THE 16-year-old girl from Punjab did not know that on Aug 31, 1957, when she went for a party, that it would mark the start of a long and fruitful relationship.
She and her friends were invited by Satwant (not his real name), who was about 21 then and secretary of the Malaysian students body in his college.
She was then pursuing a nine-month course in physical education in Chennai (which was called Madras then) and Satwant was doing his Bachelor of Science in Botany at the Madras Christian College.
The function was to celebrate Malaysia’s independence.
After her course was completed, Manjit (not her real name) returned to Punjab, and when he obtained his degree, Satwant returned to Malaysia.
They kept in touch through letters and even exchanged photographs.
He then joined the Forestry Department and was posted to Kuala Krai, in Kelantan, for six to eight months. Then, he applied to do his Bachelor of Science in Forestry under the Colombo Plan programme. Satwant won the scholarship and went to Australia to study.
“In the meantime, we kept corresponding with each other by letters. Of course, our letters were all sort of ‘vetted’ by ‘relevant authorities’, especially her sister,” he says, as they both laugh.
“When I finished my studies in Australia, I returned to Malaysia and started working in the Forestry Department. By that time I was 28. When I came home, I had a lot of pressure from my family members to get married,” he says, explaining that the family had some candidates lined up for him.
“I said, hang on, I’ve got my choice already.”
All the way in Punjab, Manjit was not short on suitors either.
“A lot of eligible guys and girls … people would have eyes on them. The offers were not made to me directly. In those days, there was no such thing as direct offers. They contacted my mum, but I think my mum was very understanding. She knew I was interested in Satwant, so she said, my daughter is already engaged,” explains Manjit.
Satwant then wrote to Manjit’s family asking for her hand in marriage. Subsequently, both families did their background checks on each other and the couple was allowed to marry.
There was no real dating for them. “No time,” says Satwant.
“Because as soon as she finished her course she went back to Punjab and when I finished mine, I came back here. As nature would have it, no dating sometimes is better,” he adds, as his wife concurs laughing.
“In those days, I don’t think dating among Punjabis was encouraged. Those days, they wouldn’t even let you look at a male,” she volunteers.
“It was fated that we met,” says Satwant, admitting that karma and destiny must have brought them together.
“It’s quite strange the way we met. I’m from India, born and brought up in Punjab, and he’s from Malaysia and we met in India. I only worked as a physical education teacher for a few months there. So, I always look at it and think the main reason I went to Madras was to meet him,” she says, smiling.
That was 57 years ago. Today, Satwant is 78 and Manjit is 74.
When I fall in love
“We got married on June 6, 1965, so we’ll be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this year. Lima puluh tahun … bukan main (Fifty years … no joke),” says Satwant, as the couple laughs.
“Even though we hadn’t really gotten to know each other better, for the very short time that we met there, the chemistry worked and the attraction … I felt that this was my person in my life. I had met my wife and that’s how we decided to carry on with it, rather than moving on to somebody unknown and being introduced to somebody new, which could have gone either way. That was the risk we didn’t want to take. So, we felt why not we give it a go, and sure enough it’s worked well,” says Satwant.
Manjit admits she was quite young and naïve and did not think of the consequences of leaving her family and moving to another country.
“You just think, okay, this is the guy I want to marry, and that’s it,” she says.
It helped that her uncles had already moved out of the country – one to Kenya and one to Singapore.
“Ninety per cent of my cousins are in the US. I’m the only one here,” she says. Her closest relative is the uncle in Singapore, who is now 88 years old.
He was the one who investigated Satwant’s background and gave the green light for her to marry him.
“We didn’t just plunge into marriage,” she says.
You’re the cream in my coffee
The couple has two daughters, one son and six grandchildren. The youngest grandchild just turned one.
“We are very happy. God has been very kind to us, and we have a very, very good family,” says Satwant, who remained with the Forestry Department until the mandatory retirement age of 55, then took on another job in a timber association and only really retired five years ago.
According to Manjit and Satwant, they had an adjustment period in 2010 as they were not used to being at home together. But it was not hard to adjust as they both give each other the space needed to do whatever each person wanted to do.
