Shoaib, Sania and Ayesha saga
Although India-Pakistan marriages do take place, yet most are between siblings who live in the US or the EU, where they meet, fall in love, and marry. There are few Indian or Pakistani parents who seek out brides or grooms for their children in the other country, aware as they are of the tensions between the two lands, which do not seem to be in any hurry to disappear. Sania Mirza is a modern girl with an excellent character (the two can indeed go together), who saw in the attractive cricketeer a worthy life companion. As for Shoaib, he deserves praise for avoiding the stereotypical burkha-clad bride in favour of a spouse who faced down those who demanded that she “prove she was a good Muslim” by wearing full-length skirts while playing tennis, not to mention fully covering the arms and the hair as well. It is unlikely that Sania would have gone as far as she has in the game, had she agreed to such a condition. The upshot was that she continued to wear the usual tennis attire, while remaining a good Muslim and indeed, a good Indian and most important, a good human being.
And what of the other girl, Ayesha Siddiqui? She had remained quiet for eight years after performing a telephone nikahmama with Shoaib, although it was claimed by those close to her that she had lived with him as husband and wife. When news exploded on television screens of the Sania-Shoaib wedding, Ayesha decided that she had had enough of being the silent sufferer.Through her family — who, like the Mirzas, are one of the best in Hyderabad — she filed a police complaint against Shoaib, that he was marrying Sania without even acknowledging her, Ayesha, as his first wife, much less divorcing her. Although the law in India permits Shoaib to marry up to four wives, it is clear that a modern girl such as Sania would not tolerate any relationship except one that was exclusive. Hence, the dashing cricketeer had the option of either divorcing Ayesha (which was all that the Siddiqui family wanted) or denying that he was ever married, by claiming that the telephone nikahnama was invalid and that the girl he was supposed to have been married to was not the one whom he believed to have been Ayesha
It is difficult to believe that the Siddiqui family would have indulged in false representations to get their daughter married off. Indeed, their standing in Hyderabad society is so strong that it would have been easy to get a good match for their beloved daughter, a gracious and warm person. However,Ayesha clearly was hoping that her beloved Shoaib would some day come back to her, and hence refused to initiate divorce proceedings with him, preferring solitude to marriage to someone else. It was only when the happy faces of Shoaib and Sania appeared repeatedly on television screens that Ayesha accepted that her wish - to be reunited with her Pakistani hero- would never get fulfilled. She thereupon did the civilised thing and asked for a divorce, to which Shoaib responded by questioning her beauty and even the fact of their nikahnama. Incensed by this, the scorned Ayesha turned over all the evidence she had of her relationship with Shoaib to the Andhra police, who in turn handed it over to the Central Bureau of Investigation. Those in the know say that it was clear that there had indeed been a marriage, and that Shoaib was being forgetful when he claimed never to have met Ayesha.
Why did Shoaib deny any intimacy with a woman who claimed that she had had a miscarriage while having his baby? Was it because he was uneasy at Sania’s reaction to the news that she was only his second wife? Or because he was unaware of the evidence of his one-time closeness to Ayesha? Those who know both families (who incidentally have been friends of each other for long) say that Sania would not have minded the truth, as she had made up her mind to marry Shoaib, and was not credulous enough to believe that anyone in the starry world of cricket could be a monk in his private life.
Those who play in matches in India know how often charming women (of all shapes, age and marital status) call them in their hotel rooms, offering to come and “cheer them up” before a match, or after one. In the economic elite of the big cities of India, having a cricketing star as a companion is a mark of distinction, which is why most cricketeers touring India (or Australia, South Africa or the UK) usually have very large lists of lovely women that they can call on for solace. Indeed, several international players go for holidays with these beauties, who ask for nothing expect a few days of fun. If Shoaib Malik was a recluse off the field, he was in a very small minority of players, and this fact must have been no secret to the well-connected Mirza family. However, they sportingly decided to stand by their daughter, who too has stood by her finance. The youth of India adore Sania Mirza, and this is not only because of her Tennis, excellent though that is. They see in Sania a strong, independent woman who is not afraid to call a spade a spade or do what she feels is right. Sania has shown that one can be modest without what some would call overdressing and that even a very modern girl can have a spotless character. Shoaib deserves praise for choosing her as his bride, rather than someone more submissive. However, her fans here will be looking to see if marriage changes Sania,and makes her retreat into more traditional dress or lifestyle. The couple plan to live in Dubai (thus avoiding the static caused by an India-Pakistan marriage in India),a city that allows young people the dress ands lifestyle they prefer. Clearly, this decision of theirs is the loss of both India and Pakistan, although hopefully, both will continue to represent their respective countries
As indeed they have. It is sad that even today, any India-Pakistan marriage sparks off the kind of prurient interest and controversy as has been generated by the impending wedding of Sania with her chosen beau, Shoaib. Of course, the publicity has made the banquet at the Taj Krishna in Hyderabad one of the most sought-after invitations in the country, with those getting the tastefully-printed showing off their prize to friends! Seeing all this, the mind returns to another India-Pakistan couple, the bookish Anil Dharkar and his lovely Pakistani bride Imtiaz, who met and married nearly four decades ago, and thereafter settled down in Muimbai, just as Bal Thackeray was getting into his stride. Both Anil and Imtiaz would have had their share of worries, some of it caused by their clashing natoonalities, but overall, any more have given them support than have calumniated them. They, and their talented daughter, are now a prized jewel in the cultural life of India, and Anil and Imtiaz deserve praise for having taken such a bold leap into such a turbulent future. Hopefully, just as with the Dharkars, India-Pakistan relations too will enter into a period of maturity and mutual acceptance of each other as best friends.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.