I t was like a scene from a film, the way we met. A blazing Sunday in June, two summers ago.
I was heading back to London from the Hay festival, and the train was about to leave. I leapt out of the taxi, raced on board and took the nearest seat in the carriage. It was then I glimpsed her, sitting opposite me reading a paperback copy of Mary Barton.
As the train trundled through the English countryside my gaze kept flicking Christian dating muslims girls brides maid to the woman with the wild green eyes and golden hair.
She smiled, and we started talking. Her name was Bridget, and she was a year-old speech and language therapist living in Christian dating muslims girls brides maid. It was easy to talk to her — she was engaging, entertaining and, thankfully, she did not work in the media. When she revealed she was learning Hindi, that sealed it. As the train pulled into Paddington I told Bridget I wanted more than a brief encounter; I gave her my number and two days later she got in touch.
I assumed Bridget would be nothing more than an uncomplicated distraction. Growing up in a working-class Pakistani Muslim family, I had been raised to expect an arranged marriage. I was the second youngest of four children and both my brother and older sister had had them. When we were teenagers in the 80s, my best friend Amolak and I would prowl the Arndale Centre in Luton and debate whether it would ever be possible to satisfy both our families and our hearts.
I had grown up knowing that few things would disappoint my family more than my having a white girlfriend. Marrying one was unthinkable — beyond the pale — and so by my 30s I was set on trying to find someone who would tick both boxes: British enough for me and Pakistani enough for my family. By the summer of I was about to turn 37, and emerging from a three-year relationship with a British-Pakistani woman; the plan was for some no-strings fun before resuming the search for the elusive British-Pakistani Miss Right.
Bridget was going to India for seven months that autumn; in the meantime she could be my blonde distraction. I kept telling myself that our relationship was doomed, but the more time we spent together the closer we became. Bridget shortened her trip to India to four months and I went out to spend the last six weeks with her.
On returning home I felt certain I loved her but did not know how to respond to my feelings. There were so many challenges. I was nervous about having mixed-race children and worried about my cultural heritage being lost rather than passed down. I also didn't want to Christian dating muslims girls brides maid the cliched middle-class ethnic minority who confirms his entry into the establishment by marrying white. Most importantly, I did not want to have to live with the scalding guilt of knowing I had let my family down.
I shared my doubts with Bridget and she listened carefully before pointing out that I was talking rubbish. She also noted that my father, who had died inhad, in his own way, been a pioneer: Was it so wrong to be have found someone I cared about, and who cared about me? The Christian dating muslims girls brides maid I listened, the more Bridget began to make sense.
If she, as a white, nominally Christian Scottish woman, was not agonising about being with a brown, vaguely Muslim British Pakistani man, why was I so nervous about being with her? Bridget and I had been together seven months before I told my mother about us.
I had been trying to soften her up with broad hints about how I didn't think I would ever find a British-Pakistani woman who would be right for me. And then, one icy January afternoon, we were both sitting in her living room with a Pakistani soap opera on the television when my mother asked, "So who is this white girl you are seeing?
She seemed to take the news astonishingly well. She mentioned that it was essential Bridget convert to Islam but I carefully Christian dating muslims girls brides maid that issue and instead pulled out photographs of my girlfriend in India riding elephants, making chapattis and generally acting almost Asian.
My mother urged us to marry. I went back to London, told a delighted Bridget and we had a celebratory curry. Some months later I took her to Rome and it was there, under a full moon, that I asked her if she would consent to be my wife.
When we returned Christian dating muslims girls brides maid Britain I told my mother, and she agreed to attend the wedding. She mentioned again that it was crucial that Bridget convert to Islam and, again, I changed the subject. Although my mother had seemed relaxed, when I spoke to my younger sister I discovered that this had been merely a front, and in fact she was deeply unhappy that I was marrying a non-Muslim. She was not sleeping and skipping meals.
The rest of my family were equally opposed. Living in London it had been easy, surrounded by liberal-minded friends, to assume everyone thought like me. In Luton relationships like the one between Bridget and me Christian dating muslims girls brides maid rare and dangerously radical. My brother and his wife live next door to my mother and younger sister my older sister is relatively nearby, in Bedford. The world in which they exist is largely made up of other working-class Pakistani Muslims.
How would they explain my marriage to the people they would run into at the halal butchers? When I came to Luton, I would be summoned to family meetings attended by my brother, his wife and their two children, along with my mother and younger sister.
It was not Bridget they blamed, but me: The only time you even think about Islam is when you are in the media pretending to be a Muslim. It was important the family be represented, out of duty if not support. For the reception we chose the Garden Museum, a beautiful converted church in Lambeth, south London, that overlooked the Thames.