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Mallika Misra’s Entrepreneurial Journey At 56 Proves It’s Never Too Late To Fulfil Your Dreams!

Posted: October 12, 2020

Starting a new venture at 56 is not an easy task but with Niwala by Mallika, entrepreneur Mallika Misra proves it’s never too late to dream!

A beginning to follow your passion has no time bar. Uniqueness stands out when the desire to create palatable cuisines that combine the aroma of traditional Indian dishes and the delicacies of modern continental platters. Mallika has unleashed years of experience in making homemade pickles, in her venture ‘Niwala by Mallika.’

In 2018, at the age of 56, Mallika ventured into the pickle business and set up ‘Niwala by Mallika.’ It is a journey with several benchmarks. From a homemaker to a confident entrepreneur, changing the mindset and coming out of the comfort zones and from talent sharing to talent selling.

Cooking mouth-watering food is what keeps her going

The corona times did affect her business but didn’t dampen her spirit. She rules the heart of the foodies by offering the best of both the worlds. Her name epitomises misri si mithi sweet dishes and teekha chatpata tangy aachars.

Just log on to her site and the mouth-watering tempting images lure you to the world of Maa, Nani and Dadi ke Aachar, Pyaar and Manohaar. The art of pickling is losing its sheen with the new-age generation who love to devour the pickles but don’t want to learn the art of traditional pickling.

We constantly pester our mothers to send us that homemade pickle, tell her every time we will learn it and the procrastination continues. Mallika comes to our rescue with authentic pickles, made with high-quality raw material, genuine pure spices and lots of love. The pickles are a hit amongst her clientele that boasts of sales across India and as far as the USA too.

Her love for cooking comes from her mother

Mallika is a natural who imbibed the art of cooking from her mother and grandmother. Originally from Banaras, her parents shifted to Delhi in 1971. It is Banaras and nostalgic taste of ethnic homemade pickle in every bite of her products.

Mallika was drawn to cooking due to her mother who would cook scrumptious meals for the family and garner endless praises. Those were the times when there were hardly any restaurants or women entrepreneurs/chefs in the market.

We had sweet shops, small-time tea vendors/dhabas. There was no concept of eating out except the occasional festive meets at a relative’s house. Or at a family function where the ‘Halwai’ used to cook the traditional Indian meals.

Mothers along with a helper could churn out daily meals, festive meals, sweets, snacks, achars, cakes, nankhatai, name any edible thing of that time. A good cook was revered and people would look forward to an invitation.

She’s had an interesting journey

Mallika is a soft-spoken, cheerful extrovert who wears her heart on her sleeve and loves serving people with great aplomb. She is a popular figure in her circle with her infectious smiles and a great sense of humour.

Being the youngest pampered daughter in a close-knit family, Mallika learned to prioritise relationships and spending time with the family. In 1983, at the very young age of 20, Mallika married Capt. Nitish Misra in Delhi.

She adorned the role of a homemaker with panache and embraced army life that honed her skills. The army with its eclectic mix of regions, religions provided her with the opportunities to learn and share new recipes during her course of the journey.

I present Mallika, the queen of her home and foodies’ hearts in a candid interview.

What does cooking mean to you?

I loved my mother’s distinction of having a blessed hand whose Midas touch to the ladle worked wonders even on a mundane dish. Inspired by my mother’s culinary skills, I first tasted the euphoric feeling at the age of 12 when I cooked a complete meal for my family in Delhi.

I was over the moon not just by compliments but my love of cooking that resulted in a happy, satisfying meal for everyone. Like my mother, I could feel a karmic connection with food and its spiritual relevance in feeding happy souls.

Cooking for me has turned into a prayer ritual that liberates me. It exhilarates me and challenges me to tantalise the taste buds of every person I come across.

How has life changed you over the years?

Can you narrate any incident/s to relate to it?

I got married at a relatively young and impressionable age. It was in 1984, I met Mrs Vani Sundarji wife of Gen K Sundarji, in a party, who asked us our names. As the tradition would have it, we all introduced ourselves as Mrs Misra, and so on.

