Hyder Ali is a recently retired governmental clerk in India with just too much time on his hands. He’s constantly underfoot, driving his faithful wife crazy until one day he comes up with a masterful plan to create a marriage bureau for only rich people. Putting up a huge sign in front of his house and advertising in the right places brings serious people into his new business looking for marriage matches. When business booms so much that his wife demands he get an assistant, will his assistant eventually be worthy of a match of her own?
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is the masterful first book by Farahad Zama, an author who’ll forever be on my reading radar. Initially looking to get out of his wife’s hair, Mr. Ali starts the business as a lark not caring at first if he’s a success. Deciding he only wants “rich” people, he wisely asks for the sum of 500 rupees, the equivalent of about $11 for his service. This sum covers not only the advertising fees but allows Mr. Ali to keep his clients up to date with postcards towards their progress. Business takes off so quickly that his wife demands another phone line be installed dedicated to his business as well as he hire an assistant.
Mrs. Ali is a practical woman and after several unsuitable candidates come into the bureau, she helps her husband select Aruna, a young woman with simple needs. Aruna soon proves herself to be a valuable employee with her lively spirit and dedication to all aspects of the business. When a young doctor comes into the bureau one day with his family, she instantly falls for him head over heels. Knowing her abject poverty and lower social stature will bar her from him ever considering her as a wife, she resolves to live the rest of her life with this unrequited love.
While most of the people using Mr. Ali’s service have simple requests as far as matching their children with husbands/wives of similar socio-economic standing, some have downright funny requests. My favorite was the man who wanted a 6’ foot tall husband for his under 5’ daughter. When Mr. Ali begged the man to reconsider his request because a very suitable match was found with a man about 5’ tall, he was flabbergasted when the father refused. I laughed out loud when the father revealed his true motivation--hoping for mid-size grandchildren from the union!
I was so utterly delighted and at times saddened by Farahad Zama’s seamless mixture of past and present India I simply could not put this book down. From its opening pages, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a tale of everyday people. In my opinion Mr. Zama uses the story as a platform to reveal that while castes, dowries, religious boundaries, and arranged marriages are supposed to be part of India’s past, modern day India still operates and thrives within these measures. It is my sincere wish that we are treated to subsequent stories of marriage matches made by the wonderfully pragmatic Mr. Ali.