Now the Shiv Sena has a problem with Indian tennilebrity Sania Mirza marrying Pakistan’s cricket captain Shoaib Malik. To quote the right-wing Hindu party’s octogenarian chief Bal Thackeray: “Had [Sania’s] heart been Indian, it wouldn’t have beaten for a Pakistani. If she wished to play for India, she should have chosen an Indian life partner.” No surprises there.
It kind of reminds me of a comedy sketch in BBC’s Brit-Asian show Goodness Gracious Me. An Indian boy decides to come out of the sandooqcha with his British boyfriend to his middle-class Indian parents. They drop hint after hint to the clueless parents, who keep missing the lobs like Maria Sharapova on clay, until the gay couple declare the full nature of their relationship. The parents forbid him from being gay. Desperate for his parents to accept him, the boy goes up to them and says: “Look, I’m still the same person.” The mother hisses to her son: “You couldn’t have found a nice Indian boy?”
Fine, the Shiv Sena hardly represents benign, traditional, passive-aggressive parents. The punchline, on the other hand is an ace. (No more sports metaphors I promise, not even the very tempting one about Sania playing for ‘love’.)
But the question really isn’t about Hindu nationalism, or it isn’t just. Certainly, the far-right party’s brickbats hurled the way of Shah Rukh Khan would suggest that the Shiv Sainaks have it in for Pakistan-lovin’ Indian Muslims. Here’s the catch: would the reaction have been the same if Mahendra Singh Dhoni decided to marry Naseem Hameed?
Let’s take Bollywood films as a rough social gauge. They would have us believe love conquers the most recalcitrant of parents and transcends societal norms. Poor and rich. South and North. Police officer and the mafia don’s baby girl. But when it comes to cross-border love, the wilting Pakistani girl melts into the arms of her Indian saviour. Take the 1991 film Henna starring Rishi Kapoor and Zeba Bakhtiar (the Kapoors even bagged a bland Pakistani actress for the role!): Kapoor lands across the border and charms a dewy-complexioned Kashmiri in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Cut to 2004, when Shah Rukh Khan stutters his way into the affections of the Pakistani Priety Zinta and carries off his bride 20 years late into the Indian sunset. Male chauvinism meets nationalistic chauvinism? I doubt if any if these films would’ve resonated with the Indian masses had the genders been reversed.
This also explains why the response on the Pakistani side has been so laudatory. “Parliamentarians hail Sania-Shoaib engagement” says one headline; the “FM felicitates Shoaib, Sania” says another. The latter goes on to quote Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi: “I would like to say mubarik to the couple…. This and other steps taken by civil society actually strengthens the hands of the Foreign Office.”
My favourite by far is the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) President Dilawar Abbas, breathlessly hoping Sania will play for Pakistan because “Asian women traditionally follow their husbands, which is why I’m hopeful that someday she would be inspired by Shoaib to play for Pakistan.” There you have it: traditional Asian brides following meekly in the footsteps of their consorts. I doubt if the mini-skirt wearing Mirza would be able to play for Pakistan, let alone want to.
In Dubai – where the couple plans to settle – Sania Mirza gets to keep her wardrobe and her passport; her identity doesn’t have to be consumed by her marriage. But when she’s checking in her wedding trousseau at the Dubai airport, she’ll find it hard to leave behind the baggage of history, nationalism, and gender.
Amber Rahim Shamsi is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist who does not Tweet.