Mrs. Manju Lodha is an ardent philanthropist, poet and writer based in Mumbai. She is the Chairperson of the NGO ‘Lodha Foundation’ that aims to improve the lives of communities by making investments in initiatives in the fields of education, culture, literature, sports and water resources. The Lodha Foundation also undertakes Corporate Social Responsibility activities of Lodha Group of Companies. Mrs Lodha is married to Mangal Prabhat Lodha, an Indian politician, Vice-President of the Bharatiya Janata Party Maharashtra, and the founder of the Lodha Group. Together they have two sons, Abhishek and Abhinandan.
Vaahan caught up with Mrs Lodha to reveal the success behind such a multi-talented and inspirational personality.
“‘Param Vir: A War Diary’ is the first book published for all because this is a subject that is close to my heart and I want the future generations to read and acknowledge the sacrifices of our brave jawans”
You’re renowned for your social work and contribution to helping social causes in India, how did you start getting involved and what made you set up the Lodha Foundation?
It was in 1993 when my husband, Mangalji Prabhat Lodha contested the elections from the Malabar Hill constituency on a BJP ticket. I started helping him with the campaign. I stepped out and started meeting the people in the constituency trying to understand their problems/grievances. We started the Lodha Foundation to address these grievances.
What type of work is the Lodha Foundation involved in, can you share some success stories?
The first initiative of the Lodha Foundation was sponsoring the education of the girl child. Besides that, the women of the under-privileged section were provided with vocational training. Motivating them to take up vocational training was the major challenge which we met successfully. English speaking classes were also arranged to build their self-confidence.
Abhyasika, a reading room facility was set up by the Foundation in the premises of Sharda Mandir School in Gamdevi, Mumbai to allow children from the slum areas to have their own study-space. The Foundation has received a lot of appreciation for this gesture from the parents who vouch for their wards’ improved performance in exams.
The mobile library was started in South Mumbai to reach out to interested readers who may have had to forego their love of reading due to far-flung locations of libraries in Mumbai. Out of the 5 library vans, 2 are static and 3 operate around South Mumbai-Worli and Thane-Dombivili-Bhiwandi areas. The concept has received a stupendous response with membership crossing 9000. The mobile library van makes a trip to a different area every week and stops at various locations in that area during that week. The halt time is 45 minutes at every location. We have over 8000 books in Hindi, Marathi, English and Gujarati catering to all types of readers and every month new books are added.
We conduct various activities for senior citizens to keep them engaged. We organize classes to help them become digitally savvy by teaching them to operate smart phones and tablets. We have almost reached out to 18,000 senior citizens and have taught them how to use the internet, computer, email, smart phones and iPads.
We have adopted 27 villages around Dombivili where various socio-economic welfare schemes have been implemented to uplift the weaker sections. A health care system has been put in place to provide timely medical attention free of cost. A medical van equipped with doctors and paramedical professionals has also been arranged to reach out to as many as 4,800 people every month (annually almost 60,000).
One of our recent partnerships in child health care is the Swastha program. It is a child health insurance scheme wherein a child gets the benefit of visiting a pediatrician any number of times in year. Benefits also include blood investigation and day care surgeries. Every month, we are able to reach an additional 300 more children for care. Few of our beneficiaries availed benefits worth Rs. 80,000 due to the scheme. In the last six months, more than 3000 children have benefitted from the services. Importantly, we have provided a timely intervention to the community especially those in low socio-economic strata. The model of care is replicable and all the quality control measures are in place.
You have also set up the Lodha School which is ranked 65th in the whole of India which is a great achievement. What has made the Lodha School so successful and stand out from the rest?
The Foundation has started schools in Mumbai, Dombivili, Mira Road and Thane. So far, we have built 3 SSC, 3 ICSE schools and we have more than 8000 students. The SSC schools are only for underprivileged children. It is ranked 65th in the country and in Mumbai (North), it is ranked 4th. The reason why it is among the top schools is that we place emphasis on a holistic learning experience for our students, giving them access to sports and fine arts too along with academics. We encourage our kids to creatively make the best out of waste by conducting an exhibition every year, a step towards spreading awareness of conservation of the environment. We teach students music, karate, dance and self-defence. Every year we give University scholarships for Indian students (2 are given to underprivileged students). We also give a yearly scholarship to one Indian student from the Harvard School of Management.
In addition to schools, you have also built beautiful temples, where are these situated?
For religious activities, we built many temples, two out of which are very prominent. One, the ‘Lodha Dha Jain Temple’ is situated on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway in a 4-acre land which has lunch, home facilities and a place of worship (Vihardham) for all the sadhu-sadhviks (Jain priests). It is also soon to have the biggest library in India with more than 10 lakhs books. Currently, we have 3.5 lakhs of books which are not only useful for every religion and caste, but are also available in all languages, English, Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi languages. There are so many old precious books that one can surely end up doing their PhD.
