When Guelph author Sonya Singh had trouble finding similar stories about her dating experiences as a South Asian woman, she decided to write her own instead.
“I started to look for characters in the books I was reading or the TV shows that I was watching and nobody really looked like me, or could reference South Asian dating, and so I came up with the concept to write this rom-com with a protagonist who is a strong, South Asian female," said Singh about her novel Sari, Not Sari.
The South Asian protagonist, Manny Dogra, is the successful CEO of a company called Breakup, which helps people manage their relationship breakups. After receiving a strange request from a client named Sammy Patel, Dogra accompanies Patel to his brother's wedding, where she learns how to be 'Indian.'
This is Singh's first novel and was inspired by a bad breakup experience that she had prior to the pandemic. She said she hopes this book is relatable for those who are single and dating.
“Every chapter of my book actually begins with a dear breakup story, which goes into the agency as a potential client, but all of those stories have actually happened to me at some point," said Singh.
"You walk away with laughter, a few tears, and then you're back to laughter."
Humour was another thing Singh felt was missing from romance novels she was browsing on the shelves.
"Humour has always been a big part of my South Asian culture, because my parents are storytellers, we grew up with having parents who could walk into any Indian party and make me laugh with their stories about their own hometowns in India, and it was very much sprinkled within our own lives growing up," said Singh.
“For someone to understand the point of view of a South Asian woman, particularly, I wanted to make it funny and I hope somebody walks away reading this book thinking, ‘Wow, the protagonist is South Asian, but she’s in a very non-traditional role, because she's the CEO of a breakup agency.'"
For Singh, this book is also about providing representation through sharing her own experiences with South Asian culture, but doesn't encompass the experiences of all South Asians.
“It’s what I’ve gone through as a South Asian woman, I’ve seen in my own home, or through the traditions that I’ve been able to experience at weddings, parties, food, feasts, I certainly didn’t want to write about South Asian stereotypical characters,” said Singh, “all the story lines through uncles and aunties I have experienced first-hand, and it was important for me to write about.”
Growing up in Guelph in the early 1980s, she mentions being one of few South Asian families in the community.
“When I look back, I think about how difficult it was for me to grow up without representation,” said Singh.
“There were not a lot of mentors that I could look up too, whether it was actors, or writers, or creatives, and as I got older things really changed, and the needle was turning."
Singh mentions growing up in Guelph did provide her with opportunities to develop a passion for writing and the arts, starting with her ESL teacher at Westwood Public School.
"I would see her everyday for 30 to 40 minutes and she was helping me perfect my English skills," said Singh.
Singh went on to attend Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, where she was introduced to the school's arts program, and had access to The Bookshelf in Downtown Guelph.
"I worked for the school newspaper, yearbook committee, and I took drama classes in school. This is really important for me, particularly being South Asian, where it wasn't necessarily a path that you could talk to your parents about taking, and so I had that opportunity to do that being in Guelph, I felt like those opportunities were presented to me," said Singh. "While my parents worked really hard in factories, I was able to attend a school that was offering and shedding some lights on the arts programs."
Going on to become an entertainment reporter and now a communications specialist, Singh said her experiences at GCVI and her access to The Bookshelf shaped her ability to tell stories as an adult.
"You should never be afraid, or feel like where you grew up, can't give you access to all the dreams that you want to accomplish." "If anything, I think if I hadn't grown up in Guelph, I wouldn't have the ability to be where I am today."
With one book published, Singh is working on a second novel, called The Fake Matchmaker. She has also written a script for a new Hallmark movie called Christmas Spice, which is set to be released in December 2022.
“I love it, because Crown Media and Hallmark are letting me tell a story that is a Hallmark Christmas holiday movie which embraces South Asian culture and has three leading South Asian characters,” Singh said about the story, which she pitched to Hallmark.
"To be able to create opportunities for other people, like those actors who are South Asian, is really, really exciting for me."
The book is available online and at Costco, Indigo and The Bookshelf.