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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Part 1: Two weddings, one marriage

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2003

The dance floor in the ballroom of Vancouver's Fairmont Waterfront Hotel overflows with women in beaded saris and men in dark suits. A half-dozen brightly coloured turbans bounce among brunette heads. Kool and the Gang is urging everyone around the world to celebrate.

Somewhere in the middle, in her white strapless wedding dress, is Maricar Bains — until yesterday, Maricar Naval. By Philippine custom, she has money pinned all over her skirt and one bill lodged in her tiara, the price of a dance with the bride, paid even by her new father-in-law, who swung her first in an awkward bear hug.

Her husband, Parvinder Bains, will soon be launched into the air by his groomsmen and danced around on their shoulders, laughing; moments ago, when he was waltzing with his mother, her tears made him cry. Maricar's father, a stately Filipino, is about to be dragged into an Indian dance by his new Sikh relatives.

A good party, the wedding planner decides with satisfaction, with the wine flowing and the buffet table wiped clean, and some furious dancing blurring lines, at last, between two families from two worlds.

They got to this point only after two separate weddings, three receptions and four costume changes — and before that, eight years of dating, a dozen family discussions about children and tradition, and one quiet religious conversion.

Par proposed on April 1, 2002. This winter, more than 300 invitations — "a short novel," Maricar called it, crafted with the diplomatic care of an international treaty — were mailed around the globe. There were two versions of those as well.

On the first page of one, the honour of a guest's presence was requested at the Saturday, May 24, wedding at their temple, Akali Singh Sikh Gurdwara; on the other front page, in the same flowing script, guests were called to witness the ceremony Friday at St. Joseph the Worker Church. But as the last page in both cases politely added, everyone was welcome to both events.

If they could have eloped to Hawaii, Par and Maricar joked wearily on the eve of their first wedding, they probably would have. But then "we never would have been able to come home."
When you meet these two families, you find that they aren't that different. True, their skin tones are a few shades apart. The portraits of Sikh gurus hanging over the fireplace at the Bains home mirror the porcelain Catholic saints on the mantel at the Naval residence.

While their husbands can chat in good English, Darshan Bains, a petite, soft-spoken woman who speaks mostly Punjabi, sadly cannot have a true conversation with Zenaida Naval, also a small, quiet woman, who speaks mostly Tagalog.

But both families came to Canada for the same reason — to give their children a better life — and they echo the same wishes for their children now: to be married, happy and busy making grandkids.

Par's family arrived in 1978, when he was a toddler, leaving the small Indian village of Pajjadeota, outside Delhi, where Gurdev Singh Bains, a farmer and taxi driver, was married to Darshan in a match made by her brothers.

The Navals, who now travel between Canada and the Philippines, left Manila when Maricar was 13, to escape the political uncertainty when Ferdinand Marcos was forced from power. Macario Naval worked as a manager at a ceramics factory; he met Zenaida, a chemist at the plant and a talented chess player, when he beat her in a public match.

"Here, you can start from scratch and earn your own way," Mr. Naval said, sitting in the Richmond, B.C., home he has passed on to Maricar, on the eve of her first wedding day.

"All my family is Canadian now," observed Mr. Bains, standing with pride in the living room of his home on Vancouver's east side.

They do not expect their children to be like them. But it is clear they had their hopes about who the kids would marry. The Navals worry that their daughter will have a harder life, and that her children will experience more racism being half-Indian. "You have to face facts," her father told her the night they first met Par. "You two are from different cultures, and marriage is hard enough. Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"

Par's parents had always hoped that their only son would follow Sikh tradition and bring his wife home to live with them, and grieve his decision to move out.

2 / 3 / 4 ROBTv Workopolis