THE MARRIAGE BUREAU FOR RICH PEOPLE
What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand? Open a marriage bureau of course! With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes. There’s the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short; the divorced woman who ends up back with her ex-husband; a salesman who can’t seem to sell himself; and a wealthy, young doctor for whom no match is ever perfect.
What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand? Open a marriage bureau of course! With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes. There’s the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short; the divorced woman who ends up back with her ex-husband; a salesman who can’t seem to sell himself; and a wealthy, young doctor for whom no match is ever perfect. But although his clients go away happy, little does Mr. Ali know that his esteemed Aruna hides a tragedy in her past-a misfortune that the bureau, as luck would have it, serendipitously undoes.
- June 2010
- 304 Pages
“A charming novel, fascinating in its depiction of a rich and exotic culture, yet filled with characters as familiar as your next-door neighbors.” —Ann B. Ross, author of the Miss Julia novels
“Farahad Zama’s thoroughly entertaining debut novel captivates and delights. In marrying a uniquely Indian tale of culture and tradition to a universal story of family bonds tested and love triumphant, Zama has arranged a perfect match.” —Jennifer Chiaverini, author of the Elm Creek Quilts novels
“A charming, modest cross-cultural confection. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s intrepid Precious Ramotswe are likely to find an equally engaging protagonist in Mr. Ali.”—Kirkus Reviews
Setting up a ‘marriage bureau’ is in some ways a very traditional undertaking, enforcing strict marriage customs. Mr. Ali upholds these traditions, but he also openly discusses his liberal views on religion and marriage. Discuss several instances when Mr. Ali acts traditionally, and when he acts more liberally, and how you think this affects his business.
Mrs. Ali is frequently pictured running back into the house when clients arrive to attend to her cleaning. Yet, she also can handle a crisis with poise, and often thinks of a solution before her husband does. How does this dual image of Mrs. Ali as both a demure housewife and smart businesswoman relate to the overall portrayal of women and gender roles in the novel?
At one point in the novel Aruna protests at ‘being shown off to various people like a prize cow at a cattle mandi’ as her family tries to arrange a marriage for her. However, the book also shows many successful arranged marriages. In your opinion, can arranged marriage work in modern society?
Is it fair of Aruna’s father to stop looking for a match for her? Is he being selfish, as Shastry-Uncle claims, or is he trying to protect Aruna against false hopes? What would you do in Aruna’s father’s position?
Mr. Ali encourages Irshad to present the facts in a certain light: ‘Think of yourself as a product – a valve, an important but unglamorous valve… it is your job to convince her that you are just the right product.’ Is this deceptive? Or were there elements you could recognise from your own experiences of marriage or dating?
At the end of the novel, Mr. Ali aims to reconcile with his son. Why do you think he finally relents and invites Rehman back to the house? If Rehman’s campaign had failed, do you think Mr. Ali would have reacted differently?
Throughout the story, we get little glimpses of the problems of the outside world: Leela’s poverty, how widows and divorcees are treated in Indian society, and Rehmen’s protests to protect the farmers. Choose one of these topics to discuss. Why does the author weave these issues into a novel about marriage? What comment is he making about Indian society?
Food plays a big part in the novel (there is even a recipe at the back of the book): did this add to your enjoyment of the story?
Aruna’s story is Cinderella-esque; Aruna and Ramanujam not only overcome their parents’ expectations, but also an entrenched class system to be together. Discuss the happy ending, and how issues of class recur throughout the novel.
Farahad Zama has said that the Marriage Bureau for Rich People pays homage to Jane Austen. What similarities do you see between the Marriage Bureau and Pride and Prejudice, Aruna and Elizabeth Bennet, or between Indian and English culture?