'She is my god': Childhood friends finally tie the knot in their 70s

Mr Velappan and Madam Savithiri exchanging wedding rings in front of an audience and Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam (in blue).
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Like many grooms, Mr Velappan Vellayan experienced pre-wedding jitters on the eve of his big day.

The former coffee shop helper did not sleep much and rattled off Tamil songs to calm his nerves.

But unlike most grooms, Mr Velappan is 71 years old.

The nursing home resident married his childhood friend Savithiri Kaliappan, 72, on Friday.

They tied the knot at Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home in Yishun where Mr Velappan has lived for the past 11 years.

"We were both alone. And after all these years, we found happiness in each other," said Mr Velappan.

Their decade-long courtship touched many when it was reported by Tamil Murasu.

Mr Velappan and Madam Savithiri have known each other since the 60s. She lived in Silat Road while he lived in nearby Henderson. Over the years, they moved on with their separate lives.

In 1973, Madam Savithiri married a Ceylonese Tamil, with whom she had a son. She is now estranged from her son.

Since her husband's death in 2009, the former administrative assistant has been living alone in her rental flat.

Mr Velappan got married in 1974 but separated from his wife in 1997. He has a daughter who is married, but they have not been in contact for more than a decade.

Mr Velappan and Madam Savithiri have known each other since the 60s.Photo: The Straits Times

He worked as a helper at coffee shops and restaurants and as a road sweeper.

In 2004, the two childhood friends crossed paths while participating in a skills training workshop in Little India.

Over coffee after classes, they reminisced about their kampung days and soon fell in love. By then, they were in their mid-fifties.

Over the years, Madam Savithiri has been a pillar of strength to Mr Velappan. When he was bedridden and hospitalised, Madam Savithiri was by his side.

Mr Velappan and Madam Savithiri posing for a photo with their wedding cake.Photo: The Straits Times

"She is my god. She saved me when I was at my lowest point in life," he said. "I had no one in life. My health was getting worse."

When his condition worsened, she admitted him to Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home in 2008.

Every Sunday, without fail, she would make a one-hour bus journey from her flat in Bukit Merah to the nursing home in Yishun to visit him.

"She was the only one who visited me at the home," said Mr Velappan. "We became inseparable, like glue."

Madam Savithiri too found comfort in Mr Velappan. "Since my husband passed away, I felt very alone," she said. "Now my life has found its meaning again."

Velappan Vellayan married his childhood friend Savithiri Kaliappan at Sree Narayana Mission Nursing Home where he has lived for the past 11 years.Photo: The Straits Times

During a visit to the nursing home last year, Madam Savithiri mooted the idea of marriage. Mr Velappan excitedly agreed.

On Friday, the couple got married in a simple ceremony attended by 150 nursing home staff, residents and community partners.

The wedding was also graced by MPs for Nee Soon GRC: Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Social and Family Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

In a small room at the nursing home, Mr Velappan put a golden necklace around his bride's neck, symbolising their marriage according to the Hindu tradition.

The sight of Mr Velappan standing next to his bride touched many staff at the nursing home.

For the past three months, the staff worked hard to get Mr Velappan, who has weak knees, to walk again, instead of relying on his wheelchair.

Social work associate Illamaran Kalaiselvi, 47, who has been caring for Mr Velappan over the past nine months, said: "I am happy that I have done so much more than my duty in social work," she said.

As the nursing home residents bid farewell to the couple, Mr Velappan's closest friend Vanita Metta cried. "I will miss Velappan and Savithiri so much," she said.

Over the past years, Madam Vanita and Mr Velappan would often spend their days sitting by the entrance of the home, greeting visitors.

After the wedding, the couple moved into Madam Savithiri's rental flat.

The nursing home's chief executive S. Devendran said this was the first time they hosted a wedding.

"In the three years that I have been the CEO of this nursing home, we have said goodbye to our residents when they passed on. Today we are saying goodbye to a resident who is moving on to a new phase in his life," he said.

"This is a rare occurrence. So each time such an occurrence takes place, it's for us that one starfish moment and we celebrate it."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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