The aunties are global, and they are here to stay!
By Nimarta Narang
As someone who grew up in Bangkok in a very Punjabi family, the importance of weddings, much less the wedding season, was never lost on me. How could it be? The ornate decorations, decadent and rich food, elaborate outfit changes, and let’s not forget, the dance numbers were so celebratory, lavish, and all-consuming that I knew weddings were a vital component of the Thai-Indian community. I attended weddings as soon as I began walking, although I’m pretty sure I was present even before that, held in either the arms of my parents or as I laid in a stroller. As I grew older and began taking part in the wedding party, from the groom’s niece to the bride’s sister, I realised that weddings were not just for the ones who were getting married, but also for the family, and the community. I started to think that finding the one you would marry was not so much about finding a life partner, but finding someone with whom you could tolerate the wedding planning because, dear God, there are at least four events to plan and get through.
That is why perhaps the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking (2020- ) had such an impact on South Asian communities all over the world, including the one in Thailand. Witnessing an outspoken aunty onscreen work her magic was like watching the aunties who grew up amongst us, nursing a cup of chai and gossiping about this person’s daughter or that one’s cousin. This year, Season 3 made its debut and Sima Taparia from Mumbai (fondly known as Sima Aunty worldwide) is now travelling not only to the US, but also to London. Her reach has truly become global, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
Before the show was released, I had a chance to meet with Sima Aunty over Zoom. I was excited. I wasn’t meeting her for my own needs (ahem, for the aunties reading, I am in no need of matchmaking), but to get to know her better. Was she as she presented herself on screen? The answer is, very much yes. I asked for her take on the Thai-Indian wedding scene, and she confessed that she didn’t know too much about it. She had a few clients based in Bangkok, but she was intrigued to learn more – she even expressed wanting to do an event in the city, and asked if I would bring her.
“Every time I’ve been to Bangkok it’s been so nice, and people are always so nice,” she says with a smile. So, fans of the show watch out, Sima may just be knocking on your proverbial doors. I then asked her if she learned anything new each time she worked with a new clientele from a different city.
“Wherever I go, the clients are mostly the same. They all come in thinking they know what they want, and they leave learning that what they want isn’t what is best,” she reveals. This was pretty much her ethos for the three seasons, I thought, as she met client after client on screen and told them they would achieve only 60 percent of their expectations in what they found in a partner. In Season 3, Sima Aunty meets with a range of clients from Delhi, New York, and London, and we see their many cute and mostly-awkward dates. We see her accompany a woman to India who is visiting her match’s parents for the first time, we see her meet a ‘mummy’s girl’ for the first time, and also a first, we see a glimpse of Sima Aunty’s husband as well.
Sima Aunty looked radiant on Zoom. Her hair was dyed a dark blonde, and she had her signature dark lipstick. She was sitting in her home in Mumbai, and I was one of many she was Zooming that week. I thought her energy levels would be low, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how energetic she was, and how dialled in she was to the conversation. I thought of her family, and I asked if she ever got lonely traversing across the world for her clients and for the show. I distinctly had the scene of her making chai with her husband in mind when I saw her reflecting on the question.
“I take my home with me. When I am traveling abroad, I take my husband with me, and homemade food and chai. I can’t eat the food abroad, so I make sure to make chai,” she shares with me. I learned that her life partner is someone she values very much and someone who has always been supportive of her business, one which she embarked on because she always knew she was good with people. “I like people. I like helping people, and I’m good with them. I thought, why not take my gifts and use them for good?”
Which then makes it interesting to note that her success rate on the show hasn’t exactly been… well, successful. I inquired about people who aren’t as satisfied with her services or people who don’t completely agree with her. She looked at me blankly and said to me straight, “Everyone loves me. No one has ever disagreed with me. Everyone says the show is great. By God’s grace, I’ve done well.” A true aunty indeed, I thought in the moment. In true aunty fashion, then, she directed her own line of questioning towards me. She asked about my background, where I lived, what I did, if I was seeinganyone, and what my plans were in the future? She took audible notes of my calm temperament (I’m sure my family would disagree) and kind smile. It was as though she was figuring out my own biodata, an act I realised that was as natural to her as it was for us Thai Indians to attend weddings. That is, without a second thought.
Another year has come, another wedding season will come and go. Wedding seasons will remain a staple of the Thai Indian community. Sima Aunty’s Indian Matchmaking serves as a reminder that Aunties will also remain a steadfast presence in any South Asian community, whether it be in Bangkok, London, or New York. The Aunties are global. And we know one just like her sitting in our very own living room, or at least our neighbour’s.