“We wanted love and companionship. When that is the main reason you get married, then, all the problems will take care of themselves.
“We live normal lives, we argue but we never hold a grudge. We argue and forget about it.
“We don’t keep secrets or hide anything from each other. We will talk it out and argue, sort it out, and that’s it. No going back and no reference to it later, whether it’s big or small. We settle it between ourselves. Even if we have any differences, we will sit down and discuss it and then forget about it. There’ll be no reference to it later on,” explains Manjit.
“No harbouring of ill feelings,” adds Satwant, stressing the importance of religion.
They both agree that communication is very important.
“We express our feelings, both in times of arguments and discussions. If it’s well-received, good enough. If it’s not, too bad. I think the basic thing is to be a good listener, and at the same time, to be a good conversationalist. These are the two important criteria for any couple.
“We confide in each other a lot. Still there are probably some things which are private to me and private to her, which I respect and she respects, too. Other than that, it’s just a mutual understanding of each other’s feelings,” informs Satwant.
As he relates the importance of knowing your responsibility, not just to your wife, but to your children and family as well, Manjit chips in that her husband did a very good job taking care of the family as she never had to work after getting married and coming to Malaysia.
He in turn goes on to compliment his wife’s good work in raising their children.
Obviously, appreciating each other and showing gratitude has played an important role in their marriage.
Satwant admits that learning to appreciate each other and their children is very important.
“I am what I am today because of her, and she is what she is because of me. This is a mutual gratification of our togetherness,” he says, pointing out that one person should not try to be superior to their spouse.
Let’s fall in love
When Yvonne Leembruggen and Bob Gomes met in 1964, they were around the same ages as Manjit and Satwant.
Yvonne was 17 and Bob was 23. She was looking for a job and went for an interview at the postal headquarters. They met on the job. He had started working there a lot earlier. Initially, they didn’t really come into contact as both worked in different sections of the government office.
Two years later, Yvonne was transferred to a different unit and she found herself next to Bob’s section. The “hellos”, chats and smiles became more frequent, although she had a boyfriend and Bob was aware of it.
“He really became the best friend any girl would have wanted. He was supportive and caring.
When I saw that my beau wasn’t the guy my parents would have picked for me and I realised he wasn’t who I wanted to settle down with, I called it quits.
“Bob was there like a cushion. He was a good friend and all my friends were betting we’d get together but I said, no, how could I marry my best friend!
“We started going out to official functions together and by 1969 we were an item. We went out for movies, dinners and to friends’ events, and sometimes he even surprised me with tickets to the ballet (my favourite)! He loved sports, so I had to sit through hockey games and tennis matches which thank goodness were the two games I liked. My parents liked him and his sisters loved me! We even became godparents together many times over, which was a big step,” relates Yvonne by email from Perth.
Marriage was on the cards, but first Bob wanted to better himself by gaining his degree in accountancy. After which, he left the postal department for a job in the New Zealand High Commission.
They got married in 1974 when she was 27 and he was 33.
“It was a long courtship. Now, he says we should have done it earlier!” says Yvonne.
The very thought of you
Today, the couple lives in Perth where Bob still works as a real estate consultant. She is 68 and he is 74. They have two adult sons, and are expecting their first grandchild.
“Our secret to a long marriage is a lot of give and take … sometimes more giving … that’s love.
“Communication is a very important part of our life. We talk to each other about everything. We are also best friends for life. The secrets we share will go with us to our graves.
“Respect is very important in our lives and in the lives of our family. We give each other breathing space to do different things that we each enjoy.
“Commitment to have a family and bring them up is also key and seeing both our sons succeed in their own careers is a reward we cannot buy. We have to thank God for every day of our lives,” says Yvonne.
She admits that migrating to Australia was a big step for the family in 1982 and thankfully, her family weathered the adjustment period. In fact, it brought them closer.
“It was a great change for us but again thanks to God, it turned out to be the best thing we ever did in our lives.
“But we’ll never forget our roots – Malaysia our place of birth and all our family and friends … we love and miss them.”
* Manjit and Satwant’s real names withheld to protect their privacy.