Byline by M J Akbar: Beware a Comedy of Mirrors
A comedy of errors is a minor fracas. We have all been there. But beware the comedy of mirrors, when you don’t get what you see — or, worse, you don’t see what you get.
Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik have known “true love”, or one of its many transitory manifestations, before, otherwise the first would not have got engaged and the second would not have got married earlier. There is another lady in Hyderabad, Ayesha, who is displaying a nikahnama as proof of an earlier Malik marriage. The Malik family is careful in its response, describing the document as invalid rather than a forgery. But they are safe, since there is no legal hitch to the Shoaib-Sania wedding: Muslim men can marry four times in Pakistan (or, indeed, in India). Sania recently celebrated her engagement to a childhood friend who turned out, on closer inspection, to be maritally challenged.
Shakespeare took care, when writing Romeo and Juliet, to make them about 15 years of age, in the middle of their teens. You have to be gloriously naïve to die for love. Adults live for love, and hope for sustainable compatibility in marriage. It is ironic that the term “Romeo” has acquired connotations of promiscuity when the actual chap was the very model of high romance and fidelity.
Shoaib is 30, and certainly not a Shakespearean Romeo, either in age or temperament. At 30 the original Romeo would have had a son looking around for his own Juliet. Sania has surely factored in the possibility that her soon-to-be-husband might have been a modern rather than an old-fashioned Romeo. But that is a meaningless quibble. She is perfectly aware of the implications of her decision, including the fact that she is marrying a Pakistani. She has every right to make a personal choice that transcends nationality, but she must indulge in the luxury of illusions.
There are other issues, etched in the sexual subconscious of the subcontinent, some of which can barely be mentioned in print but resonate through a mass psychology created by subsets of false arrogance. Signals will be read into television images once the drama is given its visuals.
Sania and Shoaib are stellar magnets for the media, and their marriage will be a public event with repercussions and interpretations beyond their mutual relationship. Pakistani tennis authorities have already made a claim on her; although we have not been told whether Pakistan’s morality monitors have endorsed the short skirts and T-shirts Sania wears on tennis courts. Her mother-in-law, apparently, has already said that such sartorial minimalism is not her preferred taste. India has no problems with skirts, but it might have one with such mothers-in-law.
Love is about wives and husbands; marriage is about mothers-in-law. Fed with the adrenalin of illusion, it is easy to rush in where angels dare to tread. In your happy delirium you do not notice that the honeymoon has been named after a moon, and a moon wanes after it waxes — and if you are not careful, disappears behind a cloud. Sania’s first serious lunar probe should be to find out whether she has become a wife or a trophy wife. This would apply on both the individual and collective level.
Shoaib Malik’s track record is not very encouraging, if his “alleged” first wife Ayesha is to be believed. It was a marriage, apparently, made in a telephone bhavan, since the nikah was solemnised over long-distance phone on 3 June 2002. Ayesha’s photographs in which she seemed slim, it seems, entranced Shoaib. According to Ayesha, she was dumped when he discovered that she was fat. Shoaib contests this. But it would be unusual for a conventional Indian woman to invent a high-profile accusation of such a sensitive nature. In any case, the relevant point for Sania is not the weight of an allegation that may or may not be true, but the weight of the reason. If Ayesha’s problem was the difference between pose and adipose, I hope, for her sake, that Sania is immune to rising fat levels in her body.
Equally, for her sake, I hope Sania has not become a trophy wife for her husband’s country.
Sania still believes that she can continue to be a citizen of India. This is correct in theory; the practice might be another story. India and Pakistan do not permit dual citizenship. Pakistan law demands that if a citizen’s spouse wants to live in the country, he or she must become a Pakistani citizen. A subcontinent mother-in-law might wonder why her son’s wife can only meet her with permission from the Government. And Sania would need a separate passport booklet only for Pak visas. For the couple, Dubai will be a residence, not a home. Sania and Shoaib are sports professionals. Their flutter with the limelight is lucrative, but brief. Their children will need a nationality, and, unless they shift to London or America, they will be Pakistani. Sania is welcome to whatever future she has fashioned for herself, but she should not fool herself into believing that she can marry a Pakistani and retain the rights and privileges of an Indian. On 11 April Sania Mirza will acquire the right to become a citizen of Pakistan, with its mother-in-law’s dress codes. She should grasp the opportunity. Why the reluctance?