For Matrimonial Purposes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2003, 12:00am

For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani

HarperCollins $91

Like Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, Kavita Daswani's For Matrimonial Purposes tracks the attempts of a young Indian woman, in league with her mother, to find Mr Right. But while Seth's critically acclaimed novel is often bought and seldom read all the way through due to its mammoth 1,500 pages, Daswani's Bollywood-meets-Hollywood debut is a breeze at just 320.

For Matrimonial Purposes is a fun and entertaining look at a common dilemma for the modern Indian woman: whether it is possible to fulfil your ambitions to pursue a career, travel the world, and live on your own terms, and keep Mum and Dad happy by marrying a nice Indian boy.

Bombay-born and raised, our heroine Anju always believed that she would live at home with her parents until marrying in her late teens or early 20s. But though she has a university degree by the time she is 21, the dreamy Anju has failed to attract a single marriageable man. Her very traditional parents - and gossiping friends - fear for Anju's future, so mother Leela calls in the city's best astrologer, Udhay, for advice.

He finds the eldest of Leela's offspring must wait, and fend off the advances of several unsuitable boys, before marrying some time after her 26th birthday.

Anju sheds a few tears before settling down to selling baubles and bangles in her wealthy father's jewellery shops, while her mother turns to gurus, saints, healers and swamis in far-flung provinces hoping one might conjure up the husband. Anju divides her time between the regular fasting and mantra-chanting her mother insists will help, her work at the shop and endless hours watching the Los Angeles-set TV soapie the Bold And The Beautiful.

Eventually, tired of watching her own friends and those of her younger brother tie the knot, and despite her father's disapproval, she sets off to study business management in New York.

Anju later dates an American, and makes friends who are as relationship-challenged as she. In some cases, this only serves to strengthen her belief in tradition.

After graduating, Anju finds work as a publicist in the glitzy New York fashion world. Every few months, though, she returns to Bombay for the latest family wedding, and with it, introductions to many Mr Wrongs.

Anju's is a dilemma that will be familiar to many Indian parents, and their offspring. South China Morning Post readers who recognise Daswani's byline from her days as fashion editor here will not be surprised to hear she makes good use of her eye for detail and expertise in all things fashionable, whether describing the spectacular wedding of one of Anju's friends in Bombay, or a designer-label catwalk in Paris.

They may also be pleased to know that the book's happy ending mirrors the Los Angeles-based Daswani's own experience. In her mid-30s, like Anju, the former Hongkonger scored the Triple Crown of husband, baby and big book deal.