Friday, March 12, 2010

Love match


The Marriage Bureau For Rich People
By Farahad Zama
Abacus, 276 pages

From the blurbs

Alexander McCall Smith meets Jane Austen in this delightfully charming Indian novel about finding love.
What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand? Open a marriage bureau of course!
With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes. There's the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short; the divorced woman who ends up back with her ex-husband; a salesman who can't seem to sell himself; and a wealthy, young doctor for whom no match is ever perfect. But although his clients go away happy, little does Mr. Ali know that his esteemed Aruna hides a tragedy in her past-a misfortune that the bureau, as luck would have it, serendipitously undoes.
Bursting with the color and allure of India, and with a cast of endearing characters, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People has shades of Jane Austen and Alexander McCall Smith but with a resonance and originality entirely its own. Farahad's effortless style reveals a country still grappling with the politics of caste, religion, and civil unrest, all the while delivering a shamefully delightful read.

THE BEST way to describe Farahad Zama’s debut novel, The Marriage Bureau For Rich People, is “charming”. But it is not without flaws.
Set in modern-day India, the protagonist is newly retired government clerk Hyder Ali. After over three decades of working daily, retirement seems like the death penalty for Ali. To fill his time constructively and so as to not drive his wife up the wall, Ali sets up his own business: Ali’s Marriage Bureau for Rich People.
When the novel opens, the marriage bureau business is doing well, with many of Ali’s clients leaving the bureau happy with the choices which they have made for their son or daughter.
While the first two chapters introduce the protagonist, his wife and business, the plot begins to take shape in the fourth, when Ali’s assistant Aruna comes to work for him full time. It is via Aruna working for Ali that Zama explains in detail how Ali’s marriage bureau works, his filing system and how he matches potential wives or husbands for his clients. Though it might appeal to some, I was bored by the painfully detailed explanations of Ali’s organisational skills in running his business. An edited version would have sufficed.
Although Ali is the focal point in the marriage bureau, Mrs Ali and Aruna look on with careful eyes, suggesting recommendations as and when needed. But the ladies’ debates over who is better suited for whom tend to be long drawn and perhaps unnecessary. It almost seem like Zama is trying to cram too many ideas and explanations to ensure his story is a novel and not a novella.
Like most Indian works of fiction, the novel is not without a sense of drama. While Ali is busy running the marriage bureau, Aruna is secretly nursing a heart-wrenching secret – her family (immediate and extended) has financial issues to think of – while Rehman, Ali’s son, who is a bit of a hell raiser, runs into trouble with the law. With his son and assistant both single, it is not long before Ali does the obvious, ensuring an absurd but humorous outcome.

Read full review here Star Online

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Read The Guardian review here

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