PART 1 - Boy Meets Girl
Their backgrounds were hugely different. Other than the obvious differences in religious beliefs, Shital Patel (Sheets) was fairly streetwise, brought up and raised in Wembley, whereas Sher Perwaz was brought up in the remote village of Datchet, near Windsor. His upbringing was fairly sheltered and quite the opposite of Shital’s.
Back in September 1994, Sher & Sheets began their Computer Information Systems & Design degree at Kingston University, little did they know what was to unfold over the next year...
They were complete strangers. Although Sheets was fairly streetwise, she was also a shy and reserved girl with people she didn’t know. Sheets came to Kingston with her best friend from school. Nisha was a confident and bubbly girl who attracted people very easily because of her quick wit and sense of humour. The girls then ended up in a peer group of similar characters.
Sher was also a shy character only sticking to the few people he knew. He came over to Kingston with his college buddy Sanj. Having a sheltered upbringing Sher was the guy who never swore, drank, smoked or had even been to a night club. Other students found this odd, however, he was liked for these qualities.
Sher & Sheets were part of a peer group of well over 100 students. Sher would be with his few quiet friends, while Sheets was in the ‘loud crowd’ One incident comes to their minds soon after they started where Sher first caught sight of Sheets in this very large group.
They were attending a lecture in a large auditorium in The Sopwith Building. There were a few friends making a lot of noise from the row behind Sheets, but to her shock, she was accused by the lecturer of talking and was asked to stand up in front of everyone. Sheets died of embarrassment and it was at this point where Sher was able to put a name to the face. Sher remembers this incident, he thought this loud crowd were just annoying and disruptive and Sheets was one them.
A few days had passed and all students were given their email addresses. They were introduced to Titan which was an email interface back then on the Unix operating system. At the time, email was a new and exciting concept for everyone! They were given a class list, so everyone was busy exploring this new method of communicating and were using it to make friends.
Sheets remembers one day in particular where she was in the I.T lab. She had received a ‘hello’ email from user ‘K948232’. Sher was asking Sheets what school she came from and what she thought of the course. They chatted for about 40 mins before curiosity got the better of Sheets and she left Nisha typing so that she could go and investigate who this guy was. Nisha told Sher that ‘Sheets is coming over to see who you are’ Ten minutes later Sheets spotted Sher in another lab. She could now put a name to his face too. She walked in and said ‘so you are Mr Perwaz?’ and he replied ‘and you must be Miss Patel’. (Looking back that line is so cheesy, they may have watched one too many Bollywood movies..)
Sher & Sheets both had different friend circles - Sheets was always in the canteen with the ‘cooler’ crowd, whilst Sher hung out with the more studious guys in the library or the I.T lab. They would only pass each other in corridors or at lunch, giving a quick ‘Hi’ and ‘save me a seat’ in the next lecture.
Over the next few weeks, Sher & Sheets became really close..the best of friends and hung out a lot more. They would spend hours just chatting about life, politics, the universe and just about anything mankind had to offer. Time would go by so fast without them realising. They both recall hours flying past like minutes. Shital never normally felt that comfortable around guys but she felt different with Sher. He wasn't the typical hard guy and had a softer side that appealed to her. She really felt she could talk to him about her life and her upbringing too.
Sher was commuting every day from home with Sanj was also a homely type. As Sher would always go on and on about Sheets, Sanj always approved of Sheets and said that he thought ‘Sher & Sheets’ would make a great couple, but Sher knowing their different Hindu / Muslim backgrounds knew nothing could come of this.
After being on the accommodation waiting list, Sher finally got his halls of residence at Kingston Bridge House and he was so excited. Living a very sheltered life he was so enthusiastic about moving out and the first person he could tell was Sheets. The week he got his keys he bumped into Sheets outside the library with friends. They had the usual smile but as she walked past Sher called out to her. ‘Hey Sheets!, guess what? I got my place! You have to come and check it out.’ He was super excited. Sheets replied ‘sure I would love to see it’. Sher’s face lit up and he said ‘can you come over today?’. Unfortunately, Sheets had other plans and could not get out of them, so she told him she would come the next day. Sher’s heart sank as he thought she may jump at the chance to come and see his new residence. They had always talked about his sheltered upbringing in their deep discussions and he really wanted to share his excitement with her about his newfound freedom.
