and is now all of a sudden all anyone can talk about. By “Maggi” we mean Maggi
noodles, the pale yellow ones with their distinct Maggi-ness, not the oats or atta
imposters that came in later. Maggi was never more than a junk food, even
though the advertisers tried hard to make it some kind of nutritious home meal.
“Dress it up,” they begged, “Put frozen peas and carrots in it! It’s all your child
|Yum, I love lead.|
Maggi in my home was such a junk food, it was a special treat. I remember when
I lived in one of those housing societies where everyone’s kitchen was in the
same place, and if you walk through a certain vent, you could smell everyone’s
dinner cooking. This was the 90s, the height of the Maggi explosion in India,
when everyone sang along to the happy mother in Maggi ads who said, “Two
minutes!” when her kids clamoured for food, and banged their forks on their
empty bowls. I smelt Maggi wafting out of at least four windows. “It smells like
home,” I told my mother wistfully, a story she does not fail to trot out now with
great indignation. “Here I was making sure you had healthy, balanced, tasty
meals, and there you were craving Maggi!” she says now. Of course, now that I
live alone, I would love to have my mother’s home-cooking any day over some
over-preserved instant noodles, but there’s kids for you.
The same really happy, really healthy looking kids toured all the food on
television in those days. There was a kid who boing-boinged out of bed when he
smelt sunflower oil on the stove, his mother making puris, and such was his
delight that he did a cartwheel right there, yay, sunflower oil! There were the
kids who drank Complan without complaining (a pun the copywriters should
have used back then, if you ask me), going so far as to boast about it, while an
undiagnosed lactose intolerance made me gaze gloomily into my glass every
evening, the milk brown with Bournvita or whatever, and already forming a skin.
I envied them as I envied the children shouting about “doodh, doodh, doodh!”
Then, there was the little girl who had a whole pitcher of Rasna, the lucky thing,
and who tilted her head to the right and said, “I love you Rasna” with such a glow
of health on her face that I wanted her life immediately. I wanted all of their lives.
But none so much as the Maggi kids, who demanded a snack and were given
something their mother was so pleased to serve them, so healthy, she told us, so
easy to make!
Of course, as the years went by, we realized that “two minutes” was that
standard Indian lie. More like two-minutes-ish. I grew suspicious of food that
was that easy to make. Just add water served me well through exams and late
night sleepovers at friends houses. I don’t think I ever ate as much Maggi as I did
in college, when we were discovering the joys of a midnight snack after drinking.
Maggi, made the way my friend did it with loads of chilli garlic paste and cheese,
was perhaps the opposite of the way the Maggi Mother intended, but it was
much, much tastier.
But even I, nostalgic in spots, child of 90s, haven’t picked up a packet of the
instant noodles in years. I eat them in extreme weather conditions on mountain
tops somewhere, where the starch and the warm and the feel of it are comforting
and soothing. On a pass in Ladakh. On a ski trail in Gulmarg. But after two days
up in Gulmarg, my body longed for something not so instant, so I got boiled eggs
instead, halved and stuffed with masala, and just as warming, if not more than
Maggi. In Ladakh, I veered for the chocolate section, great for altitude sickness,
and probably still not as bad for you as Maggi, it turns out.
Why the furor then on social media? Why the sadness? It came as a great
surprise to me. Surely people aren’t still eating Maggi as a regular thing, not
when we have access to so many other good instant foods out there? (MTR’s
range of home-cooked food comes to mind.) It must be the memories. We’re
conditioned to think old is good, and Maggi has somehow entered our
consciousness—this Swedish brand—as quintessentially Indian.
It was fun while the party lasted though. And I’m glad we’re getting more
stringent food checks. The last time I saw someone buy Maggi was ironically my
mother, who now that she lives alone at home has taken to eating it as a “guilty
pleasure” in her own flat. Meanwhile, I who longed for it so much, whip up three
course meals made out of organic materials.