Farahad Zama •
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People •
In the four books that make up this delightful series, Farahad Zama has written a quiet poem to ordinary life. His characters buy fruit from pushcart vendors. They pray at temples and mosques. They drink tea, gossip, celebrate festivals, dispense polite hospitality. Yet within this limited context Zama addresses religious and generational conflicts, government corruption, the role of media, the far-reaching influence of family, traditional and modern views on marriage, and much more.
This is a side of India we rarely see represented in fiction: neither the maddening crush of Delhi and Mumbai, nor the brutal poverty of village life. Instead, the Alis and their circle inhabit the city of Vizag on India’s eastern coast, where the pace of life is relaxed and the postman is a friend.
Mr. Ali, now retired, has begun a second career as a matchmaker. The verandah of his comfortable middle-class house serves as his office; he keeps running lists of those seeking partners, classified by age, caste, religion, geography, and other preferences. (These days the requirements for a spouse may include specifications like “software engineer” or a degree from a western university.) A wall adorned with wedding invitations and birth announcements testifies to his success: Satisfied clients return to visit on holidays and send him photos of their offspring.
Zama is such an accomplished storyteller that you believe wholeheartedly in his creations: shy Aruna, who is so understanding with the bureau’s clients; firebrand activist Rehman, working passionately for a better India; Dilawar, whose mother hopes a conventional marriage will either disguise or discourage his homosexuality (The Wedding Wallah); and Mr. Ali’s widowed niece Pari, with her surprising ability to quote Shakespeare by the yard (The Many Conditions of Love). By the time you’ve finished the series, they will all feel like old friends.