Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza announced their engagement last week to cheers (from romantics and tender-hearted peaceniks), jeers (mostly from patriotic Indians who felt their sweetheart should marry a boy from home), and front-page headlines across the subcontinent.
The two are due to marry in Hyderabad, Mirza’s southern Indian hometown, on April 15.
But Monday, Indian police questioned Malik for two hours, seized his passport and instructed airports not to let him leave the country while they investigated claims the all-rounder was already married.
An Indian woman, Ayesha Siddiqui, who coincidentally hails from Ms. Mirza’s town, claims that she and Malik are already married. They had tied the knot, she said, in a telephonic “nikah” – or marriage – in 2002.
Ms. Siddiqui stoked the fire further Sunday night, filing a police complaint against Malik, accusing him of cheating her, offering her money to keep quiet, and threatening to kill her if she went public.
Monday, the engaged couple held a news conference in which Malik said he would cooperate with the Indian authorities – and that he would clear his name.
Mirza supported him, saying: “I know, we know what the truth is, and it will come out, and we believe in justice.”
The truth in this case seems to be a little elusive, however.
Married over the phone?
Over the weekend, Malik admitted in newspaper interviews he had developed a friendship over the Internet with Siddiqui in 2002 and then married her after they exchanged photographs.
But he said the ceremony was invalid because the photographs Siqqiqui had sent him were of someone else. "I was made to believe the girl in the photograph was the one I was speaking to," he said. "The truth is, I haven't, to this day, met the girl in the photographs Ayesha sent me."
The idea of a telephonic nikah has sent Indian newspapers into a spin. Even Islamic law experts say it is unclear whether marriage celebrated via communications technology would be legally valid under Islamic law.
Meanwhile, Malik’s questioning by police has stoked the anger of Indians who do not want one of their prettiest sports stars to marry a Pakistani.
“... why is Sania Mirza, who is just 24, in such a tearing hurry to marry this man?” wrote Reagan Gavin Rasquinha in the Times of India newspaper. “It isn’t as if he is the most eligible bachelor around. And, it’s not even certain if he is a bachelor.”
The same paper printed a list of more suitable Indian grooms for Mirza Tuesday, which included Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Congress Party that has led India for much of its post-independence history.
“What makes Rahul the best choice is the fact that his slate is still clean, so Sania won’t have any ghosts of his past life,” said the paper
Pakistanis, however, seem to be happier than their Indian neighbors that Malik is marrying an Indian girl.
Indeed, the Pakistan Tennis Federation (PTF) is keen to employ Mirza as a female tennis coach, according to The Dawn newspaper, a Pakistani daily.
“Sania will be of great help for Pakistan’s emerging female tennis players as she has the international exposure and experience,” said the secretary of the PTF, Rashid Khan, the paper reported.
Mirza, who was the first Indian to win a Women’s Tennis Association tour title in 2005, has not publicly commented on this invitation.