Do you need a razor-sharp, mirror-clear image of the realities of love and marriage in Mumbai? Then this is one book you totally should invest in.
“Love and Marriage in Mumbai” by Elizabeth Flock is a phenomenal reportage of the love stories of three couples (names obviously changed by the author for the sake of privacy): Maya and Veer, Sabeena and Shahzad, Parvati and Ashok. The stories are divided into many parts.
- Introducing the reader to the couples
- Getting the reader acquainted with the family background of each of the characters involved. And the stories of how the couples met
- The marital struggles that each couple faced
- The ending (happy or sad, you ask? You’ll have to read and find out)
- The epilogue
Now, from the way I described it, you may think that the parts are clearly divisible, with the last line of each part clearly demarcating the end of that part of the story. But that’s not the case. The purpose of dividing the stories in such parts (in my opinion) could be to enable a telling of all three stories simultaneously. And this is important. Because merely reading each story entirely at one go, without analysing the differences in the three stories, would be an utter waste of time.
I personally feel that reading this book at the right time and reading it with the right amount of introspection is necessary too. I would wholeheartedly recommend NOT reading this book like a normal book. Instead, read this book together with your future/potential spouse, engage in a part-by-part conversation with him/her. The book, through the examples of the three couples, presents to the reader a diverse set of anecdotes of married life. And, I assume, it would also provide a foundation for critical thinking regarding a future life together.
Getting back to the review:
A quick introduction to the couples-
Maya and Veer: The story of this Marwari couple is filled with passion and drama (on the side of one person) and detachment (on the side of the other person).
Sabeena and Shahzad: The story of this Muslim couple explores the desperation for a child and the changing face of Islam over the years in Mumbai.
Parvati and Ashok: The story of this Tamil-Brahmin couple speaks of the pros and cons of an arranged marriage. Does it ever blossom into true love at the flick of a wand?
What I like about this book is the author’s brilliance at weaving together a story based not only on her interactions with the couples, but also with the help of photographs, e-mails, text messages, diary entries and medical and legal documents. And never will the reader, even for a minute, perceive a gap or inconsistency or slowness in narration. The story flows beautifully and immerses you into the lives of Maya and Veer, Sabeena and Shahzad, Parvati and Ashok like as if they were your next-door neighbours.
Another aspect of the book that I appreciated, apart from the obvious lessons in love, is the rich Indianness of the story. The nuances of lives people lead in Mumbai are fantastically touched upon. The diversity of culture ingrained in the couples and people mentioned in the book is not exaggerated nor underrated. I’d like to quote some instances (don’t worry, no spoilers)
There are ample references to Hindu mythology in Maya and Veer’s and Parvati and Ashok’s story. For example, the love story of Krishna and Radha, and the many interpretations of it. The role of prayer and worship to fertility gods when a couple wants to have a child. There are references to Islam in Sabeena and Shahzad’s story. To quote a few: the celebration of Bakri Eid, the month of Ramzan and much more.
Certain Indian customs, traditions and mentalities are also mentioned throughout the book. For example: the joint family system prevalent, disallowance of a woman from cooking and doing other household activities while menstruating, the matching of astrological charts while matchmaking, the very shrewd and calculating art of asking questions to the potential bride / groom when the two families meet for the first time, the assistance of online matchmaking services for setting up an arranged marriage, the hush-hush-ness about porn and sexuality, etc. All these references may be eye-openers to few readers but other readers may have had similar experiences prior to reading this book. In either case, the documentation of these experiences is done in a way that suits both categories of readers.
The book also documents major social and political developments that were relevant to the stories of the couples.
Also, for forgetful readers, or readers who plan to read this book over a long period of time, there’s an easy reference guide containing the names of people involved in the stories at the start of the book.
I give this book a 4.5/5 stars rating and recommend it to 20-somethings looking forward to being in a relationship / are in a relationship / planning to tie the knot soon / have already tied the knot. Basically, I recommend this book to everyone who has got over their hopeless addiction to YA Fiction 😛
Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a review copy of this book!
Note: I’m a YA Fiction lover myself, and don’t intend to change that even when i’m old enough to wear dentures.