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t the tender age of 25, I had an arranged marriage. I didn't mean to. I went on holiday to India, and returned one week later with a chunky gold wedding ring, a medallion-man Om symbol of God strapped around my neck, and an 18-year-old wife I didn't know, had little in common with, and was terrified of spending the rest of my life with.
I grew up in Northern Ireland, surrounded by and influenced by non-Asians. The Asian community in Ulster was predictably close knit and determined to keep Indian values alive: no smoking, no drinking, no dating or sex before marriage and study-study-study.
I was therefore required to pursue my interests - specifically, my relationships with non-Asian Irish girls - in secret. Aged 18, I moved to London, where I continued going out with white girls. And then, seven years on, I went to India on holiday with my parents, in the hope that the trip might help me recover from a particularly severe case of heartbreak.
Within 10 minutes of arriving in New Delhi, I was whisked away to my aunt's house. My parents had arranged for me to meet friends of the family, whose beautiful 18-year-old daughter wanted to marry.
I didn't pick up the words 'arranged' and 'married', all I heard was 'beautiful 18-year-old'. And so I happily changed into a suit and tie and borrowed some aftershave from my father, who sat me down for a chat. You know you're in trouble when your father gives you dating advice and chooses your tie.
Her name was Shweta and she had long dark hair, warm brown eyes, a delicious milk-chocolate complexion and she welcomed me with 'Warm hello.' I thought, but didn't say: 'Oh, you could do so much better than me.' We talked. She asked me things like: 'What do you want in your career?' and 'How many kids would you like?'
I countered with dumb questions like: 'Titanic won 12 Oscars, but Top Gun was a better film - why didn't it win more?'
After 20 minutes, my parents asked me if I'd like to marry Shweta. And then, something strange happened. My recent heartbreak, combined with a burgeoning fear of ending up alone, was compounded by the heady, unreal qualities of being so far from home. I did the unthinkable. I said yes.
Four days later, I endured an 18-hour, Bhangra-dancing, curry-eating, flash-photography extravaganza in New Delhi. My wedding. Directly afterwards, Shweta and I flew back to my two-bedroom terraced dump in freezing South Harrow, with its small fridge replete with frozen TV dinners for one. Every time I asked Shweta if she was OK, she would cry. I thought, if I was married to someone as unattractive as me, I'd cry too.
Yet I did little to help her. I even resented her. Having spent years living alone, I was an independent male who, in the tradition of Indian men, had been brought up to do nothing around the home. Now, I had to not only share my life, but be told by Shweta that I was a slob.
Shweta left her friends, family, further education, everything to be with a man she didn't know, because that was expected of her. Unlike in India, neighbours in South Harrow do not welcome you with open arms; they don't even say 'Hello'. I worked 12-hour days and commuted for a further two hours; we spent little time together and she became more and more isolated. When Shweta met my colleagues, she had nothing in common with the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking one-night-standers, and they couldn't care less about a foreign girl who didn't indulge in Westernised habits. Gradually, I began to believe that I had ruined a woman's life because I couldn't deal with my own loneliness. And now I couldn't deal with hers.
It was like this for two years, after which most couples consider divorce. Indians believe, rightly or wrongly, that British people get divorced too easily, and should fight tooth and nail to keep their marriage alive. However, after two years of unhappiness, I was prepared to be as British as you like.
Shweta and I agreed to separate, but we were too scared to tell our parents. We dared each other to make the call. Neither one of us could. We were too chicken. And it was this, in the midst of such a miserable scenario, that prompted us to do something we had not done in a long time: we laughed.
Magically, after that, we were able to talk openly. Shweta explained why she was so unhappy, described all the sacrifices she had made to be with me. Quite why this hadn't occurred to me before is beyond me. I understood, finally, that I had to become much more modern to make this old-fashioned, traditional ideal work.
So I changed. We both changed. I learnt Hindi. Shweta began voraciously reading English newspapers and magazines. Every week, I sat through three-hour Bollywood movies; in exchange, Shweta watched EastEnders with me, throwing in the occasional comment of the 'Why are they all so miserable?' variety. I learnt to cook pasta, do the dishes, iron.
I took out a bank loan so that Shweta could begin a college course. We started enjoying our time together. I learnt to share my life and Shweta grew to love England for all its greatness and flaws.
In between, we had a beautiful baby girl. Shreya has not only helped us appreciate how beautiful life is, she has given us another common bond. And I've discovered that, just as I suspected before I met Shweta, arranged marriages are not whirlwind, roller-coaster, lust-filled journeys. However, I now know that what they can be is safe and secure and there for the long term. Mine is. It may not be a perfect love, but, all things considered, it's really not bad at all.