Valentine's Day Special: Finding love in the desert

T-Mag Thursday 14/February/2019 11:04 AM
By: Times News Service
Valentine's Day Special: Finding love in the desert

On the occasion of Valentine’s Day, here are some beautiful stories of love blossoming in Oman and the rest of the Middle East.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend my childhood friend’s wedding in Dubai. Normally, that’d be a perfectly run-of-the-mill occasion. A wedding is, after all, a joyous part and parcel of life. An event that is to be celebrated and cheered by all. While wedding days are often happy, wonderful ones filled with light and laughter, this one had a distinctly pleasant twist to it that made it even more enjoyable than usual: Gulf countries in the late 80s and early 90s were far different propositions to what they currently are. When our parents came here, they did so to seek their fortune, because the money they earned across Oman and the other five Gulf Cooperation Council nations supported not just their immediate families, but their extended relations and a few of their friends as well.
Having now done rather well for themselves in the Middle East, the next generation of expats are among those who were born and bred in the Gulf, and consider the region their second home. While their parents may share long-term ambitions of going back to their homeland, it is a different story for their children, who wish to live, work, thrive, and even get married to those who, like them, were raised across the six GCC nations.
And that’s what made the wedding I recently attended such a special one. While the groom, Suresh, was a dear childhood friend of mine – both of us went to school in Muscat, and were classmates for a while – the bride, Deepika, lived with her family, who were long-term residents of Dubai.
The happy soon-to-be-husband-and-wife couple were there to greet all of their guests when they arrived in Dubai.
“Thank you for coming for our wedding,” said Deepika by way of re-introduction, just moments after I’d hugged Suresh by way of greeting. “I was hoping to wear a sari and get ready to welcome our guests but I just haven’t had the time to get ready. There’s been so much we’ve had to arrange for the last six months that we’ve hardly had time to sleep.
“She fancies herself an event planner so she wanted to plan our wedding,” quipped Suresh. “It would’ve been easier to let her handle everything, but that’s not the way things work in a marriage is it? Today is Saturday and we’re both only going back to work on Tuesday and all we want to do between now and then is go to sleep, because it’s been crazy over the last few weeks. We go to work in the morning, come back in the evening and then start addressing all the issues over the wedding. In the end, it’s all worth it, but we’re really looking forward to the end of this.”
Not because weddings are tedious, but because they were looking forward to the beginning of their married life. The two years I spent living in the UAE enabled me to rekindle my friendship with Suresh (travelling from his flat to mine was but a 10-minute walk), and it was there that I first met Deepika, when I’d moved there in 2014. Although this was but the beginning of their relationship, it was evident to see that the two of them were quite suited for each other.
Theirs was a union that crossed cultural and communal divides, but the current generation of expats who’ve been raised in the Middle East seem to have a really broad mind set, having been raised alongside a multi-ethnic, multicultural melting pot from people across the globe, who’ve pitched up in the Gulf for several reasons.
Had Suresh and Deepika been raised in India, yes, they would’ve had certain other advantages to their world-view, but would it have given them the sort of broad-mindedness living in the Middle East has given them? Because the truth is that more often than not, where you are from makes little difference when you seek out friends in this part of the world.
That made for some very interesting rituals during the wedding ceremony. While turban and kurta-clad drummers hammered a tune announcing the bride’s arrival, Suresh’s beaming dad placed garlands over the groom’s party, which was far smaller than the bride’s contingent of guests. Nearby, under a white linen canopy festooned with brightly-coloured flowers and a rich maroon and gold silk brocade, a priest set up the traditional flame around which the couple would take their wedding vows.
While birds chirped and the sun’s golden rays turned the lawns a vibrant green and a cool breeze fanned the guests who had arrived for the wedding, some, like me, had made the short 45-minute flight from Muscat, others had jetted in from as far as New York.
The happy couple had met each other while at university in Dubai, and over several late-night conversations featuring steaming hot cups of tea and standard canteen fare with friends, their friendship had blossomed into something greater. It was the sort of relationship that grew and matured over time, and was set in solid foundations that had only become stronger over the years. It’s the sort of relationship you know is never going to fail, because the two of them, and their families will always be there for each other.
As will the story of Aaron and Mansi. Both of them had come to the Middle East for work, and met each other for the first time at a friend’s party. They hit it off straight away, and one year after their initial meeting, during which their association quickly transformed from acquaintances to close companions, they decided to take their relationship to the next level.
In a tone that was keeping with Suresh and Deepika’s wedding, Aaron and Mansi’s courtship also paid little heed to their ethnic and religious upbringing. While their relationship did cross religious boundaries, they never forgot to respect and honour each other’s culture, traditions and customs, and their marriage was all the stronger for it.
Yes, their relationship grew so fast that it left the rest of us wondering if and when there needed to be brakes applied to their association, but it was quite clear – and correctly so – that the two of them thought differently. One weekend, Aaron – who was a colleague and is a close friend of mine – rang me up from the airport. He was, he said, heading to Mumbai, to ask Mansi’s father for permission to marry his daughter. He was a man who always knew the importance of doing things the right way.
All of us were indeed shocked. Yes, air travel is very affordable these days, but did that justify Aaron’s trip across the sea and back over such a short period of time? While many of us may have been sceptical, he never was. Aaron wouldn’t have just crossed the sea for Mansi, I’m pretty sure he would’ve crossed the universe for her.
The two of them really seemed to complement each other, and were willing to work on their relationship together. They understood that there would be times when their relationship would hit a snag, but that was the universe throwing them yet another test to challenge their resolve, their spirit, and their togetherness. Aaron and Mansi have been married for a good two years now, and having left behind so much in the hopes of starting a life in the Gulf, they’ve started a new life together.
Much like the Middle East and all of the stereotypical assumptions we make about it, there is so much across Oman and the rest of the GCC that meets the eye when one looks deeper. Watermelons, cucumbers, apples, dates and the many plants that grow in the desert show that anything can thrive, given enough attention, love, dedication and patience. Under the right conditions, love can as well. – [email protected]