Childhood buddies from four years of age, Shankar and Augustus Caesar will finally go their separate ways a few months from now, after fifteen straight years of playing and studying together. Caesar, who is all set to graduate in computer science from the Ramakrishna Mission Polytechnic College in Chennai, will soon start his first job with a pay of ₹17,000 per month, whereas Shankar, who has studied mechanical engineering from the same college, has landed a job in Rajasthan that will fetch him ₹15,000 each month.
While the teenagers are excited about life on their own in the outside world, their graduation is a bittersweet moment for 60-year-old Poonam Lalwani, who has seen the duo grow up in front of her very eyes. To celebrate the transformation of the youths into responsible adults, Lalwani plans to take them to Mumbai on a well-deserved break. This might have sounded like the life of the average Indian teenager, except for a key difference — Shankar and Caesar are among the 24 orphans Lalwani’s Mumbai-based Life Trust is taking care of.
“We spend close to a lakh each year on each of the kids and are happy to see our efforts finally paying off. We have tried very hard to nurture them through education and to inculcate good values and ideals in them,” says Lalwani, whom the 18 girls and six boys at the centre affectionately call Amma. Today, the trust — which Lalwani has been a part of since 2004 — not only runs orphanages across Mumbai and south India but also works closely with municipal schools, institutes for the specially challenged, remand homes and integrated child development programmes.
Since inception, the 85 employee-strong trust has impacted the lives of nearly 50,000 children from Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru each year. While Lalwani continues to be the face of the trust, the man responsible for the organisation’s existence is 62-year-old Mukesh (Micky) Jagtiani, who today runs a $5-billion retail business spanning 18 countries across west Asia, central Asia and Africa.