She said, “I asked your name, not your husband’s last names.” And she taught us the self-belief in being a woman and carving an identity for ourselves. She ordered all the ladies to get the nameplates made on their first names, to be worn with the sarees for the function, especially in the Officers Mess.

And she told us that we may be that dedicated pillar of strength of our families but to keep our pillar strong. To nurture it with confidence and self-belief. It transformed me from a young nonchalant girl to a confident woman I am today.

How has the army enriched your cooking style?

Nitish was posted in Delhi when we got married, our first accommodation was in D block Janakpuri. Three bachelors were staying in the vicinity. There is this brotherhood tradition in the Army whrein, bachelors keep disturbing the newlyweds so that the lady gels in the unit life and respects the unit family.

The young officers also find another home away from home. One night around 10:00 PM, three young officers (one from Manipur, another from Tamilnadu and the third one, from Punjab) knocked our door along with raw chicken. I am from a hard-core vegetarian family where I never had onion and garlic also. They wanted me to cook the chicken for them.

It was the little incidents that helped her

As I did not know how to cook chicken, I offered to cook a hearty veg meal instead but they were adamant to enjoy the chicken curry only. The enthusiastic bachelors offered to cook it themselves with my help.

They requested me to prepare the curry of Rajma to be used as a gravy for the chicken. That night the chicken was, cleaned and cooked at my place with lots of din and long discussions on various cooking styles in each culture.

Meanwhile, I made dal, rice, puris, kheer and learned to cook chicken from three gentlemen from different regions of India. I loved that feeling of community cooking and learning different cultures in my kitchen. It was 2:30 AM and the feast continued with more laughter and stories to share. We still talk about that night with fond thoughts.

The Army taught her a lot about community cooking

I love cooking sharing recipes to learning a dish from anyone, anywhere was and is my passion. And I love to cook different cuisines. When I moved away from my mother Tarla Dalal recipe books came to my help in trying out new recipes. I vouch for her books to be the best as the outcomes are always promisingly delicious.

In 1993, when we were in Joshimath, there was a visit by the Army Commander and a sumptuous meal was to be prepared. The cooks could not be trusted with a delicacy, thus, the ladies were approached.

We happily agreed to pitch in to put the best meal forward. Mrs Talat Hussain made biryani, another lady helped the cooks to make curries and I made more than 200 Gulab Jamuns. It was fun and a great learning experience. I would never forget those golden days.

We were rewarded with a picnic and the commander who thanked us profusely for our sporting spirit. The army teaches us the team spirit, loving and embracing a new family irrespective of colour cast religion and region. It gives you a home away from home after every couple of years.

What was the inspiration behind Niwala by Mallika?

I was always keen to do something of my own. However, moving with my family on each posting, to a new location, for a year or two, never allowed me to do so. Two turning points gave birth to ‘Niwala by Mallika’

Whilst staying in Gurdaspur, I came in contact with the principal of the Institute of Hotel Management that ranked 4th in India at that time. We had invited him to dinner and I planned a Continental cuisine. He was amazed at the menu and tasted every dish from appetisers to dessert.

It were two incidents that birthed Niwala by Mallika

I requested him to permit me to learn chocolate making from his chefs. He replied, “Ma’am, what will our Chefs teach you? We should invite you to come and teach cooking to our students as a visiting Faculty.” This not only boosted my confidence but also strengthened my resolve to become an entrepreneur.

Another trigger was my brother in law, a connoisseur of fine foods. When he tasted the green chilli pickle, he commented: “This is better than the pickle that I buy from FabIndia.” On hearing this, my daughter got excited and forced me to bottle and advertise it. That is, when and how ‘Niwala by Mallika’ was born.

After encouragement from her daughter, she decided to take it up

In 2017, when my husband retired and we settled down at Noida, I set upon achieving my dream. Entrepreneurship came at the behest of my daughter who not only encouraged and motivated me but also played a big role in setting it up. Niwala by Mallika is an effort to establish my own brand identity and is inspired by the first word ‘niwala’ means a bite.

Right now, Niwala focuses on traditional pickles and gourmet foods, made with authentic high-quality seasonal vegetables in small batches. No preservatives or chemicals are used and the nutritional value of each product is kept in mind.

