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Never Have I Ever…Loved a Show This Much!

by and  | May 14
Characters from Never Have I Ever TV show

When we first heard about Mindy Kaling’s newest project, Never Have I Ever, we immediately called each other to gush about it. We were excited to see a show that features a South Asian family and their life in America. Plus, this show was the perfect way to kick off Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

Never Have I Ever is part of a growing number of shows—such as The Mindy Project, I Feel Bad, and Master of None—that depict South Asian experiences. But unlike the wonderful aforementioned shows that focus on adulthood, Never Have I Ever is a coming-of-age story from Hollywood with a South Asian twist. Growing up South Asian in the West has its own set of challenges, and we were happy to see Devi confront her complicated cultural identity alongside the other tribulations of young adulthood. For us, this show lived up to the hype, and while we didn’t relate to everything (because it’s ONE person’s story), there were a lot of situations that we recognized from our own experiences.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch this dramedy yet, there are some SPOILERS ahead, so proceed with caution.

Never Have I Ever features teen Devi Vishwakumar struggling to find herself and her place in high school after the unexpected death of her father, Mohan. Throughout the season, she tries to strike a balance between her friendships with best friends Fabiola and Eleanor, her budding love life with Paxton, and her battle with Ben academically to be at the top of their class. At home, she clashes with her mother, Nalini, and her cousin, Kamala, who recently moved to America from India and lives with Devi’s family while attending graduate school at Caltech. Check out the trailer below!

We both grew up with strong ties to South Asian communities—Archana found connection through her local Indian Association and Hindu religion classes, and Saimah found connection through her local mosque and Muslim community. We became friends in college, and our bond has strengthened over the years. One of the things that made us so close was our ability to understand how the traditions and cultures that we grew up with informed our decisions. We love Devi’s best friends Fabiola and Eleanor, who are always there for her and provide her with new perspectives, but Devi may also benefit from commiserating with someone with similar experiences to hers, who understands what she is going through. We can’t wait to see what Devi and her family and friends are up to next season. We hope Devi is able to find a close South Asian friend, perhaps someone from a different cultural or religious background, as with our friendship. 

Saimah on the left. Archana on the right. (2011)
Archana on the left. Saimah on the right. (2019)

Here are some books that share first-generation and immigrant experiences that we think the Vishwakumar ladies would enjoy.

How to Be a Bawse

How to Be a Bawse

by Lilly Singh

Never Have I Ever begins with Devi wanting to change her image and appear less nerdy and more cool among her high school friends. She devises a “rebrand” plan for herself and her friends to enhance their social status, by selecting “attainable yet status-enhancing people” for them to date. Devi is determined that by dating people above their social strata, they will become cooler by association. So we think she could learn a thing or two from Lilly Singh’s How to Be a Bawse. Like Devi, growing up, Lilly was an awkward South Asian girl trying to find her place in the world. Lilly was able to play on her strengths of humor, intellect, and dazzling personality to develop her online persona as a YouTuber. Lilly Singh is a true BAWSE, as she displays in her collection of inspirational essays, and Devi could be too if she could learn to embrace her true self instead of trying to morph into someone she thinks would make her more popular. Because as Devi tries to shift into this alternate persona, she burns some bridges and risks losing her friends.

via GIPHY

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Trust No Aunty

Trust No Aunty

by Maria Qamar

In the fourth episode of this ten-episode first season entitled Never Have I Ever “...felt super Indian,” Devi and her family celebrate Ganesh Pooja. Throughout the show, we meet many South Asian characters from Devi’s life, but in this episode in particular we get to see her interact with others in the community at this Hindu celebration. Devi, her mom, Nalini, and her cousin Kamala are forced to have some awkward conversations with some aunties during the celebration. As John McEnroe (the voice-over narrator of the show) describes it, “Aunties are older Indian women who have no blood relationship to you, but are allowed to have opinions about your life and all your shortcomings.”  

Maria Qamar (aka @hatecopy), who is a Pakistani Canadian, put together a useful guide for desi (a term often used to describe someone of South Asian descent) girls in Trust No Aunty. The book hilariously depicts the types of aunties you may encounter while attending an event with a lot of South Asians. For example, the Matchmaker Aunty, who is trying to find the perfect arranged marriage match for everyone. While watching the episode, the two of us could distinctly pick out the various types of aunties that the Vishwakumar ladies had to deal with.

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milk and honey

milk and honey

by Rupi Kaur

Throughout the series, we learn that Devi suffered a few heartbreaks in the previous year. While at a school concert, she witnessed her father suffer a fatal heart attack. The sudden loss of her father caused Devi to fall into a deep depression, which manifested in a physical disability as well—she temporarily lost the use of her legs and was bound to a wheelchair. After a few months, Devi was able to regain sensation in her legs, while still coping with her grief and depression. She visits a therapist throughout the series, which is really important to show, as there is a lot of stigma around mental health in South Asian communities.

