-Radhika Dang, 2nd year, ECE
As I laze around at home, reading a gripping Sidney Sheldon novel, while my younger brother rushes out to the market to grab a couple of packets of Maggi for our evening snack, I cannot help but ponder about what is it about these noodles that has the country mooning over its return.
Sure, it’s tasty. Cooking it requires basically no skill at all! (Though I have seen people who can make ordinary Maggi heavenly, but that’s a story for another day.) Slurping on its noodle strands with the corners of their mouths dripping with its soupy liquid, many people achieve what they call the “ultimate ecstasy” (believe me, that’s how a friend described it *sigh*). But never was it such an enigma before that catastrophic event (read: the Maggi ban). And ever since the ban on it lifted, its glory has touched new highs!—hostel students hold it again with reverence, tired moms heave a sigh of relief as their kids bother them no more about making new and more innovative meals- truly, Maggi fell down only to rise higher than ever before.
The hum of some ad (and NOT a song–no surprise there) playing on the radio makes it easier to think some more about this two minute snack that has recently gained the status of ambrosia in the minds of the people of this country. The moment my brother enters our front door, as if on cue, the radio starts playing, “Dil khush, khush, khushaam!………smile ko salaam – aa gayi maggi, maggi, MAGGI!!” –i.e. the new Maggi ad. Clearly someone just turned a really long ban into an excellent business opportunity.
Since we had a pact that one of us has to get the Maggi from the store, while the other one prepares it, it was my turn to head to the kitchen and showcase my excellent culinary skills. Great! More time to analyze (or maybe over-analyze) this phenomenal come-back.
Basic economic theory says that when the supply of a commodity falls in the market, its demand rises. In Maggi’s case, this rise was almost exponential. The social media had a huge role to play in this propaganda. Before that lead sample test tuned out to be positive, Maggi was the one constant thing everyone could rely on. Sure, it’s not healthy. But when you’re staying up late watching season after season of HIMYM(How I Met Your Mother), hunger is bound to strike right smack in the middle of the night. That’s when Maggi comes to the rescue. So when it was taken away, for many people, it was as if their way of life had been snatched away from them. They tried everything they say. Some stocked up on Maggi discreetly like the state of emergency had been declared, while others tried out different brands, though they claim that nothing beats the original taste. It’s not like the other players in the instant noodle industry didn’t take advantage. Patanjali, for one, did lots of quick business-their primary fans being parents who were sick of seeing their children devour Maggi and it’s other “maida” substitutes for years. Blessed by the baba himself, the product would have done really well had it not been for that tiny bug that found its way into one of the packets. Other brands too did some nice business. Our very own Maggi baba had to resort to being “Yippie-Baba” for quite a long time. But none of them could establish a monopoly until the reigning champion returned.
Before the ban, too, I was no huge fan of Maggi myself. I didn’t crave it like most of my hostel friends did. So it was no big deal having it only once in two months. Part of the reason why I didn’t like it as much could be their slightly ridiculous ad campaigns- how the irresponsibly lazy ad-mom feeds her children a bowl of trans fat and sodium and calls that a healthy breakfast. Or how one packet of Maggi is equivalent to a 3 roti meal and is wonderfully nutritious. So when it was marked unsafe a few months ago, it didn’t really affect my world by that much. What did bother me a little, though, was the hype around its return. Two days before Diwali, it hit the market again, only to be cleared off the shelves in a flash, starting the Diwali celebrations early. There was a sudden craze among people for getting their hands on Maggi as quickly as possible, now that it had been marked safe temporarily. Somehow, people have forgotten that even if it is safe, it’s anything but nutritious, contrary to what Nestle claims. Yet, it has become the latest fad among people. And Maggi is completely encashing on this opportunity. A new series of ads campaigning its safety, welcome back songs (thanks to that one, we get to hear some music on the radio.)- What not? And why shouldn’t they? No company should have to go through what Nestle has had to face in the last few months. They faced the worst kind of PR disaster and sales crisis. Their stock prices dropped, sales dropped, their factories were shut, and people who worked in those factories were suddenly jobless. Nestle is only doing what any company would to recover their losses. So great job, nestle. The Indian obsession with Maggi will surely help you recover your losses soon enough.
I don’t, however, think that it’s just about economics when I examine the possible causes of this sudden hype around “the Maggi returns”. Apart from a few people for whom their sole reason for existence is getting enough likes on anything they post on Facebook, the support that Maggi has gathered both online and offline is probably not because of its so called superior taste, or its “nutritious value”, but the emotional value that people have attached with the product. How hostellers ransacked every room in the night hunting for the last packet, or how one sibling stole a couple of bites when the other wasn’t looking, or how children prided over having prepared a better meal than their moms, while their mothers played along with them in good humour—Maggi has indeed been an integral part of our lives for a long time, and it is clearly here to stay. Too many memories are entangled in its noodle strands. I am reminded of some of my own as I ladle my now prepared Maggi evenly into two plates. I am not a Maggi loyalist, but every once in a while, being reminded of how our dad would entertain us both on Friday afternoons- with him assuming the role of the head chef, making us his faithful sidekicks, and getting us to eat all our veggies with Maggi while narrating wonderful stories of his childhood (for that’s the day he had his weekly off, and that same day every week, my mother’s shift ended later than usual.)- That small memory is priceless.
So this is where I stop analyzing the enigma that is this definitely-not-healthy-yet-strangely-lovable snack, for I have my own plate of Maggi to focus on before it goes cold. Because everyone knows there is nothing worse than cold, clumped Maggi.