There is a very nice saying about marriage that goes, ‘For the first ten years of life, the man speaks and the woman listens. After ten years, the woman speaks and the man listens. After thirty years, both speak and the neighbours listen,” quips Manu Chandaria, renowned business mogul.
He has an easy manner about him and is in good humour, but when it comes to marriage he really has seen it all. After all, the 87-year-old has been married to his wife Aruna for 62 years.
They are still very much in love. In fact, Manu spends the first ten minutes of the interview talking about his wife and showing off enormous, breathtaking tapestries that she has made over the years and which adorn their family home – fifteen or sixteen of them.
“Each of them took more than a year to make,” he says. “She presented this to me on my fiftieth birthday,” he says, pointing to one of them.
The Chandarias were brought together by family and business interests, but theirs was not an arranged marriage as was the norm in the Indian community then. That had been the case for Manu’s elder brother, who married Aruna’s elder sister since the two families were in business together. This is how Manu and Aruna grew to know each other, purely by association and not because it was arranged.
Aruna was born in Thika while Manu was born in Nairobi, but both families moved to India during World War II. “We left because we did not believe in fighting. We belong to the Jain religion (Ahimsa) so we do not believe in killing or hurting,” Manu says. African colonies had been drawn into the European war.
During that period, both of them were in college. Manu pursued further studies in the United States before they separately came back to Kenya. They met again in 1952, which rekindled memories of their earlier days and they fell in love. “She was beautiful and I liked her way of expressing herself,” he says.
Aruna also remembers his good looks but Chandaria jokes that she probably just enjoyed his shirts. “He used to wear shirts with large prints which he brought from America,” Aruna confirms, obviously remembering those days with fondness. By the time their relationship was blossoming in the fifties their families had fallen out. They were at loggerheads and no longer partners in business together.
“Pursuing a union between families which were not seeing eye-to-eye was not easy. It created a lot of problems for us. However, we pursued it and insisted that we loved each other,” he says. “Weddings back then were conducted immediately, but because our families were estranged, it took two to three years.”
By 1955, they had convinced both families to allow them to marry each other. On April 30 that year, Manu, who was 26 by then, married Aruna, who was 21 in a simple Indian wedding ceremony that lasted for two and a half hours in the afternoon at the Visa Oshwal Community Centre in Mombasa.
Aruna made the decision to be a housewife and build a home. She developed her hobbies, which were making grand tapestries, cooking, gardening, growing orchids, entertaining and collecting vintage pieces, while he took care of business.
“I have been building industries, setting up various institutions and doing a lot of philanthropic work, and I would not have succeeded if she had not supported me in all those aspects,” he says. They have two children: a daughter, Priti, 60, a son, Neal, 55, and three grandchildren.
On how they have maintained a successful marriage for 62 years, he says: “Marriage is what you make it. If it is your aim to make it something good and wonderful, you will succeed. But it has to be the both of you because a home is not built by one person. Holding hands in good times is easy, but holding hands even in difficult times makes the marriage last.”


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