The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama
|The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: A highly enjoyable picture of cosy, conventional India, warts and all in this third book of the series. The marriage bureau may be running successfully, but the course of true love (Indian style) isn’t so smooth for Mr Ali’s niece and office assistant.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2011|
Finishing 'The Wedding Wallah' is like leaving India at the end of a short holiday with myriad impressions of foreignness. I'll remember the crowds of Mumbai, the smells of cooking in small rooms, the colours and textures of saris, the dangerous forest. This may not be the greatest literature published this year – not even the finest romantic fiction – but the sheer novelty of the Indian world portrayed makes it five stars for enjoyment in my book. I imagined Farahad Zama as a female writer beavering away in rural India. Turns out I was wrong: the author is a male investment banker in London with two books previously published in this series. Oops.
Publishers Abacus say that the book is about the collision betweeen modernity and Indian tradition. Well yes, there are computers and mobile phones, but for me, the Indian manners portrayed have a cosy retro quality. I loved the feeling of being a stranger from the future in this stratified society, where living harmoniously as an extended family and respect for elders are still paramount. The custom of arranged marriages prevalent in the Indian sub-continent seems even stranger to our society today. As travellers in a foreign land we need to forget prejudices about high suicide rates and forced marriages being illegal in Britain. It seems that most Indians still accept the system, and so must we. Actually, the amiable wedding broker, Mr Ali, forces no-one's hand. Instead he suavely mediates arguments between generations and negotiates terms between families so that as many people as possible will live happily ever after. While you may feel at the outset that arranged marriages are the antithesis of romantic fiction, this book may make you think again.
Mr Ali's marriage bureau serves as a connecting thread between characters, who will later be drawn together by events. Mr Ali's niece, Pari, is approached by Dilawar's mother. An offer of marriage seems too good to be true for a young widow shunned by local society because her first husband has died. It is. Like many Indians, Dilawar's mother still regards homosexuality as an illness likely to be cured by a pretty girl. In any case, Pari is actually in love with Rehman, Mr Ali's son. Yes, I agree that sounds slightly farcical. A couple of times I expected Bollywood dancers to run out.
The sub-plot deals with another character in Mr Ali's circle, his assistant Aruna, lately married to sexy young doctor, Ramanujam, and traditionally subservient within her new family. Now it sounds more like Mills and Boon romanticism. But all credit to the author: the Robin Hood plot develops unexpectedly, the ending isn't predictable and doesn't necessarily produce resolution.
The omniscient narrator doesn't question convention; neither do many of the youngsters. In this conservative world, it's young men who are movers and shakers, not the girls. Aruna is confused, then later emboldened by encouragement to take a few steps towards independence, but feminism is still far from her mind. I wonder which nation will learn most from this affectionate look at Indian society?
I'm not sure how much irony is intended. I suspect that the subtitle: a novel of pride, prejudice and unsuitable arrangements implies an Austenian treatment, but then it's difficult to tell from several thousand miles' distance. I was highly amused by the smug gossips who can make or break a reputation, just as they did in Jane's day. My laughter at their lack of sophistication wasn't meant to be patronising. If the characters seem a little pat in construction, a little over-the top in their dialogue or a little too cosy in their conflicts, then maybe that's just show business. Books with India and humour on the same page don't come along that often.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.
Suggestions for further reading:
If you enjoyed this book, three other light marriage-in-other-cultures themed reads are: Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to the Birds of East Africa; Celestine Hituira Vaite's The Marriage Proposaland ; Marc Fitten's Valeria's Last Stand.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama at Amazon.com.
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