Hyderabad: Cancer survivor’s culinary enterprise hits the streets

48-year-old Mekala Padma & her 28-year-old son Mekala Anil Kumar have been making hygienic and nutritious food for working professionals in the city.
Mekala Padma and her son Anil Kumar
Mekala Padma and her son Anil Kumar

HYDERABAD: In the hit crime-drama series Breaking Bad, the protagonist Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) takes to ‘cooking’ methamphetamine after he is diagnosed with cancer. With a former student by his side, the chemistry schoolteacher grows up to be one of the feared names in local and international drug trade.

The show is a pithy portrayal of how a person is pushed to do the extreme when coming up against a terminal illness. Every year, February 4 is observed as World Cancer Day to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.

For 48-year-old Mekala Padma, a homemaker, the situation was quite similar when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022. Like White had Jesse Pinkman (played by Aaron Paul), she had a sidekick in the form of her 28-year-old son Mekala Anil Kumar, and they, quite similarly, took to ‘cooking’. However, instead of a banned drug, the duo started making and delivering hygienic and nutritious food for working professionals in the city.

Life has not been easy for Padma lately. After getting Covid-19 thrice and cancer after that, she felt lost. Anil had also lost his job during the pandemic. Amid the rising debts and medical bills, Padma felt like all was lost.

the daily meals served in hotboxes
the daily meals served in hotboxes

However, her son suggested that she start a business. “Like all children, I think my mother cooks the best food in the world. I knew many people in the city who lived away from their parents and craved the simplicity of home-cooked meals. Since she already was a fantastic cook, I asked her to start a business,” Anil tells TNIE.

Despite the tough situation, they saw it as an opportunity for them to restart their lives. To overcome financial burdens and ensure the best treatment for his mother’s cancer, Anil started delivering food by collaborating with Swiggy and Zomato in October 2023. “Even though my mom was undergoing chemotherapy, she had the courage to keep the business going. She is my true inspiration,” Anil adds.

Within a few weeks, they were ready for orders on popular food delivery platforms on the back of the FSSAI approval. “In the first month only, our customers turned into regulars and became offline customers. Apart from the online customers, we also started providing food to customers at their doorstep daily,” he mentions.

After a month though, the duo stopped getting orders. However, they didn’t lose hope and like most popular ventures, they pivoted. During this time, Anil came up with the concept of providing food daily to bachelors, elderly people and those who could not cook for themselves.

The 28-year-old says, “We started tiffin box services to provide hygienic food, considering customers’ needs. We started our Instagram page on December 1 and planned a menu for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Considering customers’ concerns, especially regarding vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, we use separate utensils and have separate boxes for serving them food. After 25 days of online publicity, we got our first customer.”

“We charge Rs 4,000 per month for vegetarian tiffin and Rs 5,000 for non-vegetarian food. While we thought people might feel the food gets cold and soggy by the time it reaches their home, we pack it in good-quality hot boxes and have received good response from our customers,” Anil adds.

Even after facing health issues, Padma is keen on continuing and plans to cook for as many as 20 people all by herself. Anil says, “My mother cooks and packs the tiffin, and I deliver the food, covering around 60 km every day.”

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