Any colour, so long as it's white: Dolly Dhingra's parents told their children to find partners of a different race and religion. So what is the attraction of a mixed marriage? (CORRECTED)

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 3 SEPTEMBER 1994) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

As immigrants in this country, second-generation Asians have had to deal with a culture crisis that has always affected their identity but is now beginning to influence their choice of marriage partners. As British citizens, they do not feel they have to marry into their own caste or race. They have learnt to adapt and emulate the western way of life, and since few have any real desire of returning to their homelands, some are preferring to marry non-Asians.

There has been much debate on the subject of mixed marriages of late which I have followed carefully, arriving at the conclusion that if a person decides to marry into their own race this is by no means a racist sentiment.

I am often asked if I want to marry a white person; if I were not an immigrant and still lived in India this would not be an issue. I want to marry an Asian because I need to share the same cultural foundations - religion, morals, art and food - some, but not all, of which could be learnt by any non-Asian.

Second-generation Asians have had the same education as their British counterparts, but at home a whole different culture is absorbed, which would take a lifetime for a non-Asian to learn. Compromise will always be greater on the part of an immigrant if married to a person of the dominant culture - a view that is not shared by all my family.

I recently attended a mixed-race wedding - that of my brother. Perhaps some explanation of our upbringing and the wedding may provide some insight into the confusion, compromises and joys that mixed marriages can bring.

The only brief we were given on the subject of courtship as teenagers was quite the reverse of the Henry Ford saying; 'Any colour, so long as it's black.' Our parents instructed us: 'You can go out with anyone, as long as they are not black, and/or Muslim.'

Considering the fate of other Asians who not only had to marry into the same religion, but also the right caste - usually through arranged marriages - we regarded this as a godsend and didn't even bother asking why the two categories were excluded.

As we grew older, it became obvious that Muslims were out because of the historic and religious animosities that existed. Blacks appeared to be excluded for reasons of racism; our parents realised that the Indian community would not only boycott the wedding, but we would be ostracised for evermore.

To date, our family resembles the United Nations with one sibling having married a fellow Sikh, another a Hindu and one a white man - the son of a Methodist minister. Last month, the only other single member of the family apart from myself, my brother, decided to tie the knot with an Catholic girl from Cork.

Indian weddings are famous for their duration; this applies not only to the actual ceremony but to the rites and rituals that occur beforehand. However, instead of taking weeks, a Sikh wedding now only lasts five days, but this does not account for the days needed for recuperation. So to prevent me feeling left out and on the shelf, my brother and his fiancee crammed two wedding ceremonies - Sikh and Catholic - and a reception into one day.

The date coincided with my birthday, and they wanted me to be a bridesmaid. I couldn't imagine a more ill-fitting role for myself, and dreaded the idea of having to wear some tangerine taffetta off-the-shoulder number as I turned 28. I admired their diplomacy, and not wanting to seem churlish, I accepted.

For the three days preceding the actual event, the Dhingra household's doors were open to all relatives, friends and well-wishers who could dance and drink to their hearts' content. One of the evenings was a women-only session, where the groom was surrounded by his aunts, cousins and sisters playing the dhol (drum), singing, and doing some eyebrow- raising traditional folk dancing.

The night before the wedding, my brother was made to sit on the floor while people queued to put oil in his hair with a grass brush and rub in a mixture made from turmeric and flour that Anita Roddick would be envious of on his face and limbs. He then had to have henna plastered on to his hands and feet.

All of this is then washed off the next morning when his aunts bathe him in yoghurt, the theory being that he will arrive fresh and rejuvenated to the wedding ceremony for his wife-to-be.

The day arrivedIt was 8am and still the procession wasn't ready. When we finally drove down Green Street - the heart of the Indian community in east London - heads turned and eyes popped as an entourage of Irish folk all togged up in the finest of Indian clothes and jewellery make their way to the Gurdwara (Sikh temple).

The priests didn't flinch - they had a similar gathering at my sister's wedding two years ago. They read the religious text with English translations and as soon as the couple had done the obligatory four laps around the religious book and were confirmed married, they were whisked off to the photographic studios, the bridesmaids to the hairdressers, while the wedding party, none the wiser, quietly indulged in lunch.

Two hours later outside the Dhingra residence, there are five bridesmaids who have replaced their diamante with pearls, a coachful of Indians, numerous cars laden with nervous Catholics, and a horse and cart, all ready to make their way to the church were the bride arrived in a gold Rolls- Royce. There was much mimed singing of hymns by the older Indian relatives as they stood looking rather bemusedly on at the sombre affair that passes as a wedding ceremony.

I signed the register book as a witness, itching to get out of the tangerine taffetta number and slip into something slightly more appropiate to do some bhangra and ceilidh dancing.

The scenes on the dance-floor at the reception are of joy and happiness, as over 300 people dance their socks and saris off. It resembles more a rave than a wedding reception. But I still can't help thinking that things could be far simpler at the next Dhingra wedding if I were to find an Asian to be my suitable boy.

CORRECTION

Apology

The headline on last week's Personal page article gave the impression that Dolly Dhingra's parents advised their children only to marry a white person. This is not the case, as the article made clear. We apologise to Mr and Mrs Dhingra for any embarrassment caused.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments