Saturday, May 24, 2003
S T A M P E D  I M P R E S S I O N S

The made-for-each-other couple
Reeta Sharma

THERE was a quiet, serene dignity about both of them when I first met them in 1975. It was a literary meeting of Abhivyakti at their residence. Since then the Mehndirattas have continued to remain a source of inspiration and moral support for me.

Virender and Kanta Mehndiratta

While Prof Virender Mehndiratta is a well-established short story writer, his wife, Prof Kanta Mehndiratta, has done her doctorate in Hindi literature. A class apart, this couple seemed to belong to some other world. During heated arguments over critical appreciation of literary works, Virender would often succeed in diverting the discussion to avoid any ugliness to seep into it. Kanta Mehndiratta, on the other hand, would continue to play the warm hostess. My eyes would often rest on her face: she had flawless skin and snow-white hair.

Her brother, Atul Vir Arora, once told me that her hair had gone all white because she had passed through an extremely traumatic phase. In 1970, her husband suffered from porphyria (a disease in which toxins in the blood increase to such an extent that they damage the motor power of nerves, paralysing the entire body). The first case of its kind in the city then, the case was taken up as a challenge by the PGI.


Doctors had declared only two per cent chances of survival for Virender, who could neither speak nor move. Kanta, however, did not lose hope. Virender says that his wife literally brought him back from the clutches of death. "She refused to leave me alone even for a minute in my room in the PGI. She could understand from the mere movement of my eyes as to what I desired.

"Other than my wife, Dr Avtar Singh Chawla and Dr K.S. Chug have been angels for me. They took up my case as a challenge. Dr Chawla one day said that he had read somewhere that a patient like me, if put on dialysis, could be revived. But Dr Chug was not willing to put me on dialysis without confirmed information. So, all medical students of the PGI were asked to verify the information read by Dr Chawla. Within 12 hours, the students had dug up the information. Once confirmed, Dr Chug immediately performed dialysis on me, which worked like a miracle. The very next day, some movement of my body returned."

Kanta, the eldest child in a huge family, carried the values and traditions of a joint family when she entered her matrimonial home. "Kanta was somebody straight from the novels of Sarat Chandra. She was as beautiful and as gentle and humble as Sarat’s heroines. When we got married, I was fully conscious of my huge family. I was the youngest and a favourite with all. Many of my relations stayed with me to study in Chandigarh, or else they had their jobs here. We were five brothers and three sisters and one of my sisters had opted to remain single. I must say that Kanta respected all my relations and had deep understanding of human behaviour. She won everybody’s heart. My father doted on her."

Kanta surely believes in dictums like "think and weigh before you speak", "never react in a hurry or with an outburst", "never be judgmental about anyone" and "be appreciative of the positive aspects rather than negative ones in any human being." All these years, she has left indelible marks on my mind. She is the perfect example of an idealistic, traditional Indian woman.

Kanta, however, says the credit for what she is today should go to her parents. "They brought us up with the values of a traditional Indian family, where without doing any injustice to anyone every family member was expected to live in harmony. So, in my in-laws’ home, I never bothered my husband about trivial confrontations, which are the natural outcome of co-existence. Also, I invested my sincerest emotions without a pre-condition for returns of any kind. But I must say that every bit of what I had given was returned to me during my husband’s critical illness. My in-laws stood by me like a rock. My husband’s elder brother, Mahender Raj ji, remained with me in the PGI for full one month, leaving all his business and family behind. We would have been totally devastated, both emotionally and financially, but for the way his entire family came to our rescue."

For four months that Kanta remained in the PGI room with her husband, just one question — how to increase his 2 per cent chances of survival to 200 per cent — haunted her. Watching his eyes to know what he wanted, and giving artificial movement to his limbs was her only religion all those months. And by the time he recovered all his body movements, Kanta had acquired the ‘old woman’s hat’ along with the gift of her husband’s life.

While Kanta showed immense patience, devotion and perseverance, Virender showed his calibre with his literary pursuits. When he married her, he had two books of short stories to his credit, Shimle Ki Cream and Purani Mitti aur Nayey Dhanchae. But after his incredible recovery, he wrote four more books, Mitti mangay Pawan, Kharonch, Sidharth se Poonchuga and Meri Shresth Kahanian. His critical writings include Adhunik Hindi Sahitya Mein Vyang and Mohan Rakesh ka Sahitya.

Unlike many unfortunate writers whose writings never get noticed during their lifetime, Virender has been duly acknowledged by society. He has received a number of awards, including the Hindi Sahitya Shiromani award in 1989, the highest literary honour given by the state of Punjab; Goodwill Award, given by the Uttar Pradesh Government in 1988; and Punjab Language Department Critical Book of the Year Award in 1977. He has also been felicitated by Aadhar Prakashan, Panchkula, the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Akademi, Patiala, and the Indian Artists’ Association, Shimla, for contributing to Hindi Rangmanch.