Finally the ‘Shonia Saga’ ended on Thursday, not with a bang (pardon the pun) but a whimper. A Rs 15 crore whimper, if media reports are to be believed. Not exactly small change. But then, how does one put a price tag on this godawful mess? We still don’t know who the bigger liar is — and frankly, nobody cares anymore. By this time next week, once the dhoom-dhaam wedding reception is over and done with, the brand new Mrs Malik will have become the toast of the town. Unless, of course, one more jilted wife crawls out of the woodwork to claim cricketer Shoaib Malik had married her over Twitter. Kuchh bhi ho sakta hai!
This was not just another love triangle involving three high-profile people. Had it been that, it would have died a natural death after the first few sensationalistic revelations and accusations. This was also not the garden variety cause celebre, which attracts society gossip till the next juicy scandal replaces it. This was a ‘made-for-media’ story that had more twists and turns than the notorious Mahad Ghat of Maharashtra, and more spice than Hyderabad’s signature dish — the irresistible mirchi ka salan.
At some point it almost threatened the fragile, artificial politeness that defines India’s relationship with Pakistan. On national TV channels, overexcited spokespeople argued relentlessly, while legal eagles pointed out various gaping holes in the hollow arguments. Whatever else, the Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik ki prem kahani, provided the best voyeuristic thrills to viewers, who were sick of watching Maoist brutalities and fiery debates on whether this is indeed ‘War’.
When I said it plainly on Arnab Goswami’s show that this drama (a marriage of inconvenience, followed by a divorce of convenience), had everything to do with money and very little with anything else, I was shouted down by outraged relatives who were ready to vouch for the nobility of the two protagonists (Sania-Shoaib), while insisting money had no role to play in the demand for talaq from Ayesha’s side. Her supporters continue to stick to this version, insisting the Siddiqui family settled for 15,000 bucks and not a rupee more. Ayesha’s doctor (with a strange American accent) shrewdly played the sympathy card. But, hey, if sympathy for her patient was the main objective, wasn’t it insensitive to keep harping on Ayesha’s ‘obesity’?
What finally emerged was a pathetic picture in which both sides came out as absolute losers and liars. And the lowest point was reached when Ayesha offered to hand over her stained clothes after her supposed miscarriage two years earlier. What sort of a person keeps stained garments as future evidence? That this poor girl is clearly not all there and maybe a psychological case is obvious by now. But all the people around her seemed in a hurry to exploit the situation, and to hell with the impact of such mental brutality on Ayesha.
Unfortunately, the poorest actor of the lot turned out to be the ‘Hero/Villain’ himself — Shoaib Malik. Whether sweating, scowling, grimacing or growling in front of a bank of cameras at the infamous press conference (where he vehemently denied being married to Ayesha), or sheepishly granting talaq a few hours later, Shoaib came out like a clumsy opportunist, milking the occasion for all its worth and lying through his teeth. Unfortunately, Sania (infinitely smarter when it comes to managing the press), was reduced to playing his sidekick while glaring malevolently at the cameras. It hardly matters whether Sania becomes Shoaib’s Biwi No 1, 2, 3 or 4. Marriage is not about numbers. It is about honest intentions and a sincerity of purpose. Someone obviously forgot to tell these two that. Besides, doosra works!
The interesting part about this controversy is how the Pakistani media handled the unfolding drama. I’d say, soberly and intelligently. There was very little hysteria, and no obvious bias. If anything, sympathies ran high for Ayesha, who was seen as an unfortunate pawn or victim in a nasty game. Now that truce has been brokered before the big day, chances are the truth will be buried along with the evidence.
Buying silence is how the big league professionals do these things. Though, even the biggest cheque doesn’t close mouths sometimes (Michael Jackson and more recently, Tiger Woods). Sania and Shoaib will move on to greener — or drier — pastures. Dubai beckons. It makes sense to take the show overseas since it is completely played out here. A luxury hotel in Dubai had offered to host Sania’s wedding reception for free. Sania’s appearance fees alone for tournaments in Dubai are nothing to sniff at. Dubai is officially neutral territory for both Sania and Shoaib. By shifting base there, they will be in a better position to avoid cross-border controversies.
Pakistan has already claimed her as a trophy Begum. And for all we know, there may be several honours and tofaas lined up for the couple once they take their show to Lahore-Karachi-Sialkot. Meanwhile, Ayesha will battle on with her weight issues. Now she has no grounds to complain — she has been paid her pound of flesh. Kilo by kilo. Such is Allah’s will. So be it.
Shobhaa De is a Mumbai-based author and socialite
The views expressed by the author are personal
Pratik Kanjilal’s column ‘Speakeasy’ will return next week