June 6, 2023

Mansee Shah Thard talks on stepping into being an entrepreneur with Lahe Lahe

Here’s a story of a mum who has stepped into entrepreneurship and riding it high and today Lahe Lahe marks an instant recognition to the city’s theater, events and expression space. Mansee also shares her dilemmas, her triumphs, little moments of motherhood, her earlier marriage and how she has perhaps found stability in Lahe Lahe and being a mom.

Sharing her story with Mums and Stories, she recollects with fond memories of childhood. “I was born in Vapi in and we as a family with parents and sisters lived there till I was around 11 years and then we moved to Vadodara where I spent my teenage and early adulthood.

My fondest memory in Vapi is the carefree and joyful childhood that we had. We stayed in a flat where neighbors were like an extended family and we as kids were engaged in play mostly outside the house which involved climbing trees and sitting there for hours, chatting away or reading, playing hide and seek in late evenings. Firecrackers during Diwali was a community affair and so was Holi where we usually spent a day at a lovely beach in a nearby place called Umbergaon. Since my father had a transferable job, we moved out of Vapi and shifted to Vadodara when I was around 12.

Vadodara was where I grew up in and have fond memories of growing up in what we like to call the “Cultural capital of Gujarat” – especially where the festival of Navratri was celebrated in a very authentic manner.”

Talking about beginning the expression and art form space in Bangalore, Mansee shares with Mums and Stories, “ The idea behind Lahe Lahe was not mine- it was my husband’s vision. He wanted to open a space for artists where artists can come and work or display their work but he was a businessman so didn’t have the bandwidth to run it. When we met and eventually got married, he shared the concept and I was kicked about it and that’s how Lahe Lahe started.

We both don’t understand food so there was no café- just an expression space for 2 years – but we received a lot of requests for starting a café there as people who came over to Lahe Lahe had to step out for food and beverages. Thus we launched Lahe Lahe Santhe on the 2nd anniversary of Lahe Lahe- which has a café, an extended events space, a full-fledged pottery studio, a merchandise section, a healing room and few social experiments like a Gratitude wall (where anyone is free to drop in any pre-loved thing and anyone can pick it up if they require it), a skill exchange board (where people can mention their skills they can share and the skills they require help with no financials involved) and recently, a postbox which encourages people to write letters, a forgotten art in this age . The fact that all these spaces are in a single location helps to give a complete experience.

I was married earlier and we grew apart and so we decided to move on instead of living a life as roommates. When I was getting separated, I decided to move back to Gujarat where my sisters were and took up a job in Anand, a small town in Gujarat where one of my sisters lived.

For almost 6 months till I worked there, I lived a cut off life coz I was not sure how people around me like my friends or extended family would be – considering this recent life change. Also I was not ready to talk about why or what went wrong and wanted to move on. So the only people I met were my sisters and their families and the best thing they did for me is to let me be. They did not force me to meet friends or  extended family and were around to indulge when I wanted to step out to watch a movie or grab a meal at a café/ restaurant.

I pore myself in work, movies, books and a little bit of writing. After six months when I moved to Vadodara as I got a job in a bigger firm there, I moved in the house where I grew up in and had very mixed feelings about it. There was joy in going back to the roots but I was also anxious that now I will be meeting the people whom I had kept away from in the last 6 months. Nevertheless, I made some friends at work and slowly and gradually I reached a stage where it was not difficult for me to tell strangers that I am a Divorcee which was not the case earlier. I think it was more in my mind that people will treat me differently. There were some people who may have been said not so good things, but most of the people were quite accepting. But what helped me the most in this phase was spirituality. I had done a couple of courses of Art of living – did few more and life was a good mix of work, close friends and family, meditation, movies and books.

I think Indian society sometimes alienates; maybe but it has definitely become more accepting.

What definitely helps is the strength you have as a person – both financially and emotionally. The fact that I didn’t choose to wallow in self-pity but got myself a job, pored myself in it and the other interests that I had towards movies and books helped me cope with the “unsettling phase”.  My “interest” in reading,  movies or travel during this phase developed this core belief in me that it was important to pursue your passions besides your regular job and the fact that I was single then helped me pursue them.

