By Neha Kirpal
When New York City-based Aparna Shewakramani appeared on the Netflix hit reality series Indian Matchmaking, her character created much debate. On one hand, her decisiveness and sense of self-worth was portrayed by the show as some kind of “flaw” in the Indian “marriage market”. The underlying message was that a woman who knew her mind was too “fussy”, and thus unsuitable, for an arranged marriage.
On the other hand, Aparna became an overnight ambassador for women trying to rise above these patriarchal social norms. Supporters numbering in tens of thousands from around the world came up with a single message of endorsement: “Be Like Aparna.”
“In today’s world, a decisive woman who can identify her ‘likes and dislikes’ might still be judged for her opinions. The only alternative is not having an opinion at all. And for me, that just won’t do.”
In Aparna’s feisty book debut, She’s Unlikeable: And Other Lies That Bring Women Down (HarperCollins, Rs 399), she shares the back-story behind the on-screen persona. She writes about her mother’s bravery in leaving her marriage and her own diagnosis with an autoimmune disease. She admits that she, too, fell for the trap laid for South Asian girls to be “pretty and likeable”. But in the wake of the show and the resulting accolades, this is ultimately the story of her entrepreneurial spirit and her success as the owner of a travel company.
A lawyer who holds a JD from Vanderbilt Law and a BA from Rice University, Aparna talks to eShe about some of her strongest influences growing up, powerful women that she looks up to for inspiration and her biggest learnings from Indian Matchmaking.
Tell us how you decided to write your debut book She’s Unlikeable: And Other Lies That Bring Women Down. Did you start writing it while you working on the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking?
Writing this book was a way for me to reclaim my own narrative and tell my story on my own terms. It was spurred on by the thousands of DMs I received weeks and months after Indian Matchmaking from women around the world asking one simple question, “But how did you become like this?” They saw me on the show but they wanted to know more about what shaped me as a woman. So this book is the answer to their collective question – these are the lessons of grit and fortitude, but also the moments of triumph, that made me who I am today.
What were some of your biggest learnings from Indian Matchmaking?
Indian Matchmaking and its aftermath made me even more resolved to live life on my own terms and to not bend to the whims of arbitrary societal milestones. I realised with all the cyber bullying and even the death threats that there will always be people who don’t like you and don’t approve of your lifestyle and your decisions. And that’s not your issue. You just always have to live a life that is aligned with your values and beliefs each day.
Born in London, having lived in Dubai as a child, and having called Texas home for over 25 years, tell us what were some of your biggest influences growing up that lead you to the woman you are today.
I am lucky to have been afforded a wonderful education starting with my primary schools and going all the way through the top universities in America for college and law school. I studied abroad three times and travelled extensively as a student, which opened my eyes to the world and its diversity in my early 20s. These experiences have given me so much freedom to explore my passions and shaped me to be the woman I am today.
You are a lawyer, author and entrepreneur. What, according to you, is your biggest superpower and why?
My biggest superpower is never bending to the societal milestones often pushed on South Asian women. I am pursuing a life that is aligned with my beliefs and values without heed of what “people will say” if I am not married by a certain age or a mother at a certain age.
You are also the founder and owner of the luxury travel company My Golden Balloon. Tell us a little about its activities.
I started a luxury travel company in 2019, which focuses on leading groups of travellers on adventures around the world. A client would sign up for a scheduled trip, pack their bags, book a roundtrip ticket to the destination and have MGB take care of the rest – from five star hotels to private transport to unique local experiences. It’s a true passion of mine to encourage others to see the world and this is a vehicle to do as much.
Who are some powerful women that you look up to for inspiration?
I’m most grateful for the strong women who came before me in my family – my own mother, to my nani, to my great-grandmother. My role models are powerful, resilient and never took “no” for an answer. They have shaped me with their lessons of triumph and determination.
What is your universal word of advice to women everywhere?
I would tell women: your own story matters and you deserve to tell it. Perhaps it won’t be a book but it should be shared in your own bubble – Whatsapp groups, school yards, work places and with friends. Reclaiming your own narrative is the ultimate power move.
What are you working on next?
I am working on some amazing projects that I hope to announce this year when they’re finalised! I am loving my career pivot from law to writing and you will see a lot more of it from me in the future.