Bhajan Samrat Anup Jalota’s phlegmatic, smiling face belies the battles in his marriage to attractive Medha Jalota. Together, the Jalotas have faced it all, a chordae of Medha’s mitral valve cut by mistake in a US hospital, an emergency open-heart surgery, a life-saving heart transplant and a hospital check-in scheduled of all things, in New York on 9/11 in 2001. Together, they have had a roller coaster life, a decade and more of Medha’s deteriorating health, her skirmishes with death, and a mountain of medical bills. Yet, the Jalotas have negotiated the obstacle course with optimism and hope, that is a lesson for everyone.
Now, for the first time, the celebrated bhajan singer who had two unsuccessful marriages behind him, and his wife, who had a failed marriage with renowned filmmaker Shekhar Kapur behind her, talk about their life in a book called, ‘Heartfelt - the inspirational story of Medha Anup Jalota’, by celebrated film journalist and writer, Bharathi S Pradhan. It is a book that celebrates, Bharathi says, the fact that the, “mind can battle, even heal the body, when medical science has given up on you.”
Bharathi says that the book began with a party. “In the year 2008 where at NDTV editor Abhigyan Prakash’s party in Mumbai, I got talking with Anup Jalota who is a very old friend of mine and his wife Medha. I knew her too, but got to really understand her as a person after I started writing Heartfelt. But right there at the party, I realized that there was a book waiting to be written, India’s very own The Secret.”
The Secret about Anup-Medha’s marriage started to unfold as Bharathi began to write. She says, “I was very comfortable with Anup because I had interviewed him several times in the past, and was aware that he was very candid about his life. I realized that Medha was just as candid after I began to interact with her for Heartfelt. Although I know them both very closely, I’d still call it a warm professional relationship. We’re not personal family friends or confidantes. But they knew me well enough to trust me with their story.”
While celebrities are still wary about talking about current relationships, the book touches on past failed marriages and relationships, with refreshing candour and forthrightness.
In an excerpt from the book, which illustrates its ‘no-secrets’ approach, Medha says, “I was 39 when I met Anupji, and an official marriage didn’t really matter to either of us. Anupji brought me here to his Shivaji Park house and introduced me to his mother as ‘aap ki bahu’ (your daughter-in-law). I touched her feet. Then, he came to drop me at Versova and didn’t return to his own house. He said, ‘Now that we have decided to be together, why should you live alone? As far as I’m concerned, we are husband and wife.’ He stayed with me for one year in that little house in Versova.”
In an age of political correctness, the candid accounts are like a cool, mint-fresh breeze wafting through 200 pages, divided into 14 chapters of what, essentially, is an upbeat book despite all setbacks.
Says Bharathi, “It would be a dreadful pity if the focus shifted from what Heartfelt is all about -- it is not Medha’s bare-all biography, it is an inspirational, true life story of this cheerful patient. A smorgasbord of doctors have corroborated the story all through the book. Anup and Medha have been so forthright in Heartfelt because firstly, they haven’t been up to anything they should be ashamed of. Glossing over the past would have been like a selectively edited memoir to hide shameful experiences that you don’t want your kids to know about. A failed marriage or a struggle for finances is not exactly a crime, you know!”
After a forthright account of her failed marriage to filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, the book moves to Medha’s marriage to Anup Jalota and then to health problems that follow in quick succession.
In the chapter ‘The Heart Breaks Down’, Bharathi writes that it was in 1999-2000 that Medha’s heart condition slowly deteriorated, after a holiday in Mussoorie where she found she could not climb. Medha says in the book, “I went to a few cardiologists on my return and all of them told me that I was in for a heart failure. A heart failure does not mean that you are going to die immediately; one can live with it for many years. But you start suffering from water retention, breathlessness and so on.”
