They are young, hip, South Asians who glide seamlessly between two cultures, carefully cherry-picking from the West to modernize the East. They eat halal meat but wear jeans and T-shirts to cafes.
Now these Indians and Pakistanis are pushing the cultural boundaries created by their parents and grandparents one more step: They are reshaping the tradition of arranged marriages in Britain. While couples were once introduced exclusively by relatives and friends, the Aunt Bijis, as Muslims call their matchmakers, are being slowly nudged out by a boom in Asian marriage Web sites, chat rooms and personal advertisements. Arranged marriages are the norm within these clannish, tight-knit communities in Britain, but with the urging of second- and third-generation children, the nature of the arrangement has evolved, mostly by necessity.
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What the Indians and Pakistanis of Britain have done is to modernize practices that had evolved among the urban middle class in India in recent decades, allowing the prospective bride and groom a little more than one fleeting meeting to make up their minds.
The relaxation that had crept in since the s allowed the couple, after an initial meeting before their extended families, to meet alone several times with family members in another room or at a restaurant before delivering a verdict. Now, the meetings take place in public venues without the family encounter first.
Parents have become more open and more liberal in their concept of marriage and courtship.
Gitangeli Sapra, a hip, willowy British Sindhu who at 25 jokes she is on her way to spinsterhood, is an avid speed dater with no qualms about advertising her love of modern arranged marriages. She wore her best Indian outfit, a sari or elegant Indian pants and top.
She sat quietly, which is almost impossible to fathom, considering her chattiness.
When called upon, she poured tea and then talked briefly to her potential mate in a side room. The very concept raises the hackles of some more old-fashioned parents, but many are coming around, in part out of desperation. If Sapra finds someone on a speed date, she will quickly take him home to her mother.
To the surprise of parents and elders, the new hybrid between East and West has stoked enthusiasm for an age-old tradition that many young people privately viewed as crusty and unhip. Now they see it as an important way to preserve religion and identity, not to mention a low-maintenance way of finding a mate.
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