Cricket diplomacy goes further as Pakistan star weds Indian

Click to follow
The Independent Online

With Pakistan's cricket team touring India, Pakistani fans staying at Indians' homes for free, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf due in Delhi to watch one of the matches, the subcontinent is abuzz with talk of cricket diplomacy. But one Pakistani cricketer appears to have taken it further than everyone else - he has married an Indian woman.

With Pakistan's cricket team touring India, Pakistani fans staying at Indians' homes for free, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf due in Delhi to watch one of the matches, the subcontinent is abuzz with talk of cricket diplomacy. But one Pakistani cricketer appears to have taken it further than everyone else - he has married an Indian woman.

Yet the story of the Pakistan off-spinner Shoaib Malik's marriage to Maha Siddiqui reads more like a south Asian Romeo and Juliet. The two married in secret almost three years ago, because they were afraid that Maha's nationalist parents would not allow her to marry a Pakistani. So fraught is the issue of cross-border marriage that the two recited their wedding vows to each other down a phone line, which is allowed in Islamic marriages. Malik was in his home town of Sialkot in Pakistan, while his wife was at her home in Hyderabad in India. Each had witnesses standing by the phone.

But there is a happy ending. Next week, when the Pakistani cricket team travels to Hyderabad for a practice match, Malik will meet his parents-in-law for the first time. Kept in the dark about the marriage for almost a year, they have finally given their consent. Although the couple are already married, they are planning on throwing the lavish wedding ceremony they missed out on, and are leaving for Pakistan together as soon as the cricket tour is over.

Their story tells a lot about the difficulties young Indians and Pakistanis can face if they want to marry across the divide between the countries - and the extent to which politics enters everything where India and Pakistan's troubled relationship is concerned.

Although arranged marriages across the border are not unheard of, because of the extended families that live on both sides love matches are rare, simply because it's so difficult for Indians and Pakistanis to meet each other.

Only those with genuine business across the border or relatives to visit usually get visas - and thousands of Pakistanis have taken advantage of visas to watch the cricket just to get a glimpse of India.

Malik and his wife met because she was living outside India at the time, in Saudi Arabia, where she was working as an administrator at a school in Jeddah. The Gulf has a huge population of expatriate south Asian workers there on short-term visas, and gives Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis a rare opportunity to mingle.

Ms Siddiqui travelled to neighbouring Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with friends for a shopping festival, and the Pakistan cricket team happened to be in the country at the same time for a tournament. The hotels in Dubai were full so Ms Siddiqui and her friends went to stay in Sharjah - where the cricket competition was being held - and ended up in the same hotel as the Pakistan cricket team.

"One day, my friends and I had just finished our meal at the hotel coffee shop and as we were leaving he came up to me with a room key that we had left behind," Ms Siddiqui told the Indian press. AlthoughMalik was already becoming instantly recognisable to millions of south Asian cricket fans, Ms Siddiqui did not know who he was. "I was quite rude actually," she said. "I thought he was trying to get to know us." But the two started talking over the hotel's internal phone, and when she returned to Saudi Arabia, kept in touch over the internet. Eventually they decided to get married, but Ms Siddiqui kept the marriage secret from her parents.

"My father is very pro-India and he always believed that we should marry Indians," she said. "Shoaib said: 'Let's get married and make everything legal first. Then you can tell them.' His parents knew about it though, and they were fine with it." Because marriage is a contract between two people and not a sacrament in Islam, they were able to make their wedding vows over the phone. Eventually, with the media full of stories about Malik's Indian wife, whose identity remained a secret, Ms Siddiqui decided she would have to tell her parents - but got her cousin to break the news while she was away in Saudi Arabia.To her surprise, they accepted the marriage.

Now Ms Siddiqui's only problem is which cricket team to support. "I am very pro-India," she says, but adds: "If Shoaib is playing I want Pakistan to win as he is so passionate about his game. Otherwise India."

Comments