Always & forever
After 60 years of wedded bliss, Sanibabu and Akkamah pledged their love for each other again. Their family threw them an elaborate wedding and joined in the celebrations.
THEIRS was an arranged marriage. Sanibabu Appanna was 23, and Akkamah Babully Suman Challam, just 13, when they tied the knot – or rather, when he tied the thali – signifying their lifelong commitment to one another 60 years ago.
To mark their diamond anniversary this year, the couple’s family surprised them with a vow renewal ceremony that saw them dressed in wedding finery once again – a brand new silk saree and dhoti for the couple and full bridal makeup and henna for her. They were happy to perform their marriage rites in front of a priest, about 300 family members and close friends.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” shares Akkammah, 73, smiling broadly as she excitedly recounts her “second wedding” just a month ago. “They (my son and his family) planned everything and kept it from us until about two weeks before the ceremony. I was very happy to do it. I was very pleased. We have been married for 60 years and I was happy to celebrate with my family all around me in such a special way.”
The ceremony was held on Sept 15, the date they got married all those years ago in Simpang Renggam, Johor. On the morning of their wedding, Akkamah woke up at 4am to have her hair and makeup done.
The preparations weren’t so elaborate for Sanibabu.
“I woke up after her. I watched some TV and had my breakfast before getting ready. And then I waited for her and the others to get ready,” he says, a smile on his lips.
This time round, their wedding took place at a temple in Kajang, Selangor, where they now live, and included the couple’s six children in the rites and rituals.
“I was 13 when I got married. You know, at the time, this was the norm. After our wedding, I went back to live with my parents until a couple of years later, when I was a bit older. In those days, wedding ceremonies were very festive and would last for days. Ours lasted three days and was a double ceremony as we got married alongside another couple,” shares Akkamah.
The idea for the vow renewal ceremony was their son’s. Kumaran Sanibabu, 51, had been planning this for years as he truly wanted to celebrate his parents’ life together as well as pay homage and express his gratitude to his parents who, he says, have been the backbone of their family despite their hard life.
“I am who I am today because of my parents who have stood by me through the many difficult situations I’ve been through in my life. I wanted to do this for them to thank them for all that they have done for me and my siblings, and our families.
“Not many people have the chance to witness their parents getting married and I will treasure this forever,” says Kumaran.
A good life
Sanibabu and Akkammah grew up in a rubber plantation in Johor and were both rubber tappers. Their life, though hard, was uncomplicated.
“I started working when I was 12 but he started work much earlier, after his father died when he was just nine years old,” she says glancing at her husband seated next to her.
“He is the oldest of three boys and when his father died, his mother was expecting his youngest brother. So he had to work. I didn’t know him before we got married. But I admired him because even at such a young age, he was very responsible and took care of his family very well.
“I fell in love with him after the birth of our first child,” shares Akkamah, the chatty one of the two.
Their married life, she shares, has been joyful. Sanibabu, she says, may be a man of few words but he dotes on her and their family.
“You will never find a good man like him,” she says. “He is a very understanding man. He listens to what I have to say and I listen to what he has to say. That’s how it’s been for the past 60 years.
“We have misunderstandings, of course, but we never fight, definitely not to the extent that we storm off or threaten to leave each other. We argue and the very next minute, we talk again like normal,” she says.
“But usually, it’s me who makes the first move to talk again.”
Sanibabu smiles, looking adoringly at his wife as he listens to her recall stories from their life together, nodding at certain points and filling in details when she looks to him for clarification.
These days, Akkamah has an added “duty” – making sure that her husband, who was diagnosed with diabetes two decades ago, takes his insulin according to the dosage that has been prescribed for him.
“Sometimes he takes too much because he thinks it will cure the disease.
“And what that happens, he goes into shock and I need to give him some sweets or a drink to raise his sugar level,” Akkamah grumbles as her husband shifts in his seat and looks sheepishly away.
“I am very happy to have such a good wife. She takes care of everything. Yes, I’m very happy,” pipes in Sanibabu, 83, as he settles on the sofa.
“She’s the friendly and talkative
one,” says the couple’s grandson, Darvisan Rao Kumaran. “All our friends know my grandma because whenever they come over or call, she will strike up a conversation with them.”
Darvisan, 27, and his siblings Arivin Rao, 25, and Lossheni, 21, were raised by their grandparents while both their parents were working.
Akkamah still insists on cooking the family meals and even cleaning the house despite protests from her children and grandchildren.
“I am still OK. My mother-in-law did the same for me when I was living with her,” she shares.
Because she was very young when she moved in with her husband, Akkamah says that her mother-in-law nurtured her “like her own daughter”.
“I say ‘mother-in-law’ but she was like my own mother. She was very caring and she never expected me to do any house chores or cook for the family. She knew that I had to leave for work before the crack of dawn, so she did all the housework herself. And when I had children, she cared for them while we were out tapping rubber,” says Akkamah.
Her eyes well up as she speaks fondly about her mother-in-law.
“The only dark spot in our marriage was the day she died. She had terrible pain in her back and I urged her to go to the hospital. She put it off, saying she had to care for the children. It took a lot of convincing before she agreed. We borrowed a car from the plantation manager and took her. Unfortunately, she never made it to the hospital. I don’t know what was wrong, till today.”
A legacy of love
The couple moved to Kajang 27 years ago to live with Kumaran and his wife, Sri Devi, after Darvisan was born.
Like her mother-in-law, Akkamah took charge of the housework and looked after her grandchildren while Kumaran and Sri Devi were at work.
“My grandma still does all the cleaning and cooking even though we tell her to relax. And my grandpa still rides around Kajang town on his motorbike to pay all our household bills,” shares Darvisan.
For Akkamah and Sanibabu, there isn’t any “secret” to their happy marriage, other than being considerate and kind to each other.
They didn’t earn a lot as rubber tappers – RM1.50 a day – but they had enough.
“Things were not so expensive those days. Even though we didn’t have much, he never said “no” whenever I asked him to buy something for me, no matter how frivolous.
“We have been lucky. Our children have all made something of their lives and their children are all doing well. We even have two great-grandchildren. What more
can we ask for,” says Akkamah.
Family has been central in their lives and so it was especially meaningful to have their entire family come together for their happy occasion.
“The atmosphere was really festive,” shares Arivin. “Our house was full of our relatives the day before the wedding. My aunties and mum were all in the kitchen preparing some of the food that we served at the wedding and our cousins and uncles were all there too. It was wonderful.”
Adds Lossheni: “We are lucky to have grown up under the care of our grandma and grandpa. That’s why this wedding ceremony was so special to all of us.”
Arivin, a professional wedding photographer, captured the wedding ceremony on film and when he posted the photos on his social media platforms, they received a lot of attention and thousands of likes and shares from netizens who were heartened by the images of the senior couple.
“My grandma is very sporting. Many of the poses for the photos were her idea. Both she and my grandpa willingly posed for the photos. They really enjoyed the whole day,” says Arivin.
For Akkamah and Sanibabu, getting the chance to celebrate their marriage with their family was indescribable.
In an arranged marriage like theirs, love came slowly but surely.
Akkamah and Sanibabu are happy to spend their days with family.
The happy couple with their six children.