Retired Mr Ali from Vizag in south India, has a lot of time on his hands and is often bored. He starts a marriage bureau to keep him busy and it becomes quite a success. Aided by an articulate assistant Aruna, with loads of advice and help from his wife, Mr Ali helps several people with their own whims and fancies to find the right match.
Farahad Zama has written a book that is easy to read and will leave you feeling happy and comforted, with a smile on your face. This is so well-written a book that it brings Indian society to life on the pages and you feel like you're living in the same neighbourhood as Mr Ali and are very concerned about everything around you. Zama's writing reminded me of Alexander McCall Smith's in the sense that it captures the essence of life in a particular place so vividly and realistically.
A book beginning with a Pride and Prejudice quote has to be good, my instinct said and I was absolutely right! The Marriage Bureau showcases the working of an Indian society where arranged marriages have to be made with loads of compromise to satisfy all sides, as much as possible. A marriage in India, isn't at all simple. It is the meeting point of several major issues like caste, religion, status, profession, status of women etc and this book explores all of it in a simple, sensitive way and is a wonderful portrait of India as I've known it. This is a great quote from the book that explains it so well:
" India was changing and his success was one sign of it. A fly on the wall of his office might think that Indians were obsessed with caste and that nothing had changed in a hundred years. That's not true, thought Mr Ali. Marriage was one institution where caste was still important, but in other matters it was losing its hold. People of different castes went to the same schools and offices; they mingled and became friends with each other. Just a few years ago, people of lower castes, or Muslims for that matter, would not have been invited to weddings of upper-caste people. Today, it went unremarked. India was changing and Mr Ali just hoped he would be around for a while to see the changes "
There are two sub-plots linked to the main plot; one was that of Aruna's love story, which though predictable was something I really enjoyed. The other was Mr and Mrs Ali's son Rehman, who as a social activist, leads protest marches, rallies and gets arrested, much to the worry of his parents. He sees his duty to his parents as secondary to his duty towards his country and its poor. This plot-line seemed a little forced, but it still didn't hamper the flow of the book.
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, simply put, sees the proverbial half-full glass, that is life in India. This isn't a perfect book, but it is a positive read with endearing characters: Mr and Mrs Ali especially are pretty much the 'nice Uncle and Aunty' you loved while growing up in India. And that way, I see this book as a tribute to India and the warm, unforgettable people who stay friends and care for each other beyond caste or religious or other barriers.
I'm looking forward to reading this book's sequel and I'd happily recommend this book to everyone. This is just the book you ought to enjoy on a weekend, with a warm cup of coffee by your side, while snuggling in your favourite couch. Have fun!