July 22, 2009 / 2:44 AM / 10 years ago

Author aims to show a "happy" India in debut novel

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - The rigid caste system, arranged marriages and gender gap that still exist in modern India usually don’t make light reading, except, perhaps, in Indian-born author Farahad Zama’s debut novel.

Zama’s recently published book, “The Marriage Bureau For Rich People,” is a social satire couched in humor and romance, which shows that love and respect are the basis of a successful marriage, no matter how incompatible the couple appear on paper.

Arranged marriages, poverty and the rigid class system are something Zama has experienced first-hand: born in 1966 in Vizag, eastern India, he grew up in a one-room home in a slum where his family did not have money to spare on books, but insisted their children get a good education.

After graduation, he worked for Citibank in Mumbai, moving to London in 1990 after an arranged marriage to a woman from his hometown. Zama is still an investment banker, has been married for 18 years now and has two sons.

Zama recently spoke to Reuters about why he chose to write yet another book about India:

Q: What inspired you to write a book about marriage?

A: “One day, I sat in front of the computer and the title just came to me and that’s how the book started. I come from a large family with lots of arranged marriages, and I knew I wanted to write about India, it’s a fascinating subject that I know well.”

Q: But there are so many books about India. What sets yours apart, in your opinion?

A: “There are a lot books that depict India as a hugely complicated country with lots of problems, but they don’t show a happy India, which is what I tried to do. I tried to approach a lot of social issues in a humorous way, which is what I believe makes my book slightly different.”

Q: Your style has been likened to a modern-day Jane Austen. What do you think of that?

A: “I don’t think it’s fair! She’s such a master. But the society she was writing about is very similar to the India I am writing about — a place where money is very important, class is very important and parents are desperate to get their kids married. I am now working on a sequel of the book, but maybe I will branch off into something else.”

Q: Was writing something you always wanted to do? And how do you reconcile it your job as an investment banker?

A: “I never thought I would ever write. But when I told an old friend of mine that I had written a book, he wasn’t surprised. It must have been a hidden desire all along. As for the switch from banker to writer, I am fairly strict: on my train ride to the city, I write, but the minute I get on the platform, I stop thinking about the book and start looking at my Blackberry and get into banker mode. You’ve got to be very disciplined to be able to make that switch.”

Q: You do most of your writing on the train, then?

A: “I have a 90-minute commute to and from London. When I was writing “Marriage Bureau,” I used to get 200 words or so each way. Now, with the sequel, I find I am writing 600 or so words a day. In weekends, I write for about an hour or two. In a week, if I write 2,000 words I am happy so in a year’s time you have a book. And I haven’t had to rewrite huge chunks, so far.”

Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?

A: “Get yourself a laptop. Write about something you know very well, especially for a first book. And get yourself a commute on British Rail.”

Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Alex Richardson

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