What if a retired man, encouraged by his wife, started a business to match people up? What if he’s matching them up for arranged marriages? This is the premise of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, a cute and likable story by Farahad Zama about life and love in India. Presenting a straightforward story, the book gives us small bits of life advice while remaining an ultimately light tale, providing for easy reading.
Books taking place in India, and discussing the people who live there, are nothing new. One of my favorites is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. In fact, there seems to have been an explosion of the genre recently, with many new Indian writers bringing their works to the world. I, for one, am ecstatic about this. I’ve been fascinated by India since I was little, and I can always read a little more fiction that takes place there. I don’t care if it’s serious, like Roy’s novel, or lighthearted, like Zama’s book.
The basic premise, that an older man, Mr. Ali, helps others find marriage matches, struck me as quirky and charming. He sets up shop on the front veranda of his and his wife’s porch, advertises for clients, and starts taking in their information to add to lists, which he sends out to clients who would find them of interest. His business becomes so popular that he takes on an assistant, Aruna, a sweet, intelligent young woman who has been forced out of her master’s program in order to provide money for her family.
Aruna proves to be a very capable employee, as well as pleasant enough to Mr. and Mrs. Ali that they consider her like a daughter. Their own son causes them no end of troubles, with his social activism, and Aruna appears to offer them a bit of stability and comfort their lives would otherwise lack.
It is a bit predictable that Aruna is good with managing the office and at assisting people in finding their marriage matches. I can easily accept it since Aruna is such a sympathetic character — she needs to be good at her job because her family needs the money. Plus, her job leads her to a match of her own, so it’s a good plot device.
I have to admit, I expected that Aruna (and possibly her sister) would end up married by the end of the book. I think that’s pretty much a given with a book like this — someone important to the story will get married. It’s practically a rule. Zama did, however, surprise me a bit. I was guessing about one man for Aruna, and it turned out to be someone completely different. I liked that he was able to distract me to a certain extent, although I did manage to get the right man before the official reveal.
There was another way The Marriage Bureau for Rich People surprised me. The Alis are Muslim, Aruna is Hindu, and the customers of the matchmaking service are both, with some Christians tossed into the mix as well. There is no friction between the groups; in fact, the people seem to readily acknowledge the similarities of their core beliefs, and choose to take the opinion that God is God and religion is a creation of man. This is amazing, and I wonder how accurate that assertion is for actual Muslims and Hindus living in close proximity to one another. For this book, it made storytelling easier, so I suspended my disbelief. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t wonder about the actual relationships people build with their neighbors with beliefs different from their own.
My last surprise was actually closely tied with the premise of the book: I didn’t realize that so many marriages in India are arranged. I knew it was a practice commonly employed in the past. Why I thought love-marriage was predominant now, I have no idea; the caste system, plus the difficulties of meeting people of the opposite sex who would be considered suitable to not only the individual but also the family, makes it a challenge to find someone. No wonder family members, like uncles, or services like Mr. Ali’s, are necessary to help marriage matches along.
I enjoyed learning a little more about an aspect of Indian culture that I haven’t read a lot about. I also thought the romance part of the story endearing. I hope that Zama writes more books, because I already know I’d like to read them.