Christina Patterson: Class: it's the key to arranged marriages

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The Independent Online

In his Booker-of-Bookers-winning novel, Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (or Sir Salman, as we must now call him) gives a description of an arranged marriage which would warm the cockles of the heart of the most hide-bound Muslim matriarch.

"Each day," says Rushdie of his character, Amina, "she selected one fragment of Ahmed Sinai, and concentrated her entire being upon it until it became wholly familiar; until she felt fondness rising up within her and becoming affection and, finally, love." She does this because she has "resolved to fall in love with her husband bit by bit". Luckily, it works.

It's a model for romance which has filtered down the centuries. Where the head leads, the heart (surely) follows. It's a model which has kept kingdoms, alliances and political dynasties intact, and one of which vast swathes of the world's current population are the product.

In Shanghai last week, I emerged from an almost scarily high-tech digital art exhibition in a gallery in the People's Park to find swarms of middle-aged men and women staring at bits of paper on the bushes. Was it, I wondered, a sale of calligraphy? Or some kind of public art? My Chinese guide giggled. "Oh no," she said, "it's lonely hearts."

Lonely hearts for the middle-aged, and in such a public place! How sweet, I gushed, that they were so unembarrassed. My guide's smile twitched into an expression of pure horror. "No!" she shrieked. "It is for their children!" The scripts laid out so carefully on the bushes were their children's CVs. Degrees in one corner of the park, MAs in another, and PhDs in another.

In the past few decades, arranged marriages have once again become a feature of British life, as Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants have imported the traditions they've grown up with. As in so many other culturally "challenging" areas, the British response has been confused. North Londoners, whose sexual freedom has led to domestic arrangements that can only be described as complicated, will tell you earnestly that arranged marriages are often very "successful". Casualties, when it all goes horribly wrong, are referred to as victims not of murder, but of "honour killings". Look how tolerant we are! And did you know that our national dish is chicken tikka masala?

The latest institution to fall for this nonsense, is, predictably enough, the BBC. In its tireless quest for ratings, punctuated with the odd effort to ensure that black and Asian faces are occasionally tolerated outside the canteen, it has hit on a sure-fire formula: a reality-TV show presented by a photogenic young British Pakistani woman, which aims to combine the contemporary obsession with dating with the traditional principles of an Asian arranged marriage.

"My approach to arranging marriages," says Aneela Rahman, presenter of Arrange Me A Marriage, who will practise on live, human guinea pigs, "is pragmatic, focusing on compatibility – looking at shared goals, background, values, education, earning potential".

Lexi Proud, the guinea pig who features in the first programme, and who is shamefully single at 33, has been unsuccessful, Rahman says, because she has dated people "outside her class".

Quite right, too. Obviously, what we need in the 21st-century, in a multicultural society, is clearer demarcations of culture and class. Stick with your own. Don't get ideas above – or below – your station. Homogeneity, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is all. Arrange me a marriage, yes – but first, find me a clone.

I'm giving up humbug this year

Like many "middle-youth" adults not ensconced in the whole nuclear deal, I am no great fan of Christmas. Without apple-cheeked cherubs denuding mountains of sparkly packages, the whole thing can seem rather ridiculous. I do not, however, demand that my delicate sensibilities be protected from this annual orgy of domestic bliss. I do not expect, as the Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested, that the Government should "downplay" Christmas in the interests of "even-handedness". I accept that "hard-working families" might like to celebrate a Pagan-Christian festival. I imagine that Muslims and Hindus might just be able to tolerate it, too

* If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, they can, it seems, at least meet productively in the office. When testosterone-fuelled testiness is mixed in equal parts with oestrogen-fuelled empathy, the result, according to a new study from the London Business School, is a climate in which "innovation" is likely to flourish.

Men, in other words, are not necessarily some ghastly evolutionary mistake. Dispersed among members of the superior sex, they can even be quite useful. It's only when they're insufficiently diluted that disaster ensues. As we can see from contemporary politics.

The sprinkling of matronly types on both sides of the dispatch box is clearly not enough to curb the boyish enthusiasms of the slick young gunslingers advising our two main party leaders. Like many small boys, they struggle with language. One side thinks that "bottle" is a verb. The other thinks that everything is a "narrative". Poor darlings, what they really want is a bottle and a bedside story. Bring on more matrons.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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