All That I am
Manju Lodha is the matriarch of the Lodha family and an inspiration to all. Born in October 1960, Manju—the daughter of Kishorimal and Sita Devi Lukand from Bhinmal, Rajasthan—had a privileged childhood. At 18, she tied the knot with Mangal Prabhat Lodha—son of Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court Guman Malji Lodha—businessman, Indian politician and founder of Lodha Developers, a multinational real estate company. With such an affluent background, Lodha could have chosen to lead a life of comfort and luxury. But the gritty and determined lady chose the tougher path of serving the weaker sections of society and founded a charitable trust called Lodha Foundation.
Walking the talk
Lodha Foundation took shape 28 years back with Lodha’s relentless drive to work towards the betterment of society. “In 1995 when my husband was contesting elections from the Malabar Hill constituency, we went for door-to-door campaigning and witnessed the grievances of slum dwellers. That prompted us to establish Lodha Foundation to undertake welfare initiatives for the economically weaker sections of society. It was later registered as Lodha Charitable Trust in 2007,” elaborates Lodha. As the Chairperson of the trust, Lodha she got associated with its activities and worked towards health care, civic works, education and skill development, besides undertaking relief work during calamities. The Foundation has successfully championed causes to support women and senior citizens too.
It also provides quality education to children from poor backgrounds, especially girls. “The first Lodha School was established years ago in honour of my brother-in-law who died very young. Currently, the Foundation runs various schools across the city with as many as 4,000 students. We distribute school kits, arrange mobile libraries and pay special importance to the education of the girl child,” informs Lodha, who has been successful in bringing various initiatives to completion.
Health care is another area of focus for the Foundation. It conducts health care camps and awareness drives, cancer detection camps, and operates mobile clinics to provide free medical check-ups and a range of diagnostic tests to the tune of almost 100 people every day. Other welfare initiatives of the Foundation include building temples, wellness centres and gaushalas (cow sheds). Talking about the inspiration behind these selfless acts, Lodha says, “My mother and mother-in-law are my biggest inspirations. My mother would prepare so much food every day to distribute to people. My mother-in-law would also run a mandal for helping the needy. These women have motivated me to step out of my comfort zone and work for the welfare of the people.”
My family, my strength
Born and raised in Mumbai, Lodha went to the Sitaram Podar Balika Vidyalaya and pursued her education at the Marwari Vidyalaya run by Prarthana Samaj, before joining Sophia College, Mumbai, to pursue BA. “I had a protected childhood within a joint family that reverberated with stories of Indian freedom fighters. Every year during holidays, we visited our native place in Rajasthan. There was no electricity back then but I remember, as children we would enjoy playing games, eating and having fun. We still visit our native place on special occasions,” she recalls.
Marriage with Mangal Prabhat Lodha changed the course of her life but Lodha quickly adapted herself to the environment. “I belonged to a large family myself and got married into another large family. Post-marriage, I lived in Jaipur with my in-laws. My father-in-law and my husband were both lawyers, so they couldn’t practice in the same court.” The young Lodhas shifted to Mumbai and started life from scratch in a 500 sq-ft flat in Byculla, Mumbai. “In those days, we managed the house on R2000 and my husband travelled by public transport. Gradually, he launched his realty business and built the Lodha Group. I have seen the highs and lows of life and value the little things. I am still connected to my roots, move around with the same set of people and have my friends from my childhood times. I believe that if you support people in their problems, it helps in your own growth. Following the path of Jainism, I never cause harm to others and always spread positivity around,” says Lodha. She believes in doing daily deeds of kindness—be it dropping an 85-year-old stranger home from the temple or distributing eatables to kids at the traffic signal.
They say, behind every successful man is a woman. For Lodha, it was the reverse. “I always had a man standing behind me—be it my husband, sons, father-in-law or father. My father-in-law initiated me into poetry and public speaking. He was fond of literature and I got my writing inspiration from him. My father advised me on various things throughout my life. My husband constantly supports and encourages me in my work. My sons Abhishek and Abhinandan are also always motivating me,” she relates.
Lodha recalls sharing a cordial relationship with her mother-in-law Premkuwar Lodha. “Being a pampered child before marriage, I hadn’t learnt much about cooking or managing the house. I would cook whatever little I knew like pav bhaji, etc., and my mother-in-law would happily tell this to everyone around. I learnt all about family values and culture from her as I had lost my mother at a young age.” As a sort of role reversal, Lodha is a mother-in-law herself now, Lodha has passed on the same learnings to her daughters-in-law Vinti and Shital. “Both my sons stay in the same building. With two sons and daughters-in-law and five grandkids all around, my house is full of fun and laughter and our kitchen is like a community kitchen,” she adds with a smile.
The Lodha Family
A force to reckon with
Being a young Marwari housewife, Lodha’s life initially revolved around family and children. Once her kids finished school, she associated herself with social organisations that worked for woman empowerment and focused on her literary pursuits. “We founded the Lodha Charitable Trust and Gyan Gangotri Kavya Manch, a forum that encourages housewives to indulge in creative writing. I am also actively involved with the Rajasthani Mahila Mandal, Jeenkushal Mahila Mandal and other social groups that work in the rural sector,” she shares.
Being on the Board of Directors of the esteemed Lodha Group of Companies, we ask her about her role or contribution in the gigantic success story of the realty company and she retorts, “My primary role has been to stand behind my husband and sons like a rock, be their constant pillar of support and motivate them at all times, and I am very happy in this role. My biggest contribution has been to extend whole-hearted support and inspiration to them. Whatever problem life throws at them, I inspire them to manage it with pride and move ahead,” says Lodha. Here we have a lady who practices what she preaches by living a simple and content life—“I am content with what I have. I don’t believe in wearing riches or precious jewellery. I am happy wearing R200 footwear or simple clothes.”
Presenting her book Param Vir: The War Diary
Writing on the wall
Lodha’s foray into the cultural arena helped her hone her skills as an orator and public speaker. “I started writing essays in school. After the birth of my son, I wrote a poem, then another one, and then penned a few articles. Later on, I compiled them all into a book called Man Ki Lehren. My book Bharat Bhagya Vidhata was about the revolutionaries who helped us get freedom,” says the writer and poet by choice. Today, she has to her credit 11 Hindi books—Bharat Bhagya Nirmata, Babul, Paati, Maa and Yaaden, to name a few—and Param Vir: The War Diary, her first book in English. “Param Vir was inspired during an award event to commemorate 51 years of Aye mere watan ke logo, a patriotic song saluting Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the 1962 Sino-Indian war.” That inspired her to pen a book that chronicles the journeys of war heroes from 1947 to the Kargil War. It was presented to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and won her international accolades. As a tribute, a renowned publishing house launched a coffee table book in Lodha’s honour titled All That I Am. She has also been honoured with a number of awards—especially the Women Achievers Award given by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Looking back, Lodha feels happy with the way her life has shaped up. “I was a simple girl and not an intellectual. I passed out of first year of college in Hindi medium. But I worked very hard and I am proud of my journey,” she says.
Lodha dons various roles in life yet manages to grasp some me-time for herself. “I offer prayers, visit the temple and meditate. I avoid watching TV as it kills time. Being a member of the Censor Board, I have to watch movies. I spend time with my grandkids making videos, singing, dancing and living life to the fullest,” she adds. Her message to other women? “Give time to yourself and move ahead in life but don’t forget the people behind you. There is nothing like family, learn to take things in your stride.