The next day Sheets came over to Sher in the canteen and asked him how his new place was and that she would love to come and see it. So they went to Kingston Bridge House that day to check it out. A mutual friend Tahseen (Taz) also got her room that week so Sher, Sheets, Taz, Sanj and Nisha went over to check out the new place.
The Uni crew (BID 94)Kingston University 1995
Here are some of their dear friends in his photo mentioned in the posts.
There is Sheets with Nisha at the front, Taz in the white shirt at the back, Aj in the checked shirt on the left and Immy is also there popping up behind Nisha.
Sher seems to be moonwalking for some reason on the right..
Over the next few weeks, the pair started spending more time together as there was now another place to hang out. Room 3E2 to be exact. It was a totally innocent friendship but a deep one. The pair would sometimes after working together, eating, watching some TV and chatting not realise the time and Sheets would be leaving late into the night. There were no mobiles in those days so the pair would be excited to see each other again at university the next day.
The rest of their friends' circle could see something more in the relationship, well before they both had noticed and they would often be teased. Once the teasing began Sher & Sheets started to feel awkward around friends and so started to talk less and less. The more they wanted to keep the friendship that they had created, the more their friends would talk and so they both eventually went back to the occasional smile and hello in passing...
Part 2 - Life is not all sugar coated candy
4 weeks had passed over the Xmas holidays and it was exam time. Sher & Sheets saw each other after what seemed like a decade. Sher had grown a beard which Sheets didn’t like at all, so after the last exam she offered to drive him back to 3E2 where he could remove it. After that the pair sat and talked again and caught up as they hadn’t seen each other for a while. It was clear that they had missed each other.
Sher would always sit at the head of his bed and Sheets had an easy chair at the end of the bed with her feet tucked under the duvet. They would always sit and talk like this. After an hour or two of catching up there was a strange silence in the air. There were obviously other things that needed to be discussed, but both were feeling very hesitant. Sher had an art pad on his bed that he would sketch in. Sheets wrote on the art pad ‘what are we going to do about children in a mixed marriage?’ To Sher’s astonishment and feeling very shy he drew his knees up to hide his face and wrote back on the pad ‘I’m not sure ...’ For the next 4 hours the pair discussed their potential future together on this art pad, as they found it easier to convey how they felt and decided that they both had developed mutual feelings for each other. They kept the pad and called it their 40 point plan to show their children one day.
They Were official
Here is a photo a taken a few days after Sher & Sheets had decided that they wanted to be together for the rest of their lives.
Sheets loved Ribena.
Being young 19 year olds, in their naivety and lack of life experience, they pursued their relationship without thinking of the obstacles that lay ahead of them. As uni years went by the couple had built a strong foundation to their relationship. During this time Sher told his family who at first didn’t approve out of concern for the young couple not being able to cope with cultural and religious differences and they believed it was sure to fail. It had gotten so heated at home for Sher that he was faced with choosing between Sheets and his family.
He stood defiant to his family and chose her and had to leave home for a short period during the second year at university. Sher remembers facing his father on something so big and how terrifying an ordeal it was. Sheets had had a very strict religious upbringing and telling her parents was going to be a real challenge. All that said the pair left these discussions until the end of university. The approach was ‘let’s cross that bridge when we come to it’.
During the 3rd year of university, unfortunately, Sher lost his dad to cancer. This was a very tough time for him but Sheets was there to provide him with a lot of support. Sharing experiences like this together made them even stronger as a couple. Sher’s Dad had come round to the idea and Sher was happily in mid discussions with him when he passed so it was really difficult from the relationship perspective that the one person they did have on their side is now not there any more.
Sher & Sheets finally graduated in the summer of 1998. Luckily they were both accepted on the ICL graduate scheme (tech giant back in the day now called Fujitsu) and they started their first jobs together in October that year. Life was good, they were still able to see each other and they also met some other graduates who are still very good friends with them to this day.
As time was getting on, the million-dollar question was when was Sheets was going to tell her parents. The anxiety was building up day by day and the thought of it was making her feel sick. The couple whole-heartedly believed that they would be together - they just could not fathom the ‘How?’.
Sher’s mum wanted to see Sheets so he arranged a meeting. His mum explained to the pair that they could not continue living like this and needed to take some action. She offered to speak to her parents but Sheets insisted that she would prefer to speak to them herself.
