You probably cook Nestle`s Maggi noodles, eat it and forget it. No so in my case. This blog post is to explain why Maggi has been such a big thing for me, and my sisters.
I first came to know about Maggi in 1985, when we were about to leave Kholapur (in Maharashtra) and settle down in Ballygunge Military Camp for the next three years. Back then I was studying in 4th standard in a Seventh Day Adventist school.
Nestle had introduced Maggi in India in 1983 and by 1985 students with rich parents had started bringing them for lunch. I first tasted it when my best friend (and I forget his name now) brought it for lunch one day.
“How do you eat this?” I remember asking.
“Simple. Just hold a strand between your thumb and index finger, keep it high in the air and slide one end inside your mouth.”
We were late for our next class. Lunch had taken up a long while that day – and why not? Each strand had to be separated, held up and slid inside the mouth slowly.
With time, I became an expert at eating noodles. To tell you the truth, when my friend wasn`t looking….I would cheat. I would pick up a couple of strands and stuff them into my mouth.
Like I said, in three months time, we had to move to Kolkata. It was the most harrowing moment for me. I didn`t mind leaving behind Kholapur`s red mud, my friends, and the four hens I had been rearing in our garden….for I knew my father would anyway kill them (and eat them ) before we shift. What bothered me most was: Will I find a friend who would bring Maggi for lunch?
Our move to Kolkata coincided with my father buying ECTV – though this TV`s screen was only 15 inches…the TV was 40 inches wide. It was so wide that when my cousins visited, we played table tennis` over its top even as the rest of the family watched Doordarshan.
It was on this ECTV that I first saw Nestle`s advertisement for Maggi noodles. When it appeared again, I pulled my mom before the television set and said: “Mom! Look Maggi Noodles. This is what Vikas Talpade used to bring for lunch.”
“Ohh…what is it?”
“It is called Maggi noodles and is very tasty. Can we buy it?”
“No baby. That`s for the rich. We don`t make that much money, yet.” The ‘yet` in her sentence gave me hope.
“But father is always at work…what does he do? Doesn`t he earn money?”
“He does baby. But we would rather buy rice so that the whole family can eat instead of buying noodles, which you will finish in two minutes.” I still remember my mom had a caring expression when she said this.
“But mom, when they say two minutes it is not about eating….it is the cooking time.”
My mom just smiled and went back into the kitchen. I stood there waiting for the advertisement to appear again. I loved the way steam escaped from the yellow bowl in which Maggi noodles were served in the advertisement. I swear I even got the aroma each time it appeared on TV.
I must have watched the advertisement at least twenty thousand times before I bought my first pack of Maggi noodles – sometime in 1994. It was my first scholarship money from school.
With great pride I walked into the house carrying a Maggi Noodles pack. My two sisters, my mother and I spent an hour looking at the Maggi Noodles pack and trying to understand the cooking procedure.
I remember my sister, an athlete at school, saying: “Looks like cooking noodles is not a marathon…but a 100 meters race…if you make a mistake, there is no time to correct it.”
She was right. My mother over cooked it and after eating the three strands each that all in the family got…we came to the conclusion that Maggi noodles wasn`t a tasty snack. I had my doubts, though.
In January 1999, I got my first job – with The New Indian Express. On Feb 5, after withdrawing my first salary and buying a shirt for my father and a saree for my mother….I bought five packs of Maggi Noodles. One each for my family members.
Once again, we had a conference of sorts where it was decided that my elder sister would cook this time. She did a fairly good job…and we had great fun. We decided to do this often…at least once every month…after I got my salary.
After a few months of the Maggi ritual, we forgot all about it and got busy with our lives.
After eight years of a Maggi less life, I had my first taste of the famed snack on April 15, 2008 – after my wife Rekha went on a 30 day vacation. Ever since, I must have had Maggi at least 30 times….and I tell you it still holds its own in the World of snacks. Just that it takes more than two minutes to cook….must be at least 5 minutes if you use the microwave oven!
Nestle started to advertise Maggi 2-minute Noodles during the ‘Hum Log` broadcasts on Doordarshan. Just in case you didn`t know in 1984-85 ‘Hum Log` reached 60 million TV viewers. Nestle`s plan paid off and soon enough the volume of demand for Maggi Noodles increased from none in 1982 to 1,600 tons in 1983. It would go on to become 15,000 tons in 1998. I don`t have the 2008 figures, but I wouldn`t be surprised if it is in the 50,000 tons range. The marketing of Maggi Noodles became a case study on how to market a new product. Taking a cue from Maggi`s success, other companies started thronging Doordarshan for program sponsorship. Thus, advertising rates went up and advertising revenues started pouring in for Doordarshan.