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My Brother’s Wedding (Andaleeb Wajid)

(Rupa, 2013)

For the clueless uninitiated, an Indian wedding can be a litany of the Right Way to Do Things. And if you think that means a series of boring, repetitive and sometimes completely illogical things, you don’t know the half of it. Andaleeb Wajid’s My Brother’s Wedding wades into this quicksand and what happens next is… well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

When 19-year-old Saba seeks out the anonymity of cyberspace to vent about the insanity related to her brother’s impending nuptials, she’s fairly certain all she’s offering is a secret blog that records ‘everything that happens in a typical Muslim wedding in detail’. Of course, airing the antics of her near and dear ones is flirting dangerously close to ‘revenge, disownment and quick annihilation’ in case the origins of the blog are ever traced back to her. So she assigns a single initial to each family member. Y, Q, X and T seem ambiguous enough, but then, the Web is not as anonymous as we might think…

IRL, when Saba’s brother Zohaib announces that he’d like to get married, it sends their mother, supported vociferously by an army of ‘bawdy aunts’, into a frenzy of bride hunting. Saba, however, nurses a healthy scepticism of her brother’s good-boy act: this, after all, is the fellow who can’t ‘get too far without half the female population panting over his workstation’, a state of affairs he clearly enjoys.

Even as Ammi, Abbu and assorted family members descend into the task of organizing their only son’s wedding with feverish enthusiasm, Saba’s life embraces some excitement of its own. This mainly comes in the form of her good friend and comrade-in-arms Shahid—a distant cousin who she’d hitherto referred to as bhai—when he suddenly stirs up distinctly unbrotherly feelings. Rounding off the cast of frontline characters is Saba’s glamorous older sister Rabia, who more or less views the world by the angle of her—apparently perfect—nose, a world in which Saba has the status of a cockroach squashed underfoot. When Rabia leaves her devoted husband and moves back to her parents’ home without a word of explanation, it does not add to Saba’s cup of joy.

Keeping up with her college work, trying not to become a pathetic lovesick sap, staying out of Rabia’s way, not to mention the wedding madness, Saba fears for her sanity. Things take an even more bizarre turn when she has the hots for the bride-to-be’s dishy cousin from London and some major heartache ensues.

If you discount the thread of logic that holds the story together, My Brother’s Wedding could well have been a Bollywood movie. It has all the ingredients—romance, including unrequited lust and Terrible Misunderstandings; family drama; a vamp-type character who gets her due comeuppance. Just throw in a couple of songs… oh, sorry, there is the little fact that story actually makes sense. At some level, My Brother’s Wedding is a good old desi romance. At another, it seems to be a late-teenage coming-of-age story set in interesting times. That said, Saba is no hapless heroine waiting for a man to come and bring meaning to her life. Despite the happy ending—oh come on, that’s not a spoiler!—she remains completely aware of her ‘descent’ into ‘that girl’ throughout. Also, she is an enthusiastic participant in various romantic shenanigans, albeit only G-rated. Moreover, being in love with Shahid doesn’t mean she suddenly loses her eyesight—she makes a rather determined play for aforementioned cousin from London, so what if he is a bit of a Trixie McBimbo (as coined by Rory Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls)?

Saba’s family negotiates that uneasy alliance between conservatism and modernity, a reality that India’s middle class has been forced to deal with in recent times, sometimes with hilarious results. Despite being a light-hearted read overall, the book surprises you with its unflinching, unabashed portrayal of a changing society, in this case through the eyes of a well-to-do middle-class urban Muslim family as it performs its balancing act. Saba is that particular generation caught slap-bang in the middle of this change. Being aware of the expectations of her family, yet knowing that making a choice is a choice in itself weighs heavily on her. When her best friend Riya—somewhat condescending, but we love our best friends for all their warts, right?—berates her for not thinking of a future career in writing, we see how the burden of expectation has been holding her back.

Humour is another strong suit of this book: Ammi and her ‘dark jungle cake’, Saba’s own ‘glamorous burkha’, the absence of Rooh Afza at the engagement, the continuing cluelessness of cousin Uzair… just some of the ha-ha stuff. The story goes back and forth between the blog and a third person omniscient view, which gets a little confusing sometimes. Also, Saba’s ‘voice’ as blog writer is highly entertaining and one wishes the whole story was told thus.

There are some twists, but this is a fairly straightforward YA romance-y type story, so no prizes for guessing what happens in the end. There are a few question marks about the chronology, but overall, an easy, entertaining read.

RATING: 7/10
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