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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Part 1: Two weddings, one marriage

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2003


Par, a substitute teacher, is the soft touch, the kind of guy who at family parties always has a kid in the crook of his arm. He was turned off by the way, even when he was dating Maricar, parents tried to orchestrate love by thrusting their Sikh daughters at him at parties. "I have to fall in love when I fall in love," he told his friends. Don't expect her to be Indian, he warned his parents.

Raised in Canada, the sole brother to three strong-minded sisters, he wanted a wife he knew well and a relationship "that would be 50-50."

He is also the romantic, who made the rare choice to convert — his own choice, he says, but one made knowing it would ease things for the woman he wanted to marry. Father Polanco said it was not necessary: He could still have been married in the church, only without a full mass. But for Par, being Sikh was always more about culture than religion, and religion was important to Maricar. Every faith, he says, "believes in the same God. It just has a different messenger."

He began taking classes. A few years ago, on Easter vigil, he was baptized in a pool before the altar at St. Joseph's. Maricar was one of his sponsors. His family did not come.

"I'd be lying if I said my parents weren't hurt. I was hurt," his sister says. "We needed to know he did it for the right reasons."
True to expectations, Par does cry at wedding No. 1. He is midway through his vows, having pledged to be true in sickness and health, when he has to stop to wipe his eyes. Laughter rumbles in the pews. His voice shakes as he finishes: "I will love and honour you with all my life."

On this Friday morning at St. Joseph's, the families have been seated by tradition: the groom's people to the right, the bride's to the left.

"We all come here before God as equal people," Father Polanco says. He addresses their differences from the start. Canada, he tells them, is the rare place where religions of the world live side by side.

"We are pioneering a whole new way. We look to see what joins us, and what is more beautiful to join us than love?" Through Maricar and Par, he says, "we see something new happening in the world."

Following Philippine tradition, the couple are draped together in a veil, to represent unity, given coins for prosperity and a cord for togetherness. The priest calls for the families to share the peace. After a pause, Mr. Naval crosses the aisle to shake hands with Mr. Bains, and the rest of his family follows.

How does Mr. Naval feel now? "I think I am adding someone to the family," he says later. "Why should I cry?"

Par, after all, is no longer a stranger. He has visited the Philippines, where Mrs. Naval plied him with mangoes and Mr. Naval took his money on the golf course and asked openly about his intentions. "He seems industrious," Mr. Naval said earlier, "and he likes kids, which is good." Ultimately, he says, "what is good for Maricar is good for us."

But Mr. Naval has also been reassured that Par is not traditional. This has been the topic of some discussion among the Navals. One of Maricar's uncles, Joremito Fajardo, explained: "I have read that their woman do not interfere much in the affairs of the man. But the fact that Par grew up here already that gives us a better feeling. Because we know you cannot treat Maricar like that."

That afternoon, when Par and Maricar arrive at the Mayfair Country Club in a cloud of bubbles, the room remains divided, a half-dozen round tables of Navals sitting together, another half-dozen for the Bains family. Only in the middle, among their friends from work, is there an easy overlap of culture.

But toward the end of the reception, Mr. Naval ends up next to Mr. Bains, and the two men are suddenly talking and embracing.

Their children notice right away. "Our dads are drunk," Par jokes to a friend. "So they communicate a lot better!"

At night, while having henna painted on her hands and feet for the next day's temple ceremony, Maricar lists that moment automatically as a highlight. Not too long ago, she says, "I could never have imagined them in the same room."

The flowers arrive an hour later. They are from Par, who is at his parents' home, being bathed in oil by his sisters, to purify him according to Sikh tradition. There are six red roses, for love, and six yellow roses, for friendship. "I will marry you once," the note reads. "I will marry you twice, I will marry you a hundred times."
On Saturday, the morning of the second wedding, it takes three tries for Par's cousins to get his turban tied properly, first stretching the burgundy cloth down the hall of the Bains home. Par has never worn one before, and, as with a necktie, it is hard for somebody else to put it on you.

He repeatedly checks the clock, asking when his female cousins are due to arrive: It is their job to inspect him, ceremoniously apply a dab of kohl to his eyes and begin a series of family pictures.

"Indians are normally very laid-back," he says. "But because there is another culture involved, we are trying to be on time."

The fears of Par's parents — his mother, in particular — are more personal than worrying about tradition. "I wanted him married," Mr. Bain says. "I wanted him to move forward."

Through her daughter, Mrs. Bains says she is saddened by the language barrier between her and Maricar. "We'll never be able to have an intimate conversation. Everything else will sort itself out. But she is my fourth daughter and I will have trouble speaking to her."

Her greatest grief rests with the fact that Par and Maricar will not live with them after they marry. Par has promised to visit three times a week, but he is breaking custom to move into Maricar's house, 20 minutes away in Richmond.

Par's parents are not well. His mother, who used to pick berries in the summer, has painful arthritis in her hands and knees; his father, a retired scrap-yard worker, is on dialysis. "A little part of them," his sister Tej confides, "is worried about who will take care of them."

But mostly, it is about losing their son in a way they did not expect. Mrs. Bains has been weeping about it all week. "It will be okay," she says, firmly, resolutely.

But then, with her son adjusting to the snug fit of his first turban and pacing the living-room floor anxiously a few steps away, his feet firmly planted in a different age,she begins to cry, pulling her daughter into tears beside her.

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