“I cook well and I enjoy doing it, so I decided to take this up as a job when the situation demanded. So, I have been working for the past 40 years,” says 74-year-old Santoshini Mishra who runs a catering business in Sambalpur, Odisha.
Her journey began when she had to cook food for people to make ends meet. Even though it was during a period when women were not permitted to work outside their houses, she used to go out and cook in different homes to take care of her family.
Today, she is still at it but has turned it into a catering business with 100 employees working under her.
Now be it a marriage, birthday or any other function most of the people in the city prefer the delicious food cooked by ‘Santoshini Mama’, which means Santoshini ‘grandmother’ in the Sambalpuri language.
Finding hope through cooking
Her husband who used to run a pan shop was the sole breadwinner of the family. But he had to quit his business due to an illness and the whole responsibility fell on Santoshini’s shoulders. But she wasn’t ready to quit or complain.
She took over all the familial responsibilities single-handedly and took care of her entire family, including her children’s education and her husband’s treatment. “It wasn’t easy,” says Santoshini, who lost her husband almost 10 years back.
“Back then, most of the catering businesses were run by men and I had to face a lot of opposition from my family and society. It was even difficult to find a girl for my son, as nobody was ready to marry their daughters to a family where the lady of the house worked as a caterer. But, I never gave up on my work or my hope,” she explains.
Santoshini says that she has a special love for cooking as it made her financially independent at times when she was struggling.
“My mother is very passionate when it comes to cooking, even at this age. It was her cooking skills that helped our family find financial stability and it gave us a better life,” says her son Sanjeev.
Currently, Santoshini’s team has around 100 employees, among which most of them are women.
Wedding seasons are always hectic, and she has to cater to at least three to four weddings every day. They serve vegetarian and non-vegetarian food like Paneer Butter Masala, Paneer Tikka, Mushroom Masala, Veg Biriyani, Chicken Biriyani, etc.
She says. “I like to do all the work by myself from arranging everything to supervising the cooking. But at times when there are too many orders to fulfil or if it gets hectic, both my sons would help me with it,” Santoshini says, adding that she wants to work for as long as she lives.
Read this story in Hindi here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)