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Sari, not Sari – Sonya Singh

Apr/10/2022 / by ABHIJIT MASIH

Singh is storyteller from Toronto, Canada who started out as an entertainment reporter before becoming a PR expert, then writer. 

Her debut novel, “Sari, Not Sari,” slated for release this month, has already generated buzz and seems like material for a big screen rom-com. The book follows the adventures of a woman trying to connect with her South Asian roots, and introduces us to a feast of food, family traditions and fun. It is also an ode to Singh’s own dating experiences.

Singh began her career as a broadcast television reporter for CBS, the first South Asian hired on air for E! News. Raised in a small town, in Ontario, Canada, by immigrant factory worker parents, she grew up surrounded by a Caucasian culture. The author talks about how she retained her culture there.

“There actually weren’t a lot of South Asian or Indian families, so my South Asian roots are really embedded in whatever we learned at home,” Singh said. “My parents were really busy working and so we were kind of left to our own in terms of being able to teach each other what the culture was about.” Singh and her two younger sisters learned to straddle both cultures and accept what was going on around them at a time being different wasn’t cool.

“When I look back at my South Asian roots, there really weren’t a lot in terms of planting those roots,” she said. “I think that happened over the course of the last decade.”

The title of the book was prompted by one of her younger sisters, the working title then being “Operation India,” one that in hindsight makes the author cringe. 

“I was going to some Indian wedding party, and I looked at my sister, and she was wearing my sari. I said to her, ‘That’s my sari you’re wearing’ and she said, ‘Sari, not sorry.’ That is really how the name came about. It is literally an ode to my sisters.”

All the chapters in the book start with a letter to Breakup, a company that masters the art of, yes, breakups. 

So did the idea for the book stem from personal experience and bitter relationship endings? Singh reveals that she has not gotten over some breakups, but admits that there is no right way to break up with somebody. 

“If you actually loved somebody, it can be really difficult,” Sing says. “I think that sometimes you can forgive the person, but it’s really difficult to forget. I, unfortunately, have had to break up with several men in my life. The best advice I ever got from an individual that I was dating was, just to be honest, and don’t drag the person through something.” Singh also suggests not ghosting the other person and to at least take the time to tell the person, to have the kindness to give the person closure.

“Sari, Not Sari” is not entirely about breakups, and the melancholy that follows, but is about Manny Dogra, the beautiful and young CEO of the successful Breakup. She helps people manage their breakups while planning her own wedding and dealing with the loss of her parents. Speaking about her book, Singh pulls off a few layers of the story that also touches upon some Bollywood influence.

“My debut is very fast paced,” she said. “|I think that certain things happened very quickly and it does reference a few Bollywood movies that I have watched.”

Accepting their own culture comes a tad late for most second-generation South Asian Americans, after the constant struggle of trying to fit in among friends or trying to cope with their dual identity. Singh’s leading character, raised as an all-American girl kept away from her own heritage, is perhaps inspired by her own experience. 

She recalls, “For me, personally, it’s just in the last 10 years that I’ve really been able to understand how beautiful our culture is. When I was younger, I just sort of [took] the trajectory of anything that had nothing to do with being Indian. I didn’t really understand our culture and our traditions. I really wanted to look like my friends, [get] blue contacts, gray contacts. I remember scorching my hair to the point that I was trying to dye it blonde, and really chop it off.”

Sonya Singh with her sisters
Sonya Singh with her sisters

Perhaps there is a heightened awareness and pervasiveness of the Indian culture which makes it easier for her to own and adapt. Singh’s parents came to Canada when they were 18 and 19 and tried to establish a place for themselves. Singh credits them for making it without any help, or nearby relatives, and taking care of the three daughters.

In her book, Singh  says, “It’s every Indian parent’s dream to see their child grow up and marry into another Indian family.” 

Singh’s advice to them: “Do not put that much pressure on your children. I’m not married, and both of my younger sisters are, and it doesn’t make me any less of a daughter or a sister or a best friend. And so I think that as the generations come up and, you know, start to make our own traditions, and we really hone in on having better relationships with our parents that aren’t necessarily focused on marriage, things will change.”

As for millennials with profiles on all the dating apps, like one of the characters in the book, Singh suggests they brace themselves from ugly breakups and heartbreaks. 

“A lot of times, those dating apps can cause a little bit of anxiety, a lot of insecurity.” Singh says, “You have to upload six or seven pictures of yourself. I can’t even sometimes find one picture. Their work is cut out for them and my advice is, after all of that, just have fun with it and that’s part of the journey.”

Change has been a constant in Singh’s life. She has been a PR pro, entertainment reporter, a published author, and maybe a producer of a film adaptation of her book. For now, though, she is satisfied to just bask in the success of her first book.


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