Meet Kanta Saroop, an octogenarian with decades of social service in her blood
Age sits delicately on her. Kanta Saroop Krishen will turn 89 next month, but she looks years younger as she beams her beautiful smile. Tell her that, and she waves a hand dismissively. A workaholic all her life, if there is one thing that irritates her, it’s the inability of her body to keep pace with her indomitable spirit. “There is so much I want to do, but age is holding me back,” she murmurs, radiant in her pearls.
Kanta was in her early 30s when she became the prime mover of the voluntary blood donation movement in the region. It started when her husband, an ICS officer, moved to Chandigarh in 1960 with their three children. “Not quite satisfied with my usual routine of cooking, gardening, sewing et al, I offered my services to PGI,” she recalls. Two months later, Dr J G Jolly, who was tasked with setting up a blood transfusion department at PGI, knocked at her door. The feisty young mother jumped into the movement with her characteristic fervour. “Those days, poor and malnourished people would sell their blood for a pittance,” she says, telling you how she saw labourers donate blood and then collapse on the streets.
The heavy casualties in the 1962 Indio-China war further intensified the demand for blood. Kanta spread her wings to relay the message of blood donation. It wasn’t easy, given the myths associated with donating blood. “We would have men say things like ‘if I give blood to her, she will become my sister’ or ‘I will lose my vigour’.” After the movement took off in Chandigarh, Kanta started holding camps in neighbouring states.
Recognition on global stage
In 1972, she was elected secretary general of the Indian Society of Transfusion and Immunohematology, a post she held for 16 long years. Her next milestone was an international conference at Helsinki, which she remembers attending very nervously. “I presented a paper on blood donation in India. Later, the Finnish woman, who was presiding over the conference, complimented me generously and gave me honorary membership of the American Association of Blood Banks,” recounts Kanta.
It was a big leap for a woman who got married immediately after matriculation, and then dedicated herself to raising a family. “Those days, matriculation was considered enough for a girl,” recalls Kanta, who met her future husband, Saroop Krishen, when her father was posted as the deputy commissioner of Karnal. As in charge of the solar eclipse fair at Kurukshetra, Krishen would often visit the DC’s house. “We became friends before we got married,” recounts Kanta. She bagged a scholarship for her performance in matriculation but didn’t pursue higher studies.
Instead, she went on to excel in knitting and embroidery before she found her muse in blood donation. “I won an award in an international knitting competition, I also bagged several prizes in national embroidery contests,” says Kanta, who’s always tailored her clothes. “I stopped only last year,” she rues, beautiful in a green kaftan she’d stitched herself.
Her passion is undiminished
But her passion for blood donation continues unabated. In 2004, she set up a blood bank in Sector 37 in association with the Rotary Club. Called Rotary and Blood Bank Society Resource Centre, it runs on the concept of 100% voluntary blood donation, and issues blood and blood components free of cost to needy patients and others suffering from cancer and disorders such as Thalassemia and Haemophilia.
“Blood is a miracle cure. I am happy that I have been able to contribute,” Kanta muses. “I hope blood banks continue to flourish and help people in need until they find a substitute for blood.”
Meanwhile, even though restricted to her house, she is busy on the phone, trying to raise funds for the centre’s annual function in which it honours hundreds of donors. As she puts it, “I will do anything to help.”