Rupi Kaur’s first collection of poetry and prose, Milk and Honey, includes stories about survival, as well as experiences of love, loss, and femininity. Each chapter focuses on a different pain and heartache, and how to heal from those experiences. Devi’s therapist gives her a grief journal to document some of her emotions, and maybe reading some of Rupi’s words could also help her to recognize her own feelings and learn how to cope.

via GIPHY

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When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi

by Sandhya Menon

In Never Have I Ever, we see both Kamala and Devi trying to hide their relationships/crushes from their family. While many of our non-desi friends don’t really understand this, it makes complete sense to our South Asian friends. It is pretty common for desi people to hide their significant others from their parents. Especially if said s/o isn’t of South Asian descent. Part of it stems from the tradition that many parents don’t allow their children to date, because the families prefer to arrange marriages. Some may say arranged marriages are an old-fashioned concept that needs to go the way of the dinosaurs, but over the years, the practice has evolved a lot. Most arranged marriages these days are set up more like The Bachelor—families introduce their children to one or more suitors, who they can either accept or reject. However, “love-matches,” where someone finds someone on their own, also do happen in South Asian communities. In Never Have I Ever, we see Kamala sneaking around with her boyfriend, Steve, who her family has no idea exists. Also, Devi discreetly finds ways to spend time with guys by using school as an excuse.

via GIPHY

In Sandhya Menon’s engaging and often funny When Dimple Met Rishi, it’s a similar tale. Dimple is trying to escape her mom’s obsession with finding the “Ideal Indian Husband” by attending a summer program for aspiring web developers. She is more focused on her career than finding a perfect suitor for marriage. Rishi, on the other hand, a hopeless romantic (who has probably watched a few too many Bollywood movies), is thrilled when his parents mention that his potential future wife will be attending the same summer program as he is. He’s eager to meet the woman his parents have suggested for an arranged relationship. When the two meet, their opposing views clash, but love finds a way to bring them together. We see some similarities in Never Have I Ever, with Kamala’s arrangement with Prashant.

 

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The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Much like Never Have I Ever, this novel gracefully explores tensions between tradition and modernity in immigrant communities. The story is about three Punjabi sisters who make their way to India to scatter their mother’s ashes after her death. Like the three women in the Vishwakumar household, the Shergill sisters are each grappling with their own issues. Rajni, the oldest sister, is trying to keep her siblings together, fulfill her duty to her mother, and raise her teenage son to be a successful man. Shirina, the youngest, is struggling to adjust to married life and deal with her overbearing mother-in-law. And Jezmeen, the middle sister, has been publicly ousted from her job and dumped by her boyfriend. In the book, as in Never Have I Ever, each character is trying to navigate the fine line between doing what is expected and doing what feels right for yourself. Rajni’s, Shirina’s, and Jezmeen’s emotional journeys in The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters parallel Nalini’s, Kamala’s, and Devi’s emotional journeys throughout Never Have I Ever.

P.S. We think Devi might also enjoy another great book by Balli Kaur Jaswal, her debut novel, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. Shh….don’t tell Nalini!

via GIPHY

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American Like Me

American Like Me

by America Ferrera

In this collection of essays, America Ferrera invites thirty-one entertainers, writers, athletes, and politicians to write about their experiences as Americans who walk the line between more than one culture. Like Devi, many of these individuals have struggled with their identity. They’ve been told that they are too [enter culture here] or not [enter culture here] enough, tried to date when they knew their parents didn’t approve, or felt sad that they never found a ready-made keychain with their name on it (Archana and Saimah are still upset about never finding keychains with their names on them either!). If Devi reads American Like Me, she’d see that many others have had similar struggles with their cultural identity and clashes with their parents, and that eventually she’ll find her place. At the same time, this would also be a great read for Nalini. As a mother raising a child with a dual identity, this may help her understand Devi a little more. With better understanding between the two, maybe there would be fewer so-called “Devi antics.”

 

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The Namesake

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Much of this multigenerational story revolves around Gogol, the child of immigrants from India. Gogol grows up surrounded by Indian culture, eating Indian food, and attending Hindu events (remember the Ganesh Pooja mentioned above?). Gogol feels a bit alienated from his parents' culture and puts up a wall between himself and his parents. He rebels by drinking, partying too hard, and dating a white American woman, knowing that his mother would not approve of the relationship. When his father unexpectedly dies from a heart attack, Gogol begins to confront his feelings about his name (which he hates), his culture, his love life, and his relationship with his family. This book covers many of the things that Devi finds unfair about her life. Since she’s dealing with her own grief, Devi might be hesitant to pick this book up but it sure would be a cathartic read for her. Along with the Rupi Kaur’s book of poetry, The Namesake could help her self-reflect and begin using her grief journal.

 

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

by Mindy Kaling

Do we really need to explain this one? We just know that Devi would be a Mindy Kaling fan and a fan of her memoirs and personal reflections, including Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? Once they finish watching Riverdale, we foresee Devi introducing Kamala to The Mindy Project.

via GIPHY

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Saimah works on the Corporate Digital Marketing team at Simon & Schuster. She is a fan of dystopian fiction, celeb memoirs, contemporary rom-coms and murder mysteries. When she's not reading, she is binge-watching her favorite shows, exploring the best rooftop bars in the city and watching sports. Follow her on Instagram at @fire.escape.reads!