A cross-border marriage stripped of romance
The subcontinent's biggest tabloid story in a long time has finally ended. Hopefully. Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik have married after what resembled a fast-paced pulp thriller involving a spurned woman he was alleged to have married and then divorced amid bitter recriminations. As if this was not enough, there was a high-pitched jingoistic media debate about who owns Mirza now - would she turn out to play tennis for Pakistan? (Mirza, who is currently ranked a lowly 92 in the world, insists she will continue to play for India.) This was the kind of tabloid frenzy to which the usually staid and conservative media in India and Pakistan are unaccustomed.
The Mirza-Malik wedding was the "romance that gripped two nations", according to The Guardian. In reality, the treatment given the story completely stripped it of its romance. News networks vied with each other to dig up dirt about Malik and his alleged ex-wife, Ayesha Siddiqui. "Your jaw drops at the performance the stand-up anchors put up," wrote media critic Sevanti Ninan. "Grown men and women paid to harangue, and to sell the proposition that this is and can be the only matter of earthshaking importance for a large country of a billion-plus people."
Things appeared to be no better across the border with the story dominating the Pakistani news networks. "What we saw on our screens was tabloid journalism of the sort usually purveyed by the dregs of the profession," fumed the Dawn newspaper. "In a country racked by militancy and terrorism, should a celebrity marriage dominate the news on a day when dozens are killed in suicide attacks?"
Personally, I heaved a sigh of relief when news of the wedding came in. The tipping point for me came when one of India's star TV news anchors asked Mirza whether she and Malik, a former Pakistani cricket captain, discussed the Mumbai attacks and the Taliban when they were together. Sania laughed the question away, saying something to the effect that they were like a normal couple, who talked about normal things, instead of dissecting the roots of Islamic radicalism.
This is not the first - or the last - subcontinental marriage, despite the tensions between the two neighbours. Thousands of Muslim families from the former princely state of Hyderabad moved to Pakistan after the partition of India and many retain links with their relatives who stayed behind. Every year, a number of cross-border marriages take place with Pakistani grooms picking up Hyderabad brides. Two of my friends are married to Pakistani women and apart from minor quibbles over visa delays, they face no problems. Malik is not the first Pakistani cricketer to marry an Indian - former batsman Mohsin Khan wed Bollywood starlet Reena Roy in the 1980s. (The marriage later broke up.)
So what is the big deal about the Mirza-Malik wedding? I suspect it was the element of lasciviousness that made it the biggest story in the subcontinent. I hope the fuss is over and the couple are left alone to get on with their marriage.