‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’ is the first of a four part series by Farahad Zama. I happened to chance upon this book as I was browsing through book sites in my hunt for something engaging to read. To start with, the title itself grabbed my attention. The theme of the book, as the name suggests quite blatantly is about the operations of a marriage bureau. I gravitated further towards the book because it implied that the marriage bureau was tailored to a specific social class. I then read the synopsis and that was it! I had to read this book.
After having lived abroad for many years now, I’ve realised how intriguing the concept of Arranged Marriage is for people who don’t share cultural similarities with India. I get asked so many times about my opinion on this arrangement and every time I explain to them that the nature of arranged marriage is slowly evolving with the ‘arranger’ playing the role of facilitator rather than that of oppressor (which unfortunately, is the usual misconception).
‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’ encapsulates the many facets of what probably is one of the most important events of one’s life. It narrates to us people’s desires, their insecurities, their ability or lack thereof to deal with rejection and the confidence to persevere until the ‘right match’ is found.
The book is set in the coastal town of Vizag which is on the south eastern coast of India. The portrait of an Indian town full of overwhelming sounds and smells is drawn out beautifully by Zama. The owner of the marriage bureau is a Mr Ali who upon retiring thinks of starting a marriage bureau. Why one for rich people? Well, you will understand the reasoning behind this once you delve further into the book. His wife Mrs Ali, is a supportive wife and is full of common sense. She is fiercely independent in her views and doesn’t hesitate to make this known at various key moments in the story. Another important character is Mr Ali’s diligent assistant Aruna who whilst maintaining the bureaucracy of this bureau, shyly harbours feelings for a prospective client – could this be rather daring on her part? The clients of the bureau are entertaining to say the least: the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short or a salesman who seems incompetent when it comes to selling himself.
The language is versatile in its power to please one’s senses and evoke different emotions as the diversity of religion, class and caste is sensitively addressed. There are references to Hindi terms which are explained effectively in the glossary.
To conclude, this book surprised me by the manner in which Zama addresses topics that could have easily been misinterpreted for the gain of political momentum. The development of the main characters is extremely strong and is evidenced in the remaining 3 books that follow. The book will of course leave its own impressions on you and I would love to hear what they might be!