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Old girls’ club passes baton to GenNext

Author: Bella Jaisinghani
Publication: The Times of India
Date: September 7, 2014
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Old-girls-club-passes-baton-to-GenNext/articleshow/41903488.cms

Introduction: Stree Mandal Mumbai Turns 111 Today

Over a century ago, Govardhandas Tripathi, author of the Gujarati classic 'Saraswatichandra' became distressed after a young female relative, some say his daughter, was widowed in her teens. Those days women in white were seldom allowed to step outside, remarriage of course was unthinkable.

 Tripathi shared his anxieties with his friend Dharamdas Motiwala. He suggested they start a vocational centre for widows to spend quality time, maybe prepare eatables and handicrafts.

 September 7, 1903 marked the birth of Stree Mandal Mumbai which has a building in Girgaum.

Likely Mumbai's oldest mahila mandal, the organization celebrates its 111th anniversary on Sunday, a milestone few can hope to rival. On September 11, its elderly members will travel to a retirement township in Neral near Matheran and plant 111 saplings.

 Each tree selected has its roots in Indian culture. "Kadamb and parijat are both dear to Lord Krishna. Mention of peepul and ashoka occurs in ancient texts. Banyan is the sacred tree around which women tie holy threads during Vat Savitri puja..." says the seniormost member Vanlata Patel who joined in 1972.

 "We would have liked to plant trees within the city but there is no space," says Surabhi Kothari, head of the senior citizens' wing.

 Most members are elderly women, given that the mandal has fallen off GenNext's radar. Yet, a stream of young girls arrives to sign up for subsidised courses. "Our cooking classes are popular with parents of young Gujarati and Jain girls about to be married. They learn how to prepare Thai, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese and Chinese food. We even teach them sushi," says supervisor Meena Modi.

 Prospective brides gravitate to the sewing unit. Kanak Ghasiya led TOI to rooms where women were learning dressmaking. "We charge Rs 200 a month to keep it affordable. Muslim women from Byculla come to learn so they can supplement the family income," she said.

 Stree Mandal runs a physiotherapy centre with qualified professionals at competitive rates. A session costs Rs 70 as compared to Rs 300-500 in a private hospital. The mandal has utilised much of its funds, including NRI donations, to provide the Jaipur Foot to 2,000 amputees at KEM Hospital.

The good fortune of owning a large premises has prompted the ladies to reserve rooms for a gymnasium and toy library. "We plan to start aerobics classes next," says Modi.
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