It is the same traditional method used by my grandma in Banaras. The pickles’ unique taste is sure to take you back to the ethnic homemade cooking.

‘Ghissu aam chana’ (grated raw mango and chickpeas) and ‘Bharwan mirchi’ (stuffed red chillies) are the most popular among my customers. The tea cakes, desserts, sherbets and fresh fruit ice-creams are loved by my acquaintances. They are coming up soon on my portfolio.

How did your family contribute in helping you follow your dream?

I have always received full support from all my family members. Initially, I didn’t take the suggestion to sell seriously but the day I decided to pursue my dreams, everyone was excited to help out.

My daughter, even though located in the USA, did all the required spadework online. Meanwhile, my son, daughter in law and my son-in-law gave advice, advertising ideas and prepared the groundwork for the required official permissions. And my husband helped by his availability 24X7 attending to all the crisis that came up.

What obstacles did you face while following your chosen path?

Not being from a business background, getting to know the procedures and requirements was the biggest obstacle. It was in Nov 2018, that I decided to venture into pickle business.

Initially, my husband and I scuttled for everything. Right from buying bottles from Chandni chowk, labelling, the raw material to packing and delivering the product to our customers in our car.

Learned and unlearned a lot of lessons in trade. The free treats and jars of pickles to relatives and neighbours were now saleable products. It is not just the taste but the presentation that matters.

I customised my products on popular demands. It took one year to streamline things and advertising my products through WhatsApp groups, Facebook, Instagram, word of mouth and stalls in Durga Puja, Diwali fairs. I received an overwhelming response that motivated me to turn my venture into a proper business.

It has been a tough journey but it’s worth it

Getting to register a company, obtaining a Food license and registering for GST were the biggest challenges. It took almost one year to register my logo in 2019 and the GST registration happened this year.

The media also became interested in my story. And the pinnacle was reached when I was interviewed by Anjan T.V. for a programme ‘Welcome Jindagi,’ Then I was also featured in a web magazine app ‘Chef Buddy.’

And then Corona happened. All my hard work and pickles made during winter and the preparation for upcoming summer season got stalled. The piles of bottled pickles were stacked in the almirah.

For two months, the sales were down, almost negligible with one or two odd bottles to neighbours. I lost the peak season of preparing the raw mango pickles. Sales picked up in August, and slowly my customers are coming back.  Now, I am planning to collaborating with some online web sites  for marketing and distributing my products

What do you feel are your accomplishments?

I have been able to gain an identity of my own through ‘Niwala by Mallika’ and I launched my brand and fulfilled my aspirations. Now, I find a new life where the roles are reversed and my husband and children lovingly taking care to establish me.

My greatest accomplishment is having led a contented life where at times I managed home and children single-handed. I am proud that I could do my bit in being a daughter, daughter in law, an Army officer’s wife, mother and now a mother in law.

My husband had an illustrious career in the Army and is now a retired Brigadier who wholeheartedly supports my dreams. And my son is a bright and brave Army officer and my daughter is working in the USA. Both are happily married and bring laurels in their respective field.

What legacy would you like to leave for your family?

In Life, cooking or as in all arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection. My interaction with people of different states and backgrounds taught me the importance of gratitude and humility. I want my family to be humble, compassionate and good human beings always.

How do you visualise yourself after ten years?

I visualise myself in good health, still able to enjoy my passion and enjoying the company of my husband and family. My pickles, and other products that I plan to launch become a household name. I will always endeavour to bring a smile on the faces of all the lives I touch.

What is your message to the readers?

I believe that the lady of the house is the backbone of the family. She plays a very important role in keeping a family knit together. I also feel that age should not be a bar to following your dreams/ passion, no matter how small or big they are. Whenever you get an opportunity you must grab it. The feeling of satisfaction and completeness that you get, can’t be expressed in words.

You can reach Mallika Misra On Instagram at ‘Niwala By Mallika’ or on Facebook.

Picture credits: Provided by the author

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Alumna of English and Foreign Languages University, Teacher and Academic consultant, Mother of two logic-

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