What is so fascinating about interracial marriage?
The news of a person from Barisal marrying a woman from California has created quite the stir in social media plus newspapers.
Several Bengali newspapers ran a full story on the groom, Michael Opu, a resident of Barisal, who works as a commercial painter and the bride, Sarah Marian, a social worker.
What is more amazing is that, reportedly, the two met on Facebook and then began chatting, which inexorably developed into romance.
Well, tell me about Cupid striking in the virtual world. For many, this may seem a little incredulous but trust me, people have fallen in love over prolonged phone conversations too. Yes, even without seeing each other.
Once I had a role to play in such a relationship and cannot resist the temptation to share it with you because there are elements in the story which may fascinate some readers.
But before going to my own story, it’s essential to discuss why a foreigner marrying a Bangladeshi often makes the headlines. There is actually a very complex, often undignified sociological premise to such hullabaloo when a local ties the knot with a foreigner.
The ‘we are poor’ belief
At the core of such surprise is the belief that all foreigners are wealthy and therefore, it’s absurd for anyone from a different country to marry a Bangladeshi because we are poor.
Wait, I am not talking about current-day burgeoning Bangladesh with a robust economy featuring a comfortable middle class.
I am going back to the decades after independence, when sociologically, we were engineered to believe that this country is impoverished -- with all things foreign better, and all outsiders rich and wealthy.
In a way, it was true because post-independence Bangladesh was mired in economic woes, with employment scarce, and life governed mostly by austerity and privation.
In such a state, with the country heavily dependent on outside support, the concept that everything foreign was better, proliferated. Within a social scenario of struggle plus economic stringency, a woman from a first-world country coming to Bangladesh to marry raised eyebrows. Love conquers all, most said unanimously.
One of my uncles went to Turkey to study under the now defunct Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, scholarship in 1970, and got entangled in a tempestuous relationship with the daughter of a wealthy man. The incident created such a stir that the uncle, with long hair and a rebellious look, ended up in prison. The local newspaper carrying a headline, “Bangladeshi hippie in jail for love!”
Anyway, my grandfather, a policeman at that time, used his connections and finally got him out. The uncle, of course, came back with the girl as his wife, had a grand reception in Dhaka, and ultimately went to the UK.
All throughout the 70s, we were regaled with tales of their romance (with plenty of embellishment) and when they came to Bangladesh in 1981 for a holiday, the only conversation around the family was about the wife.
Bideshi bous had always conjured up an exotic image, and in 1983, Kumar Biswajit sang his immortal number, “ogo bideshini tomar cherry phool dao amar shiuly nao.”
Love strikes when you least expect it
Coming back to my anecdote, one of my friends struck up a conversation with a girl on the phone sometime around the early 90s.
At that time, many relationships passed their initial ice-breaking stage on the telephone. The friend connected a secret line to the main phone box on the road and used a separate phone set for his all night chats.
He actually got the number of the girl by chance one day when we were buying a statue of Ganesha from an antique shop. Hence, the girl was codenamed Ganesha. This talking soon developed into romance though it never ended in marriage.
The face-to-face meeting came five years later, when the girl was on her way to take up her post as a junior doctor outside Dhaka. Meeting on a train as the sun was setting, they talked all through the journey with Lord Ganesha pouring blessings I am sure.
Well, the marriage between the man in Barisal and the woman from California still evokes a lot of fascination. And this time, in a prosperous Bangladesh, the amazement is not as to why a person from the US should marry a guy in Bangladesh, but how they fell in love on the net when Michael’s line of work is totally different from what Sarah does in the US.
Newspaper reports said that the romance developed after they talked to each other for a long period. Michael certainly has some remarkable qualities to pull Sarah all the way from the other side of the world to Barisal.
While pouring good wishes on the new couple, many students aspiring to go to the US to study lamented the hardship faced in the forms of TOEFL and GRE exams, saying, “If only Cupid looked at us.”
What can you say, Cupid strikes at the oddest of times and places, and he chose to connect Barisal with California. A movie script idea, for sure -- Barishailla pola ar Amrican maiya.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.