The Joy of Finishing a Good Book

by cedhausen

… knowing you have its sequel tucked in a corner of your bookshelf. Then finding out that there are two additional books that complete a quartet. I’m referring to Farahad Zama’s delightful The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, which I’ve recently finished. Set in Vizag, the book follows the business ventures of Mr. Ali and his wife as they match up potential couples for marriage, a colourful process involving sacred rituals, undying customs, and a truckload of saris. Their assistant, Aruna, also features heavily in the novel and proves to be more than capable of helping Mr. Ali with the marriage bureau, though has troubles managing her own expectations of love and marriage.

There’s a particularly lovely quote from the book:

If love and virtue in the household reign, this is of life the perfect grace and gain (242).

The context for this involves an irate father who refuses to acknowledge his soon-to-be daughter-in-law due to class differences, until he was confronted with that particular quote. I like the book because it’s an easy read, has pretty convincing dialogue (though there’s always an opportunity for his characters to cry, which can rub off on some as over(t)ly sentimental), and paints an idyllic view of the city (contrasting an outlying chaos that threatens to break down Mr. Ali’s family). There were moments in the story that progressed far too quickly than your average Bollywood film, but it had a satisfying wrap up which either leaves you wanting for more or praying for it to end right there. Not in a negative way. Just think of how the public reacted when they exited the cinemas after watching Toy Story 3. That kind.

While the quote above referred to love in marriage, it reminded me of another sort of love, which incidentally brings me to the Photo of the Day:

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Looks a little aged, but I think it helps with the overall mood and tone of the picture. That’s my grandmother you see in the picture, in her home at Batu Pahat where she continues to read the newspaper she’s been reading for decades. Sin Chew Jit Poh (the newspaper) should cut her a cheque for her loyalty. I’ve heard plenty of stories of other people’s grandparents and not all of them are necessarily pretty, which makes me grateful for mine all the more. At 90, my grandmother could still read and recognise Chinese characters (illiteracy is common in her generation), take short walks, and have perfectly coherent talks with me about her childhood. Her memory amazes me. Her humility amazes me. Her unwavering intent on paying me money every time I go out to buy dinner for the family amazes me. May she never find out I’ve been slipping those notes back into her purse.

When you live with an elderly grandparent you love deeply and whose company you enjoy immensely, you can’t take anything for granted. For instance, my grandmother has this habit of falling asleep on the couch while she’s watching the television in the afternoon, and whenever I pass her by, I’d stop for a moment just to check if her chest was heaving. I don’t know why I do it, but I do, and I feel more assured after I’ve seen that. I cannot fathom my reaction otherwise, and I wouldn’t want to think about it. I consider her to be healthy for her age, and I’m grateful for every single day she’s able to lift herself up the couch without falling back. She may not look like it, but I’d say she’s tough… in her own sweet way.

The picture frames you see on the wall are of me, my second uncle, my third uncle, and my older cousin. It’s really odd just typing them out like that because English doesn’t have words to differentiate my “second” from my “third” uncle whereas in Mandarin, the familial hierarchy is spelt out in detail. Relatives from my father’s side also have different honorifics from my mother’s side, but these remain indistinguishable in English. Common observation, but always awkward when expressed in text. Anyway, it has always been an unspoken tradition of the family to put up framed pictures of ourselves in our graduation robes up on my grandmother’s wall whenever one of us graduates. Education is a massive thing in our family, and my maternal grandparents have certainly worked hard to ensure all of their children completed their collegiate education. The cousin in the rightmost picture frame is now a doctor working in the UK, and while I’ve never sought or even dreamt of competing with his successes, I did pressure myself to achieve a similar level of accomplishment within an academic setting. A lot of Asian families kinda work that way. There’s this latent sense of rivalry among the “kids” to see who can one-up the other, not necessarily within the same field (that would be a nightmare), based on their achievements, how ever the family sees fit to define and compare them.

The last thing I’d want to do is to give everyone the impression that my extended family is incredibly competitive. Though I say all these things above, I would say the relationship I share with my extended family is a considerably harmonious one, compared to some of the family dramas I hear about every so often. To be frank, I’m not even sure if it’s accurate to say it’s an “Asian family thing”, though it can be argued that that sense of competition is more prevalent in Asian families.

Heck, I didn’t expect to talk so much about family in one go. This post was originally meant to address why I was so tired yesterday… I guess that will be something for tomorrow then. The bed beckons, ladies and gentlemen, so I bid you goodnight.

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