Since then, Medha has lived on the brink for very long. Bharathi quotes her in the book, “It began with a lot of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) in my heart. Certain well-known doctors bluntly told me not to do anything. One very well-known South Mumbai doctor who visited me in a hospital in Bandra took Rs 10,000 from us and in front of me, the patient, he just tersely said, ‘Forget a transplant. Nothing is going to help her, she has very little time left’.”
Eventually going in for a heart transplant, page 88 of the book cites Medha’s fight. It was a long and arduous procedure to be on her feet again. Going to the US, “Getting a little screwed by their systems,” that eventually took up two full calendar years and left their coffers (Anup and Medha’s) more than empty. The chapter goes on to state that Anup stood through it all, trips that drained them of their finances and like the writer states: “When things begin to go wrong, life has a way of falling apart on several fronts. It was the starting point of a long period of bad luck.”
One passage says, “So, I went to Mayo Clinic in the US.” Medha re-lived the experience. “During my biopsy, they inadvertently cut off a chordae of my mitral valve and I almost went into a coma-like state. I was haemorrhaging, the blood was flowing backwards. It happens maybe once in 10,000 cases. An immediate open-heart surgery to fix that valve was the only option thereafter.”
The book moves on, with a great many doctors consulted for corroboration and facts, attesting to Bharathi’s belief: “I never gave myself a deadline but I believe that you have to keep gathering facts and information until you are completely and creatively satisfied.” At one stage, the Jalotas seem to have put their troubles behind them as a chapter goes on to talk about how Medha returned to India and everything seemed fine. Yet, this period of relative calm and health was deceptive. The book states, “In October 2000, Dr Alok Chopra, her (Medha’s) old cardiologist in Delhi, noticed that she didn’t look too well and tested the condition of her heart by asking her to climb two flights of steps with a meter on her finger that checked how much oxygen was going into her heart. Alarmed at the result, he made Medha call her mother. ‘You are going into cardiac failure. I'm taking you straightaway to Escorts,’ he said to Medha.”
It was not just Medha’s heart giving her trouble. In Chapter 9 of the book, titled, The Kidneys Fail, it was a time when her kidneys threatened to pack up. Bharathi writes, “The alarming state of her kidneys was a problem that Medha had anticipated. Aware that the heavy medication necessitated by her heart would eventually take its toll on her kidneys, she watched with alarm the rise in the creatinine levels in her blood reports.”
When a three-times-a-week dialysis routine became mandatory, it is perhaps for the first time that the book speaks about Medha’s spirit threatening to break.
“With it came Medha’s first real bad case of plummeting morale which lasted all through 2008, culminating in another life-sapping crisis on the festive day of Diwali. She spoke dispiritedly, perhaps for the first time ever.”
Medha says in the book, “My social pattern changed. I am not always well, I get tired easily. I may look well but the truth is, there are certain aspects of the dialysis that I am not taking to very well. I keep getting fever after every dialysis, which is very exhausting. The only way out for me is to opt for a kidney transplant. Otherwise, I will have to be on dialysis all my life.” Heartfelt is at its most poignant when it quotes Medha as saying, “I am living on borrowed time.” She accepted it with resignation. “If we didn’t have the money, I wouldn't be alive today.”
The book winds to a close towards the end of 200 pages, on a happy note in the concluding chapter, Hope 2012. “With three hernia operations, a bout of amnesia, dialysis up from three to four times a week and the much-awaited donor kidney still elusive, there was an incomprehensible cheer in the air,” writes Bharathi. “The year has begun well,” said a content Anup as he went up to receive a Padma Shri. “The couple crossed two more important landmarks in 2012. On August 5, 2012 Anup-Medha celebrated 18 years of marriage and the new heart ticking inside Medha turned 11 in December,” the closing chapter states.
This book is not about heart transplants or heart failures but about two hearts -- braveheart Medha and “mast maula” (happy go lucky Anup as described in the book) who goes about life with a song (be that a bhajan or ghazal) on his lips and in his heart.
‘Heartfelt: The Inspirational Story of Medha Anup Jalota’ by Bharathi S Pradhan. Published by Om Books International. Price: R395