Santoshini defies age to run the busiest catering agency

At the age of 74, Santoshini Mishra of Sambalpur runs a successful catering business and provides livelihood to at least 100 people, writes Mayank Bhusan Pani
Santoshini at work
Santoshini at work

SAMBALPUR: Thirty-six years back when Santoshini Mishra started a catering business to manage her family, there were several glass ceilings for women in the field. Having shattered all of them with a steely resolve to create a space for herself in the field, the 74-year woman is today the most sought after and busiest caterer in Sambalpur. Her catering agency gets a majority of orders in the town, be it weddings, birthdays or funeral feasts.

Fondly called ‘Mama’ which means grandmother in Sambalpuri, Santoshini’s team includes 100 members, mostly women. During the wedding season, she accepts at least four feast orders in a day. While both her sons help her in the job sometimes, she oversees the preparations and arrangements.

Catering, she says, has always been a male-centric field. “But I chose this sector because I was good at cooking. I used to watch my mother cook and learnt from her. By the time I got married I was a skilled cook and used to prepare food for 30 to 40 people during our family gatherings,” she said.

However, Santoshini had to take up cooking as a profession to support her family of five when her husband was diagnosed with heart ailments. At the age of 38, she formed a small catering team and began taking orders including marriage feasts. After an initial toil, there was no looking back as her passion to cook started paying off.

Over the last 36 years, she single-handedly managed her home, education of her two sons and treatment of her husband through her catering business. While she lost her husband nine years ago in 2012, it could not deter her spirits and she continued her vocation. However, the journey had roadblocks.

“I have faced a lot of resistance from my family as well as the society for what I was doing. At one point, it also became hard to find suitable brides for my sons because no one was willing to give their daughters to a family where the woman of the house worked as a caterer. But, I did not let the criticisms restrict me, because it helped me to feed my children and educate them,” she says.

Today, her sons tell her to give up the work and rest. But she wants to work till her health permits. “Because it is not just about my passion for cooking now. There are many Santoshinis and their families who are dependent on my catering business,” she says. She wishes to cook for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik some day if given a chance.

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