Updated: December 3, 2011 19:12 IST

Neat social commentary

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
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The Wedding Wallah, Farahad Zama, Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Company, Hachette, 2011, p. 336, Rs. 295.
The Wedding Wallah, Farahad Zama, Abacus, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Company, Hachette, 2011, p. 336, Rs. 295.

A charming book about the incredible number of difficult choices a person has to make.Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

Mr. Ali is the Wedding Wallah, the man to contact in Vizag if you wish to get a son or a daughter married off, the only two qualifications being that the prospective candidates must be graduates and belong to rich people. He is surrounded by a large social circle of family, friends, and neighbours. This includes his wife Mrs. Ali, their son Rehman, a widowed, impoverished but pretty young niece Pari, who has adopted Rehman's friend's son, Vasu Naidu, after he was orphaned, and Aruna, who assists Mr. Ali in the marriage bureau and is married to an extremely well-off doctor, Ramanujam, whose family are landowners and exceedingly prosperous, and Dilawar Bilqis, a handsome, cosmopolitan and a school friend of Rehman and who is being considered as a prospective groom for Pari.

The novel starts almost sleepily, with Mrs. Ali getting annoyed at the pesky crows, perched on the branches of the guava tree, who want to steal slivers of her tamarind that she has laid out on the grass to dry, before she pickles it. There is nothing in this opening scene that prepares the reader for the action that unfolds or the complexity of the stories interwoven so gently and cleverly.

The story is a neat social commentary about the incredible number of difficult choices a person has to make, irrespective of their social stature. For instance, the little boy, Vasu is abandoned as “no one in the village was willing to look after him because of the superstitious belief that Vasu brought bad luck to his guardians”. 

Against the odds

Pari, his new mother, is determined to adopt him and look after him, against all odds. This includes the malicious gossip surrounding her circumstances, referring to her as a widow or casting aspersions upon her character by referring to her relationship with Rehman, whom she considers as a confidante and making snide comments speculating that Vasu is actually an illegitimate child of Rehman's whom Pari has taken under her wing. Whereas the truth was that Vasu's father, Mr. Naidu had taken his life after a disastrous harvest had left him in debt to a farming company that had supplied him with seeds, fertilizer and technical advice”.

Similarly, Dilawar too has to come to terms with his homesexuality, his love for Shaan, the fear that he experiences when caught unexpectedly in a police raid of a night club, or the insidious social pressure of his sophisticated neighbours that forces him to evict Shaan out of his apartment and life. All on the basis of a message that he received from the watchmen that their society is a “family-friendly place” where they would not tolerate any “misbehaviour” and that a person like Shaan should be banned from entering the building. Hence his passionate speech to his mother, when she is finalising his wedding arrangements marks the emergence of the confident Dilawar, “There are no spirits, Ammi-jaan. When I was a child, you used to say that Allah is aware of the path of every single ant in creation. Do you think he is unaware of what I am? If you believe in God, then who do you think created me as I am? I don't do this for fun or to be lewd…No, I do this because I am made like this.…”

The Wedding Wallah is about all these people and many more. It encompasses minor characters like the maidservants, the interfering neighbours, squabbling mother and daughter-in-law stories, the rich and feudal landowner who continues to exploit the bonded labourers and the well-heeled and respectable upper class Bilqis family who have their own woes with the father who had a roving eye and a mistress and a son who is gay. 

But it is beautifully written fiction that thinly veils some very real issues such as the problems created by surrogacy, the Maoist guerrillas, the Telangana movement, the farmer suicides in the State due to the genetically engineered and expensive crops failing, the Delhi High Court's landmark judgment decriminalizing same-sex love, and the never-ending social plague of ostracizing minorities like orphans, widows and gays. Farahad Zama is an engineer by training, but a banker who is now based in London and married to his own Vizag girl. According to an interview that he gave a couple of years ago, he writes while commuting from the suburb to work.

He has the gift of being a writer who pays attention to detail, he deftly weaves it into his stories, without making it too tedious to read. His writing is charming and a good mix of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, the descriptions of domestic hum-drum, but packed with the chaos that can overtake a day, and yet, the yearning for love and the flutter that it can cause, irrespective of age. The Wedding Wallah is his third novel in a series revolving around Mr. Ali's marriage bureau, and a series worth buying.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a publishing consultant and critic.

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