Strains Of Love Across Pakistan-India Border An Indian tennis ace and a Pakistani cricket star confirmed plans to marry, sparking protests and a media frenzy. Such "cross-border" couples are not common, and it is not easy for them. History has left a bitter residue between India and Pakistan. There is still much suspicion and rivalry.
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Strains Of Love Across Pakistan-India Border

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Strains Of Love Across Pakistan-India Border

Strains Of Love Across Pakistan-India Border

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She is Indian. He is Pakistani. Both are young, glamorous sports stars. Now they're making headlines off the sports field. They're getting married, despite six decades of hostility between their nations. That makes them what's known in South Asia as a cross-border couple.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: You don't often hear the words India, Pakistan and romance in the same sentence. The story of these two countries is usually about conflict over Kashmir and religious extremism, over borders and water. So, when word got around that India's most successful female tennis star, Sania Mirza, is to marry the famous Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, the media was, well, let's say, interested.

(Soundbite of yelling crowd)

REEVES: That was the scrum around Mirza when she appeared before the cameras in India and confirmed her wedding plans. When the yelling died down, she just about made herself (unintelligible).

Ms. SANIA MIRZA (Professional Tennis Player): I mean, it's still, you know, a few days away or a few weeks away, so we're really happy.

REEVES: She and her groom and their families were very happy, she said. The marriage had nothing to do with politics. They were, she said, just getting married, like anyone else.

Sania Mirza is 23. She's the first Indian woman to have made the world's Top 40 in tennis, reaching No. 27. She's since slipped to 92. Shoaib Malik is age 28. He was Pakistan's cricket captain for a couple of years, though at the moment he's banned after Pakistan's team went to Australia and lost every major game. Both are Muslims.

Indians and Pakistanis do marry one another from time to time, though it's not common. It's not easy for them. History's left a bitter residue. People haven't forgotten the massive bloodbath of 1947, when Pakistan was carved out of India. They haven't forgotten the three wars between India and Pakistan that followed. There's still much suspicion and rivalry.

Ms. MASOOMA SYED: For me it was a little difficult because my family background was army.

REEVES: That's Masooma Syed, a Pakistani. A year and a half ago, Masooma married Sumedh Rajendran, an Indian. Her father fought against India in the war of 1971.

Ms. SYED: My father is retired now, but my brother is still in army so that was, like, a big issue for them.

REEVES: What did your brother say about the war?

Ms. SYED: He's a very mature person and very sensible. He never shared anything with me. He remained quiet. He didn't say a word.

REEVES: Masooma's a Pakistani Punjabi from Lahore. Her husband, Sumedh, is from Kerala in India's south. She's a painter. He's a sculptor. Sumedh thinks their medium, art, helped bring them together.

Mr. SUMEDH RAJENDRAN: It is a platform without any boundaries and religion. Or human can communicate to human. And so, that, I think that's the reason that I think we survived all of this.

Ms. SYED: That's how we met, also. I think it's a most beautiful thing.

Mr. RAJENDRAN: That's the way that we met also here.

REEVES: The couple live in India's capital, New Delhi. Masooma says when she first told her parents about Sumedh, they weren't too happy.

Ms. SYED: They are still they still have their reservations. They haven't fully reconciled, but slowly and slowly, gradually, they are fine. They want me to be happy wherever I am, and they've spoken to him and they found him a very, very good human being.

REEVES: Masooma's a Shiite Muslim. Sumedh's a Hindu. At first she thought her parents were worried by his religion and his Indian nationality.

Ms. SYED: I thought it's because of both. But they made themselves very clear, both of them my mother and my father, which I believe also. Because they both are educated, they have no problem with other religions. They said that it's mainly, mainly because of the country, because of the whole history.

REEVES: Masooma says her parents are also just plain worried - worried that a political crisis will blow up and that they'll be cut off from her. It's only 15 months since militants sailed in Mumbai from Pakistan and killed more than 160 people. Since then, relations between the two countries have been very frosty.

So, as they prepare for what will surely be a lavish wedding later this month, India's tennis ace Sania Mirza and Pakistan's Shoaib Malik can expect many challenges. But Masooma says marriage is really about people, not politics, no matter where you live, or what your passport says.

Ms. SYED: If two people, they meet and they live and they love, then it means it's very natural, it happens very naturally. Then the whole idea of division and pressure and politics and news - I feel it's a waste of time.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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