Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

If writers want to ameliorate the public perception of India held by the vast majority of the planet, they should write realistic fiction and not continue to perpetuate either the notion of the Temple of Doom dystopia or the Jewel in the Crown utopia.

Marriage Bureau for Rich People

Publisher: Putnam
Length: 304 pages
Author: Farahad Zama
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2009-06

The worst marriage advice I ever received was, ironically, at a wedding. I was minding my own business at a Hindu wedding in downtown Chicago a couple of years ago when a family friend approached me to talk. He asked me if I had gotten married and when I replied in the negative, he told me had some advice. I eagerly leaned in and he whispered, “Don’t marry BMW.” I must have looked puzzled because he went on to explain, “Black, Muslim or White.”

This kind of stubborn, old school mentality regarding marriage is very common in the American desi (South Asian) community, but I was still shocked. How did someone who had been in the United States probably longer than in India, still have such deep seated misgivings towards inter-racial and inter-religious marriage?

The answer is actually a lot simpler than it might seem. There are certain “rules” governing matchmaking and marriage in India and although these are not enumerated principles, they do govern much of the interaction in the Indian communities -- Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, etc. -- whether the processes take place in India or anywhere in the Diaspora.

Of these rules, none matters so much as the notion that most Indian marriages are not simply about two individuals falling for each other. As Aruna, a character in Marriage Bureau for Rich People tells her love interest, “We don’t marry for love, Ram. You know that. Love is supposed to follow marriage, not the other way around. A marriage is not just about two people. It is about two families.”

Farahad Zama’s Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a simple novel about families and marriage in contemporary India. The main protagonist is a Mr. Ali -- first name unknown -- who decides to use his retirement to start up a marriage agency to connect prospective brides and grooms with each other based on caste, sub-caste, and religion. The desperate mothers and fathers Mr. Ali works with are definitely more well-to-do and are prone to pithy, discriminatory comments about potential companions for their children. As one customer, Mr. Venkat, says, “Either they [prospective brides] are too dark or too old or too short. Or they are not educated.”

Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a good novel, but hardly great by any measure. It fits in the niche of middle-level Indian fiction, occupied by other average novels like Bali Rai’s Arranged Marriage, William Rhode’s Paperback Raita, and Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games.

The biggest weakness of the book is the simple fact that it is just unbelievable. Zama paints a picture of a totally accepting and accommodating Indian community where all religious people live comfortably and without prejudices. The entire novel unfolds in a series of such improbabilities, making the whole thing feel like a traditional Hindi or Tamil film, but on paper. A recently-retired Muslim man decides to start a marriage bureau. Upper-caste Hindu families see nothing wrong in hiring a Muslim to find matches for their children. The Muslim man tries to broker a marriage between a rich, Brahmin, male doctor and a middle-class, Hindu typist. Hindu family freaks out. Muslim matchmaker heals the rift and saves the day. Jubilant wedding follows.

Although this “warm and fuzzy” lens of Indian society is inviting, ultimately, it is simply not a good representation of the way things really happen. Rather it is the distorted view of an Indian expat -- like Zama -- who paints a picture not of the India he left, but the country he wishes to return to. If writers want to ameliorate the public perception of India held by the vast majority of the planet, they should write realistic fiction and not continue to perpetuate either the notion of the Temple of Doom dystopia or the Jewel in the Crown utopia.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.