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Andrew Buncombe's Asia Diary

The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.

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A flight of fancy and a huge leap of faith

Posted by Andrew Buncombe
  • Tuesday, 8 December 2009 at 10:39 am
I've long argued that every time you take a flight, or get on a bus or make an overnight coach journey, you should be sure to talk to the person next to you. As I discovered earlier this year in Thailand, no matter how tired or grumpy and not in the mood to chat you may be, it can often turn out the person has a remarkable story to tell.
There was no excuse, therefore, to have ignored the young Indian woman who was sitting next to me the other week on a dawn flight from Delhi to Heathrow. For the the first couple of hours, I settled down into early-morning isolation and a film, but then - after I'd taken off my headphones - she introduced herself. It transpired she was on her first ever trip to the UK and was actually travelling to Edinburgh to meet her husband - a Scottish born man of Indian Sikh origin - to whom she had been married six months earlier, after an arrangement between the two families. "I'm a little bit nervous," she confessed.
Where to start? What to tell her? I could only sympathise and say that anyone in her situation would be feeling nervous and that I was sure things would work out for her. I also told her that if they did not, she would not have to stick it out if she did not want to.
The woman was aged 35 - quite old to be getting married for the first time in India - and she had only agreed to do so because her two younger sisters were also looking to get married and custom said that that the eldest should wed first. She told me that she had worked as a beauty therapist in the Punjab but was worried that her husband - who made his living selling kilts to tourists and whose English she struggled to understand because of his strong Scottish accent - would not allow her to work. She said his family was very conservative, "even by Indian standards".
I wittered on about the beauty of Scotland, the pleasures of Edinburgh, Britain's large south Asian population and did my best to try and boost her spirits. When the plane touched down I insisted she used my cell phone to call her family in India and tell them she had arrived safely.
But as I left in the hands of a British Airways official as she made her way for the connecting flight to Scotland, I could still not get my head around what struck me as an utterly bizarre course that her life was now taking, but one which is very common for thousands of young women from this part of the world. Sometimes, for all the shared language, similar food, shared interest in movies and families and everything else, some cultural divides are never bridged. I shook her hand and wished her good luck.

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