Book Review: For Matrimonial Purposes

I bought this book for a shocking (yet pleasing) R3 at a book sale at the Wits Hospice Shop – another steal. I liked the hennaed hand on the cover and was intrigued by the thought of learning more about Indian weddings.

Book cover. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

When I was younger I used to be obsessed with Bollywood movies. Even though they were three to four hours long and in subtitles – I loved them. Between the hunks with the sleek black hair, family feuds, lavish weddings and scandals I just could not get enough.

The weddings were of particular interest to me – it was the first time I witnessed grandeur in a setting that wasn’t associated with ‘white weddings’. I guess I admired that in the Indian culture no compromise was made between culture and a fairy-tale wedding; that their culture was not up for discussion or optional.

Onwards with the literary post-mortem (relax, this phrase will catch on). This book was written by Kavita Daswani– whom I know nothing about (sorry). The book kicks off with a lavish wedding which sets the tone for the rest of the book. It seems that marriage in the Indian community is a matter of extreme import and something that is considered necessary to bringing dignity to families. From the onset it is clear that Anju has been left behind, unmarried at 33.

Her mother has been trying tirelessly for about ten years to arrange a marriage for her, but Anju has not yet met a man she likes enough to marry. Mind you dating is not on the cards – she meets these guys and after that meeting a proposal should follow. The marriage is about getting to know your spouse, about falling in love with them. Something which was foreign to my imagination, as I am used to things happening the other way around.

In this all important quest to find a husband – one learns the difficulty of being an Indian girl in a traditional setting and also of one forced to grapple with her tradition in a Western world. After a few years of fruitless or rather marriage-less efforts Anju’s parents reluctantly let her go to America to further her studies and find a husband there. She is faced with all this freedom, which one imagines she would be seduced by – but she isn’t. She remains as conservative as her parents for the most part. Doing nothing that would be deemed sinful by them – consulting with them when making decisions many would make in their sleep.

Anju’s pursuit made me a little sad. Every time her mother called the first thing she would ask is: ‘Have you found a boy?’, not an enquiry about her daughters health and well-being. All Anju wanted was to stop being a disappointment and be truly loved by her parents. She imagined that getting married was the only way to do that and sadly it was. None of her academic achievements or career achievements inspired any sort of approval from them.

Daswari put little quotes at the beginning of each chapter, oft very helpful in better understanding the perpetual quest for a mate. I got the idea from the quotes and the book in general that women and independence seemed most incongruent; especially in Anju’s case. For instance her parents freaked out when she had to travel to Paris for business – they could not stand that she would be travelling alone and feared the scandal and shame it would bring to the family’s reputation if she was spotted by someone they know.

“They say that you find the love you seek when you stop looking. They say that the second you get busy with work, friends, other interests outside romance, that the man or woman of your dreams comes sauntering into your life. I say they’re wrong. The fact is when you’re looking for love, you can’t ever really stop”

A-fucking-men. I have been saying this to my friends for a while.

I have never found any kind of solace with the ‘if you stop looking it will come to you’ adage, it just doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t the same principle apply to the pursuit of career goals and dreams. It’s a load of hogwash. Sure I shouldn’t be out on the hunt every hour of every day but pretending I am not looking for someone doesn’t erase the desire. I am busy with ‘other’ things but that hasn’t induced some mild amnesia either. Anywho…

By the close of the book she has a happy ending. Not the most conventional one and not one on her own terms. She nearly forces the poor man to marry her instead of dating as he suggests. But despite herself and her parents it all worked out. I was relieved – my spirit may have been shattered had she not.

PS**

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