Monique Chheda, a dermatologist with a penchant for writing, is set to publish her first children’s book, Bindiya in India, this fall. The book tells the story of a young Indian-American girl, Bindiya, who visits India for the first time to celebrate a wedding. During her time in India, Bindiya meets many of her extended family members and becomes immersed in the beauty of Indian culture and tradition. Writing the book was a way for Chheda to make sure Indian-Americans were better represented in children’s literature, and to help parents pass on Indian traditions to their children.
Celebrating Indian Traditions in Illinois
For many, growing up as a South Asian in a western country is not an easy feat. Chheda herself grew up in Skokie, IL, a suburb that is notorious for being home to many different cultures. Her parents immigrated to Illinois in the 1970s and did their best to intertwine their Indian culture with American culture. Chheda and her family spoke Hindi at home, watched Indian movies, and celebrated Indian holidays.
She fondly recalls, ”We also proudly hung American flags on the fourth of July, put up a Christmas tree, and fell in love with deep-dish pizza.”
Chheda’s parents were a huge inspiration to her throughout her childhood: Her mother was the first Indian-American woman to be elected to a political position in the state of Illinois, and her father spearheaded efforts to raise money for the building of one of the very few Mahatma Gandhi statues in the country. Her parents served as wonderful figures who actively fought to change society for the better and always encouraged her to push boundaries.
We also proudly hung American flags on the fourth of July, put up a Christmas tree, and fell in love with deep-dish pizza.
Chheda grew up learning to embrace different cultures, including her own. She loved celebrating Indian festivals, dressing up in Indian clothes, and dancing to Indian music. Similar to the main character of her book, Chheda also loved visiting India: As a young girl, her trips to the country were always awe-inspiring. She reminisced about the bustling markets and endless street food vendors, colorful festivals, the sound of temple bells and morning namaz prayer from mosques, lively wedding processions, and the sight of cows, dogs, and monkeys roaming the streets.
Her favorite aspect, though, was the feeling of being a part of such a large extended family, and the feeling that gave her, the differences between those experiences and her experiences in America.“I was proud of my roots,” Chheda tells SEEMA. However, when she turned to television, books, and movies, the media lacked representation. She rarely saw anyone with her skin color or with her heritage on television.
A Doctor With a Message
Chheda went on to become a successful dermatologist, as well as a mother. As a dermatologist, she spends her daytime hours seeing and treating patients with skin conditions. “I love being a physician, and it is incredibly rewarding to improve a person’s quality of life by treating their skin conditions.”
When Chheda became a mother, she wanted to pass her culture and traditions onto her children. Unfortunately, when she searched for books that featured South Asian characters or highlighted South Asian culture, she realized that there was still a scarcity. This led her to begin her long, two-year journey to write her own children’s book. Her path to publishing the book was not straightforward, but after seeing the need for more diversity in children’s literature, she eagerly pursued her endeavor.
Chheda wanted to show India through the eyes of a child, as well as to illustrate the abundance of beauty and richness in Indian culture. “Growing up as an Indian-American, you are exposed to Indian culture in one way or another. But visiting India, especially for the first time, is really quite a unique experience.” The story of Bindya was based on Chheda’s own memories. However, her appearance is actually based on the character, Anjali, from the famous Bollywood movie, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.” It was important to Chheda that Bindya represented a fusion of eastern and western culture.
Growing up as an Indian-American, you are exposed to Indian culture in one way or another. But visiting India, especially for the first time, is really quite a unique experience.
When it came time to find a publisher, Chheda chose to work with Mango and Marigold Press because of their commitment to diversifying children’s literature by publishing books that highlight South Asian culture and heritage, with main characters that her own children could identify with and relate to. (With every book launch, Mango and Marigold Press raises the funds to donate 1001 books to literacy and advocacy nonprofits, across the country, to help children in need. If you are interested in contributing, you can sponsor a donated copy of Bindiya in India through the publisher’s website for $10.)
Chedda hopes Bindiya’s story is familiar and nostalgic for South Asian readers, and that parents will be inspired to relive their memories of India and share those experiences with their own children. For non-South Asian readers, Chheda hopes that her story can serve as a gateway to India and its rich cultural traditions, as the central themes of family and celebration of life are broadly applicable across all ethnicities/races. She also hopes that her book can teach all of her readers a little bit of Hindi, since the book is bilingual and is a fun way to teach readers about one of the country’s main languages.
As for advice that Chheda has for young Indian-Americans on connecting with their heritage, she says, “Embrace your roots, and don’t feel that you have to choose between two cultures. It’s definitely possible to find a happy medium between Indian and American culture and make it your own identity. An identity that you can wear proudly.”
Monique’s book, Bindiya in India, can be pre-ordered through Mango and Marigold Press. Bindiya in India will be released in October 2020. After the release, it will also be available through Amazon.