Theirs was an arranged marriage in 1959. Sanibabu Appanna was 23 and Akkamah Babully Suman Challam just 13 years old when they tied the knot – or rather, when he tied the thali – signifying their commitment to each other 60 years ago.
To mark their diamond anniversary this year, the couple’s family surprised them with wedding ceremony for their renewal of vows, an occasion that saw them dressed for marriage once again, including full makeup and henna for the bride along with a new silk saree and dhoti for the couple.
Sanibabu and Akkamah were more than happy to perform their marital rites before a priest, plus about 300 family members and friends. “It was a wonderful surprise,” shares Akkammah, 73, smiling as she recounts her “second wedding” a month ago (September 2019).
“(My son and his family) planned everything and kept it from us until two weeks before the ceremony. I was very pleased to do it. We have been married for 60 years and I was happy to celebrate with my family around me in such a special way.”
The ceremony was held on Sept 15, the date they were married in Simpang Renggam, Johor. On the morning of their second wedding, Akkamah woke up at 4am to have her hair and makeup done.
On the other hand, preparations weren’t so elaborate for the groom. “I woke up after her. I watched some TV, had my breakfast before getting ready, then waited for her and the others to get ready,” says Sanibabu.
This time, their wedding took place at a temple in Kajang, Selangor, where they now live and included the couple’s six children in the rites.
“I was 13 when I got married. This was the norm at the time. After our wedding, I went back to live with my parents until a couple of years later when I was a bit older,” Akkamah shares.
“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,” she adds.
The idea for the wedding came from son, Kumaran Sanibabu, 51. He had been planning it for years as he wanted to celebrate his parents’ life together, as well as to pay homage and express his gratitude to his parents who, he says, have been the backbone of the 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,” says Kumaran.
“I wanted to do this to thank them for all they have done for me, my siblings and our families. Not many people have the chance to witness their parents getting married and I will treasure this forever,” he adds.
A good life
Sanibabu and Akkammah grew up in a rubber plantation in Johor and were rubber tappers. Though hard, their life was simple. “I started working when I was 12. He started work much earlier, after his father died when he was just nine,” she says, looking at the 83-year-old man beside her.
“He is the oldest of three boys. 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 a young age, he was very responsible and took care of his family,” shares Akkamah, the chattier of the two.
Her husband may be a man of few words but he dotes on her and their family, says his wife, and married life has been joyful. “I fell in love with him after the birth of our first child," she adds.
“You will never find a good man like him. He is very understanding. He listens to what I have to say, and I listen to what he has to say. That’s how it has been for 60 years. We have misunderstandings, 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. Usually, it’s me who makes the first move to talk again,” she says.
Sanibabu just smiles a lot and looks at his wife adoringly as we listen to her recall stories from their life, nodding at certain points and filling in certain details for clarification when she turns to him for an answer.
These days, Akkamah has an added task – to make sure her husband, diagnosed with diabetes 20 years ago, takes his insulin as prescribed. “Sometimes he takes too much because he thinks it will cure the disease,” she says
“When that happens, he goes into shock and I give him sweets or a drink to raise his sugar level,” she grumbles, as Sanibabu looks away sheepishly. When he finally pipes in, Sanibabu says,“ Yes, I’m very happy to have such a good wife. She takes care of everything.”
“She’s the friendly and talkative one,” says Darvisan Rao Kumaran, the couple’s grandson. “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. As such, Akkamah still insists on cooking the family meals and cleaning the house, despite protests from her children and grandkids.
“I am still OK. My mother-in-law did the same for me when I was living with her,” Akkammah shares. Because she was very young when she moved in with her husband, Akkamah says her mother-in-law nurtured her “like her own daughter”.
“I say mother-in-law but she was like my own mother,” says Akkammah, her eyes welling up with tears as she speaks about her Sanibabu’s mum.
“She was very caring and never expected me to do house chores or cook for the family. She knew I had to leave for work before the crack of dawn, so she did the housework herself. And when I had children, she cared for them while we were out tapping rubber,” Akkamah adds.
“The only dark spot in our marriage was the day she died. She had a terrible pain in her back. 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. Until today I don’t know what was wrong,” Akkamah reveals.
A legacy of love
The couple moved to their current home 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 grandkids while Kumaran and Sri Devi were at work.
“My grandma still does all the cleaning and cooking, even though we tell her to relax,” shares Darvisan. “And my grandpa still rides around Kajang town on his motorbike to pay all our household bills.”
For Sanibabu and Akkamah, there’s no secret to the longevity of their relationship, other than being considerate and kind to each other. Even financially, though they only earned RM1.50 back in the day as rubber tappers, they had enough.
“Things were not so expensive those days. We didn’t have much, but he never said no whenever I asked him to buy something for me, no matter how frivolous,” Akkamah says.
“We have been lucky,” she adds. “Our children have made something of their lives, and their children are doing well. We even have two great-grandchildren. What more can we ask for?”
Since family has been central in their lives, it was especially meaningful to have the entire clan come together for the happy occasion.“The atmosphere was really festive,” Arivin shares.
“Our house was full of relatives the day before the wedding. My mum and aunties were in the kitchen preparing the food for the wedding. Our uncles and cousins were there too. It was wonderful.”
Adds Lossheni: “We’re lucky to have grown up under the care of our grandma and grandpa. That’s why this ceremony was so special to us.”
Arivin, a professional wedding photographer, captured the ceremony on camera and posted the photos on social media, where they received plenty of attention and thousands of likes and shares from netizens heartened by pictures of the happy couple.
“My grandma is very sporting,” says Arivin. “Many of the poses for the photos were her idea. She and my grandpa willingly posed for the pictures. They really enjoyed the whole day.”