Annie Constantine remembers the first time she saw Shibu Baby John. She was ten years old and he was 11 1/2. The Kollam-based Annie went to Shibu’s house in Thiruvananthapuram for a get-together. “We were family friends,” she says. Annie’s grandfather, A V Fernandez, a pioneer in the sea-food industry, was close to Shibu’s father and noted politician, the late Baby John.
When Annie saw Shibu, he was playing football with his cousins in the garden. “All of us girls were watching the game,” she says. At that time, they did not talk to each other.
Years later, they met at the TKM Engineering College at Kollam. While Shibu was studying mechanical, Annie was in civil engineering. “We became friends once again,” she says. But because of the conservative nature of society at that time, they spoke mostly on the phone. “And that too, in secret, because we did not want our parents to know,” says Annie. Another constraint was that Annie’s uncle, Dr F V Alvin, was the head of department of civil engineering. “He was quite strict,” she says. “So we had to have a low-key romance.”
And that included giving simple gifts like chocolates for each other’s birthdays. But Shibu had made his feelings clear from the beginning. “In the first year itself, he told me that he loved me,” says Annie. “I also liked him.”
After completing her engineering degree, Annie enrolled in the management course of Cochin University. It was during this period that both of them informed their parents about their desire to get married to each other.
There were no hitches and the couple tied the knot on January 17, 1988. And after all these years, Annie still finds Shibu charming. “There is an innocence about him,” she says. “I like his smile.”
Other qualities: “He is an open person,” she says. “There is nothing secretive about him. He is what you see. Shibu is also fun to be with, especially when friends drop in. He is jovial and cracks a lot of jokes. There is a lot of noise when he is around. He is spontaneous and laid-back.”
However, at home, the laid-back Shibu is particular about one thing: good food. “He likes naadan food and I have to ensure it is of good taste and quality,” says Annie. “Shibu has a lot of expectations, and I try to live up to them.”
And Shibu also lives up to Annie’s notions of romance. One day, before their 20th anniversary, she received her passport and ticket. “It was a trip to Dubai,” says Annie. Shibu was already there. “It was a complete surprise,” she says. “We had a very good time there and enjoyed our anniversary with close friends.” The couple has two sons. Achu is doing his final-year law degree at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune, while Amar, like his father, is doing mechanical engineering in TKM Engineering College.
So what sort of a father is Shibu? “He is like a friend to his sons,” says Annie. “Shibu is not strict at all. So I have become the strict parent.”
It is a close-knit family but there are drawbacks. Like the wives of most politicians, Annie bemoans the lack of time with Shibu. “As a minister [of Labour] he is very busy,” says Annie. “Shibu spends very little time at home. I am based in Kollam, but I go to Thiruvananthapuram whenever he is there.” But on weekends, Shibu does come home because Chavara is his constituency.
“But there are a lot of people who come to the house to meet him, and so he continues to be busy,” says Annie. “Over the years I have got used to it.”
Meanwhile, Annie keeps herself occupied by teaching Communicative English at John and Mary International. When asked about the qualities needed to have a good marriage, Annie says, “If you love each other, you can surmount any problem within the marriage. Honesty and loyalty are also important.”