The other Lodha Dham Sai Dham temple is situated at Bhiwandi road. It has a Naturopathy and Yoga centre, ayurvedic, acupressure and also has beautiful garden, good architecture and a place where you can find peace. There is also a Sai Baba temple, which is like a resting place for many Sai Bhakts and one can enjoy the beauty. The Foundation also has our own Gaushala (cow shed), which takes care of around 50-100 cows. Lodha Dham is being equipped with state of art water harvesting and recharge technology. This ensures we give back more than we take from Mother Nature.
In addition to your great social work, you are also a poet and have written books. Tell our readers about your poetry and books.
I believe that poetry speaks of emotions which are the same for people all over the world and therefore has universal appeal. My favourite poets/writers who have influenced me are Shri Harivanshrai Bacchan, Shri Premchand, Shri Neeraj Tyagi, Smt Mahadevi Verma and Shri Jaishankar Prasad.
I have written 11 books like Maa, Mann ki Lehren etc. which have been widely circulated.
Your book Paramvir was presented to Prime Minister Modi and is about 21 instances of bravery recounted by the friends and families of Param Vir Chakra awardees, what made you choose this topic to write about?
‘Param Vir: A War Diary’ is the first book published for all because this is a subject that is close to my heart and I want the future generations to read and acknowledge the sacrifices of our brave jawans. Though I could not meet most of the brave soldiers and got stories only from their families, this experience of writing about them fills me with gratitude for the young heroes and the sacrifices of the families. I now feel I have done my bit and this motivates me to do more for my country in my own way.
The immortal song written by the great Poet Shri Pradeep and sung by Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logo” celebrated its 50th anniversary and Lodha Foundation had arranged a grand programme to celebrate the day. The presence of our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and his inspirational speech on that auspicious occasion was attended by almost 1.5 Lakh people. Lataji was honoured by Shri Narendra Modi ji and she regaled the audience with the history of the song.
On this occasion, there were several soldiers who had been awarded prestigious awards like Paramvir Chakra, Ashoka Chakra etc. They were recognised and appreciated for their valour and the families of the soldiers were also there in huge numbers. The stage was full of brave soldiers. They were astounded by the warm welcome and acknowledgement by such a large audience. Their appreciation and thankfulness for holding this gathering, could be visible as some were so moved and had tears in their eyes. The respect for the jawans in such a way, inspired and motivated me to write this book.
When this book was presented to our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji and he was turning the pages of Param Vir with great concentration, I was surprised to see the changing emotions on his face acknowledging the countless sacrifices by our brave soldiers and their families. It made me realise how at every level we all should remain grateful to and inspired by our brave soldiers.
The English version of Param Vir was inaugurated in London at the hands of High Commissioner Mr. Navtej Sarna and in India by Defence Minister, Mr. Manohar Parikker.
You’re involved in so many different activities and causes, how do you manage your time and what does a normal day for you look like?
I am involved a lot of activities and causes but my family has always been my priority. I believe unless I take care of my family first I will not be able to serve society properly. I begin my day by offering prayers at home and then I visit the temple where I meditate for an hour. Only then I start my work related to the Foundation. I love spending quality time with my grandchildren. Dinner time is family time where we all speak about our day at work.
Every year we do Malabar Hill Mahatsov where we have almost 100 different competitions – cultural as well as sports, for all age groups. We also play the Griha Lakshmi Game in every building, which comprises of several quizzes, etc. Every month, almost 300 helpless and homeless widows are given monthly food and shelter too.
For housewives, we have established Gyaan Gangotri Kaavya Manch. This Institution has been active for the past decade, and has organized many literary programmes which emphasize the importance of reading, social issues, environment and women empowerment. All members take part actively.
I play an active role in many institutions. I am the Vice President of the well recognised and well established Rajasthani Mahila Mandal, which has been established and running for the past 60 years and working for the needy people. I am the Trustee for the Hari Satsand Samithi which works for the cause of Tribals and I’m also attached to many other institutions such as the Lion Club Oswal Mitra Mandal.
Congratulations on your recent Woman Achievers Award in Mumbai given to you by Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis. You’re an inspiration to many around the world. What advice would you give other women and girls who want to help social causes and follow in your footsteps?
I would like to tell all women to explore and bring out their innermost talent. Understand oneself. “जहाँ चाह है वहाँ राह है –” (when there is a will there is away). Only with grit and determination, one can achieve the goal. Out of 24 hours, remove at least 2 hours for yourself and for your passion. Bring out the inherent talent that is hidden within you and teach others. “हवाओं से कहो अपनी आकाद में रहना – हम पंख से नहीं ओएसलॉन से उड रहे हैं (Tell the winds to be in limits – we do not fly with wings but with courage). One very important thing I would like to urge them to do is to give back to the society in any small or big way they can.
How can our readers contribute to your Foundation and get involved?
The Lodha Foundation has so far undertaken all activities from its own funds. However, if people would like to contribute towards increasing literacy and education to girls, we would be glad to have partners in this noble cause. We could work out a way to widen the network and reach out to a wider range of people.