By Maya Lalchandani
This dynamic woman has donned many roles in her life – a daughter, mother, widow, grandmother, fashionista, trendsetter and even a philanthropist. Yet, today, at age 60, Mala Mansukhani says, “I might be different things to different people, but one thing I am not is OLD!”
Having battled various challenges while chasing her dreams, the author of Grow Younger shares how she turned her life around, and is now full of youthful energy despite all the ups and downs she faced. “You can be as young as you think you are,” says the Mumbai-based mother of three and grandma of five.
No wonder former athlete Milkha Singh said of her book, “I think this book is a useful read for everyone, not just those who think they are getting older.”
Most people are awed when they meet Mala in person, full of youthful energy and glowing with health and radiance, but to hear her story is another level of inspiration. When she was a little girl, her mother Vindri left her errant husband and moved with four daughters to Mumbai, where she worked hard as a seamstress, single-handedly raising her kids. No doubt young Mala’s memories of deprivation shaped the course of her future choices.
Mala’s early marriage to a man 13 years older was probably her first act of rebellion. For a while, she sailed through her new life, bearing three daughters, but sadness crept in. Her own beauty became a source of misery.
“Here comes the black and white TV,” people ridiculed the couple. Though they were comfortable financially, she found her husband distant. History repeated itself, and she cried herself to sleep every night hoping things would change.
She finally opted out of a loveless marriage, moving back with her mother. Divorce followed when the girls were old enough. She hated the thing people called beauty; it had not served her well.
A year later, a friend told her about Mrs Gladrags beauty pageant. She wanted to participate even if it meant being married again; maybe it was a yearning for respectability or some sort of validation. Her ex-husband agreed and they had a secret second wedding but continued to lead different lives. A strange friendship ensued; they even married off their daughters together. Had the divorce cured the rift?
She was the only grandmom to participate in the beauty pageant, and winning the Mrs Courage title proved to be a life-changing experience. She made a career as a boutique owner and became more spiritually aware of herself.
But life was not exactly kind. Three months after her second daughter’s marriage, her husband committed suicide due to financial strain, which Mala was unaware of. In 2006, her life came to a standstill once again. His family blamed her. She shares, “I lost everything, my husband, all the money and societal respect. My mother went through depression. But I rose above it all.”
To her relief, her husband’s suicide note stated the entire truth, thus absolving her of any responsibility, and ensuring she had a right to the house. Now left with a home full of women, Mala felt life had come full circle, her mother’s story ran before her eyes, but only this time she resolved to do it differently, the best she could.
She ran her first marathon when she was 47 and continues to run the five km race today. She studied yoga and first aid. At 50, she climbed Kalsubai Peak in the Western Ghats. She also helped others while she discovered more for herself.
A believer in ageless living, she runs a nonprofit called Grow Younger, which encourages midlife women to lead healthier and stronger lives. If anyone says to her, “Age catches up,” Mala replies, “Why not stay ahead of it?”
First published in eShe’s March 2020 issue