As far as remarriage is concerned- I never wanted to marry again but love happened, and I eventually got re-married and here again there were no issues as my husband was also a divorcee. Again, I don’t know what the scenario would have been if one of us was not a divorcee or had a child from previous marriage. I think people; especially close families would be more accepting of a remarriage because they want their kids/ siblings to be happy. And here again I would like to highlight that my sisters never pressurized me to get married again – it was my own decision and they accepted that wholeheartedly.”

(Mansee, being herself with her son Niom)( Photographs are subject to copyright)

Sharing further on her story, Mansee says, “The best part of being a mom is the selfless love and bonding I share with my son. To be totally honest, I struggle at motherhood – but what helps me as a mother is I don’t center my life around my son. I know I might sound uncaring but I don’t think you need to put your life on pause and put all your efforts and concentration on your kid. I am there for him day in and day out -yes but to raise a happy child, I need to be a happy mother first. It definitely helps that I run my own firm so I have flexibility of timings and the flexibility of bringing my child to work- and to a workspace which is filled with art, pottery, music, dance and other expressions. There are challenges – there are so many days where I have missed a big event at lahe lahe / outside as my child needed me.

I also understand that he is missing out on a conventional childhood filled with playdates with other kids from the community that we stay in or his mother accompanying him to the community park every evening or socializing regularly with cousins- friends who have kids from the same age group .

However, on the other end he is getting other forms of exposure – besides coming to an art space every day after school or on weekends, meeting new interesting people almost every day thus making him very oblivious of meeting new people. It is interesting to notice the feeling of sheer joy he feels when kids from his school come to Lahe Lahe for an outdoor.

In this cycle of motherhood, I am learning the ropes but for those mothers who want to pursue their passions but are reluctant or guilty or whatever- I would just say- Don’t be. If you have a need to work / pursue your passion and are not doing so just because you feel your child will be neglected, try and take up a role which you can juggle with motherhood – at least for the few initial years.

(Mansee and her family).

There are so many mothers out there who are able to do a great job at both- we women are born multitaskers and there is no reason why you won’t be able to take care of both. You may not be perfect at both – sometimes there might be days when you might have to take leave from work to take care of your sick child or sometimes you might have to miss a neighbours kids birthday party as you had an important meeting at work but its ok. The world is not going to end at either home or at work if you aren’t there. Supportive husbands, families and colleagues also help. Also it’s ok to delegate tasks which you don’t need to do yourself.

You don’t have to be the superwoman who does everything. I have seen few women suffer because they struggle to try to do a good job at everything at the cost of their health- both physical and mental.”

Talking about Lahe Lahe Mansee shares, “ I think the biggest achievement for Lahe Lahe is the fact that in a span of a little more than 2.5 years, we have managed to position ourselves as a genre agnostic, non – judgmental expression space that nurtures the art/ expression within everyone. Almost anyone and everyone who comes to our space loves the vibe of the space and more importantly they find it comfortable to share their expressions.

About the future – we really don’t know – have a lot of plans but depends on lot of things which may/ may not be beyond our control. But what is the core is the art of expression. I strongly feel we are at our best when we are creating something – may be a piece of art, a poem, a theatre piece or an event. But all of us get so immersed in the rat race called life either studying, working or raising kids that we forget ourselves and our passions.

We have had more women coming in to Lahe Lahe then men (approx. 60% of them are women) – both in terms of audience who come to watch or learn or attend a meet up or facilitators who teach or artists who perform. As a mother I know, that it is difficult to go attend a workshop or watch a play or taking time for it. I myself didn’t attend anything that happened in Lahe Lahe for 1.5 years till my son was 2. Also I was busy running the space so whatever little time I got away from my son went in taking care of “work duties” so I didn’t have the bandwidth to attend workshops or watch performances.

But  what I am trying to say is that as a mother of a toddler it may be difficult but it’s not impossible. At the other spectrum I have also seen mothers of toddlers who are theatre directors, facilitators,/ artists so it’s entirely possible.

And it is helpful- as a mother that you don’t live your life in pause mode. A happy mother and a healthy mother  makes for a happy and healthy kid.”

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