Sheets was not very vocal at home, and the thought of having to break this news to her parents was very frightening and upsetting for her. She loved her parents and didn’t want to cause them any pain, but at the same time, she knew that she was not going to be able to spend the rest of her life without Sher or marry elsewhere. Looking back Sheets feels that this is one of life’s most difficult predicaments one can be faced with, having to choose between 2 people that you love, also knowing that you are inevitably going to cause heartache to one of them. It’s simply the worst feeling in the world.
Sher was so helpless at this time. The situation was out of his control and there was nothing he could do but support Sheets in any way he could. In the end, Sheets decided it was easier for her to write a letter to her dad telling him everything.
Sheets on a daily basis travelled to work with their mutual work friend Jigna (Jigs). This one morning in particular (it was possibly towards the end of the year now, she cannot remember exactly) her hands trembling, she left the letter for her dad on the dresser table, Jigs was waiting outside and then they left as normal for work. As expected Sheets felt sick to the pit of her stomach and she couldn’t hold back the tears as the morning went on at work. This was probably one of the bravest moments of Sheets life ... and probably one of the hardest challenges she’s ever had to face.
Her thoughts were on continuous replay, how was she going to get through this day? What was she going to go home to? How would her dad react?
It was mid-morning at work and Sheets could no longer bear the pressure so Jigs took her back home. Sheets vividly remembers being so scared on that journey home to face her parents and how they were going to react.
She reached home and her Dad opened the door...
Part 3 -Time To Leave
Shital’s Dad smiled and casually said ‘what are you doing home so early?’ Shital was startled at his response to seeing her after leaving the letter and stumbled to reply ‘I err was... not feeling very well, so Jigna brought me home. She was totally taken aback. ‘You better come in then instead of standing out there’ her Dad said. Shital walked in very nervously to the house. Her Dad smiled and said I’ve read your letter, we will discuss it later’. Shital walked through the hallway where she saw her mum also surprised to ask the same question, ‘what are you doing home at this time?’ ‘I felt unwell so came home’ Shital replied. At that point it was obvious to Shital that her dad had not yet told her mum, although she still felt very scared and anxious, she also felt somewhat relieved that only her dad knew.
Still feeling very uneasy Shital went upstairs to her room. 20 minutes had passed and her dad then entered. He spoke very calmly with a low tone ‘this is just not something that can happen, it’s not possible’ he said. ‘You have to forget everything, we will find you a nice boy from our community’. Shital remained silent, although there was so much to say no words were coming out and she felt paralysed. She was in shock and utter disbelief of how this situation was unfolding. She had plucked up so much courage to take this step, but for her, her dad’s reaction was a huge anti-climax and she almost felt like she was back at square one.
Almost a year had passed, Shital tended to work late, she’d get home and it was pretty much dinner and then bed. Overtime Shital became more and more quiet at home, and although her and her dad tried to carry on as normal, there was an underlying tension that loomed. Her dad had brushed the whole situation under the carpet, and was quite happy to try and forget about it all. Annoyingly for Shital, she just didn’t have the strength and confidence to raise the issue again and so continued along day-to-day praying for a miracle.
Practically every Friday after work finished Sher would sit with Shital and ask her ‘are you going to try and speak to dad again this weekend?’. He was obviously getting pressure from his mum at home. ‘I’ll try’ she said, secretly knowing that she had no intention to, as she was just too afraid to deal with the situation. This was a weekly occurrence and Shital almost began to dread the Friday conversation with Sher, as she felt she was being dishonest with him and just couldn’t admit to him that she wasn’t strong enough to have these conversations with her dad. Also as time went on, her dad believed that everything was OK and that Shital has forgotten about the whole situation.
In September 2000, Shital flew to India to spend 2 weeks with family. She needed a break from all the stress. At the same time Sher went to Pakistan to attend a family wedding. Because they could not see each other during this period, Sher remembers telling Shital ‘I’ll be so happy knowing you are just over the border!’
Sher returned back earlier than Shital and with Jigna to support him decided to call Shital’s dad and to speak to him. He spent an hour or so psyching himself up to make this call. Jigna was telling him it will be ok and if you want to marry Shital you just have to make this call to get the ball rolling’. He anxiously dialed with sweaty palms. Shital’s Dad answered ‘hello?’, ‘hello Mr. Patel ... my name is Sher’. Shital’s Dad went into a cold silence as he realised this was the boy his daughter had been talking about. Sher vividly remembers his father in law saying to him “I am sure your mum can find a nice girl from your community, but you cant marry my daughter it just wont work. Looking back Sher remembers the conversation being very calm and Shital’s Dad being frank and open.
