Suman Bhargava, who died in London last Wednesday (15) at the age of 76, ran a marriage bureau for Asians, the first of its kind in Britain.
Set up jointly with her husband, Ramesh Bhargava, who predeceased her on April 12, 2001, the bureau managed to bring together some 8,000 couples over the past four decades.
The Bhargavas are survived by their son, 48-year-old Parag and daughter, Purva, 42.
“I guess about 90-95 per cent of the marriages have been successful,” said Parag, who has been in effective charge of the bureau since 2009 when his mother fell ill. “I have started arranging marriages of boys and girls whose parents were married through us as well. We have had quite a few such clients in recent years.”
Ramesh was born in Lahore on October 17, 1935, the son of Kundan Lal Bhargava and Tribeni Devi. He came to Britain in 1962, but went back to India for an arranged marriage which took on December 12, 1964.
Suman, daughter of Radha Raman Bhargava and Prem Devi, was born on April 2, 1939, and educated at Agra University where she obtained an MA in Hindi. Later in life, she listed Hindi poetry among her recreations.
As Ramesh and Suman settled down in Southall in the heart of the Punjabi community in Britain, they felt there was a growing need for a marriage bureau which could help the expanding south Asian population in this country.
Ramesh, who clearly had a romantic strain, named it the Suman Marriage Bureau after his wife. He picked December 9, 1972, as the official date for the launch – it was the eighth anniversary of Ramesh’s first meeting with Suman (they were married three days later).
Anyone who visited the offices of the Suman Marriage Bureau at 83, South Road, Southall, could learn of the ways of love in the Asian community.
By and by, pho-tographs of satisfied “customers” started to adorn the walls, along with their glowing testimonials.
Husband and wife were equal partners in the enterprise, but Suman made a point of personally interviewing all prospective clients. These were the early days, before the arrival of computers. Clients were filed, accor-ding to their requests, under religion, caste and sub-caste.
She was clear that what the Suman Marriage Bureau offered was stable marriage – it was not a dating service.
Suman took a dim view of three Indian girls who asked for three men, not for marriage, but to “take them out for the night”.
She also talked about social changes in the community. There were a few Englishmen who sought Asian brides; and one Indian girl who would marry only an Englishman.
In 2001, she spoke in an interview about the dilemma of thirty-something professional women, earning £40,000 to £50,000 a year, who found it hard to find prospective husbands earning as much or preferably more. One 27-year-old had the disadvantage of being on £60,000 a year.
Nor did British-born and educated women want to import husbands from India.
In an interview, conducted when the bureau was started, Suman said: “I have a lot of professional Asian girls in their 30s on my books. The men get wives from India but the girls are afraid to get husbands from India. Generally the men from India tend to be of a lower class and often divorce their wives once they have a UK stamp in their passports. Then they get a new wife from India.”
At one point, she responded to a comment about “forced marriages” made by David Blunkett, the home secretary at the time, that the problem faced by the vast majority of Asian women, especially Hindus and Sikhs, was they were not marrying at all.
And marriage prospects for women slumped with age.
“Up to [the age of] 25, it is possible; even up to 30,” Suman would say. “After that, it is very difficult. I tell the 32 and 33-year-old women that they have to be willing to take on divorced men without children; at 35 plus, they have to agree to marry divorced or widowed men, a lot older and with children.”
Ramesh and Suman were able to witness the Suman Marriage Bureau going online in December 2000. Lady Shreela Flather cut the cake and the then mayor of Hounslow, Connie Sandhu, was also present.
For the Asian community, Suman’s passing ends an important link with the first generation of immigrants.
Her funeral was due to be held on Thursday (23) at the South West Middlesex Crematorium in Feltham, Middlesex.