clothes shop where Mini works part-time; and Mom’s sister Masi, a world-renowned couturier based in Delhi, from whom Mini has been estranged since her mother died. Then there’s the gorgeous Vir, who is not quite open with Mini about his background; and finally, the unwelcome and unavoidable arrival of Hurricane Irene that triggers a State of Emergency in the State of Massechussets. So after all the hard work, will the wedding actually be able to go ahead as planned?
Mini is a loveable narrator whose zest for life is infectious. She is feisty and savvy, impetuous as well as super-organised and self-sufficient – but also as vulnerable as any teen on the cusp of adulthood. There’s plenty of misunderstanding and potential for things to go wrong to add spice to the story. As can so often be the case during preparations for a big family celebration, hurts that have been pushed into the background become impossible to avoid. The hole left in the family’s lives by the death of Mini’s Mom from cancer, her love for them and her continued influence on them are also themes that run through the book, all the more powerfully because they are filtered through Mini’s teenage voice. I also love the weighing up between people from different areas of India – you can almost see Mini rolling her eyes in humorous tolerance as she relates an exchange with a bank-teller in the first chapter; and she also has to negotiate the sensitivities that Manish’s family have slightly different traditions for celebrating a wedding.
The fabrics and fashion, exclusive cars and even an A-list party add sparkle and glamour but do not detract from the warmth and emotional depth that give the story substance. The novel leaves readers feeling happy, cheering the outcome, and maybe even dreaming of organising a wedding for themselves. Red Turban White Horse is the perfect blend of fairy-tale glamour and relationships convincingly rooted in contemporary reality for teen-age girls everywhere.