Sher replied ‘I would like to ask to marry your daughter, she is a true testament to the upbringing you have given her. She is everything I want in a life partner and she understands me like nobody else and I understand her, please I am begging you to let us get married’. ‘No’ this is not happening and I cannot allow it’ replied Shital’s Dad. ‘I can come and see you’ replied Sher. ‘No!’ you are not to come here or call me again and you are not to see my daughter ever again’. With his raised voice he put the phone down and Sher was left hanging.
Soon after Shital returned home, her dad realised that this situation was not going to get better so he decided he could no longer bare the burden of keeping this secret and shared the news with his wife. When Shital’s mum came to know, as you can imagine there were lots of tears between them and she made Shital promise that she would forget everything and not do anything she would regret.
As the days passed, Shital’s parents could feel their daughter’s pain but they too were helpless and there was no way in which they could agree. The family was part of a larger community and that generation in particular cared a lot about what others would say and think. Going back 20 years from now, there were only a few cases of mixed marriages (unlike today), so the shock of it all was far greater.
As time dragged on Sher’s mum got fed up of waiting and gave him a final ultimatum whether Shital was the girl that he wanted to marry. In Nov 1999, his mum began wedding preparations whilst in the Patel household, the bride to be was still uncertain of how she was going to be there on the day. Shital was so sure and believed with 100% faith that Sher and herself were going to be together, she just didn’t know how! Looking back it was the law of attraction at work.
It was 2 weeks away from Xmas. Everything at Fujitsu was slowing down and Shital was getting more and more anxious. She confided a lot in her brother in law - Shital didn’t involve her sister as she knew that she too would be angry and upset at the thought of hurting their parents and Shital felt it was unfair to put her in that position. Her brother-in-law always advised her that if she wanted to be with Sher then it was best she let it all out in the open and get on with her life.
It was Friday 22nd December 2000, a miserable dark and wet day. Most in the office were able to finish early as people were preparing to leave for the Christmas break, a time of happiness and excitement. Today was the day Shital was finally going to pluck up the courage and tell her parents. Her brother in law picked Shital up from work that day around 3pm and they headed home. They talked in the car and he advised her again that if this was what she wanted, she had to pluck up the courage and get on with it. The 40 minute journey seemed to drag for what seemed like hours, Shital couldn’t believe what was happening, she was deep in thought and the whole situation felt like she was blindly entering a territory where she had no idea where the path in front of her would lead her to. They reached home just after 4pm, the sun had almost set.
Shital opened the door and said a quick hello to her parents, not even being able to look them directly in the eyes. After all the earlier momentum she had built up, upon seeing their faces, she instantly felt weak and ran upstairs to her room, her brother in law followed. For the next 15 minutes he continued to talk to her. Shital just couldn’t bare the thought of seeing her poor parents faces when she broke the news to them that she was leaving to get married. Their faces kept flashing in front of her eyes, she was completely torn. She felt sick to the pit of her stomach with fear and partly ashamed. ‘Why don’t you just go? I’ll tell them for you if you can’t do it’ her brother in law replied.
There was a mixture of emotions but at that very moment there was no time to digest the emotion, she had to make a decision fast as there was no turning back now. She also knew if she didn’t take this opportunity that was being presented to her, it would never happen. ‘OK, just tell them, tell them I’m really sorry’. Her parents were in the lounge. With tears flowing down her cheeks, Shital grabbed her coat and ran out of the house.
It was cold and dark. As Shital walked along the main road, the rain was blowing into her face alongside her tears. Other than Jigna, Shital had only confided in her two best school friends - Irfana & Palvi. Irfana was on standby that day to pick her up. Shital frantically tried to call but Irfana who wasn’t answering her phone as she was driving. Shital continued to walk in the dark not knowing exactly where she was going. She saw visions of her brother in law breaking the news to her parents, feeling distort but at the same time feeling a very small sense of relief that she was finally over the biggest hurdle.
However, looking back at that day she felt like her actions were very cowardly as she was not able to confront her Mum and Dad head on, but on the flip side she was incredibly brave for leaving. To this very day Shital still doesn’t know what happened after she left.
Irfana whizzed past Shital, as it was dark and raining. Finally she spotted Shital and pulled up by the kerb. Shital got in to the car and called Sher, ‘I did it, I have left home’.