04 December 2011

The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama

So many different kinds of love
This lovely book waited patiently for months, repeatedly superseded, until I inspected the shelf for ’plane-reading on a day-trip to Hyderabad – the closest I’ve ever been to Vizag, where the story is set. It’s the third of a series about a marriage bureau run by Mr and Mrs Ali who make perfect traditional matches for (Hindu) brides and grooms. Other main characters are their son Rehman, their widowed niece Pari and her adopted son Vasu, their employee Aruna and her doctor husband Ramanujam.

I had read, enjoyed, and written a slightly patronising review of the second book, The Many Conditions of Love, for my Sunday Mid-day column in October last year. I liked The Wedding Wallah much more than that one (though I found both titles more marketing-driven than true to plot). If I was to compare, I’d say the new book had a better, easier-flowing story, and far better editing. Both books are rooted in the culture of the region where they are set and practically every sentence, while contributing to an engrossing story, also reveals insights into the way people here think and behave, and gives information about rituals, mores, and historical information.
The government had sanctioned a new exchange as previously the waiting list had been twelve years. She knew men who had died disappointed and phoneless, and whose children had fallen out with one another over who would inherit the father’s position on the waiting list.
Mani turned in a sudden fury, grabbed the album from her father and threw it on the ground. Pari stared in horror, first at the fallen book and then at the sullen girl.
“How dare you?” said her father and half raised his hand to strike her, before dropping it. His shoulders drooped and he bent to the floor to pick the book up. His hand touched his daughter’s feet and she automatically jerked her legs away. She pointed her hands down and then touched them to her forehead.
So the girl has not totally lost her manners, thought Pari. She still hasn’t forgotten than an older person touching a younger person’s feet is disrespectful and a sin.
I liked the fact that most touches of Indian English have been smoothed over or artfully enhanced to create atmosphere. But I found it odd that ‘tortilla’ was used to describe 'roti' to an English readership , where surely the chappati was invented long before the tortilla.

What I liked best about this book was that it was a very good story, and well told, and I was sorry it got over a good half hour before we landed back in Pune. Mulling over what I’d read, I particularly admired the author’s craft in creating high-quality entertainment, and high-quality positive propaganda too, helping readers to share his eminently sensible perspective on complicated issues of the subcontinent: not just the Naxalite movement, not just the intense struggles of homosexuals, but also care of the infirm, insights into love, long-term relationships and infidelity, and different parenting formats. Best of all, it creates a much-needed positive feeling about Islamic traditions and lifestyle.

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