Growing Up

Story of how Maggi noodles brought happiness in different stages of my life

You probably cook Nestle’s Maggi noodles, eat it and forget it. Hardly so in my case. This article is to explain and celebrate the importance of two-minute Maggi noodles in my life (and my sisters’).

I first came to know about Maggi noodles in 1985. Back then I was studying in 4th standard in Seventh Day Adventist school, Kohlapur.

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 brought it for lunch one day. It is a pity I don’t remember the name of this friend who introduced me to Maggi, but then thats where the romance lies. He made me fall in love with Maggi noodles and walked away.

“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.

In three months time we had to leave Kholapur in Maharashtra and settle down in Ballygunge Military Camp, Kolkata for the next three years. It was the most harrowing moment for me. I didn`t mind leaving behind 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 shifted. The four hens, that is.

I was most worried about missing out on Maggi noodles. In Kolkata, will I find a friend who would bring Maggi Noodles for lunch?

Our move to Kolkata coincided with my father buying ECTV – though this TV`s screen was only 15 inches diagonally, the television itself was 40 inches wide. It was so wide that when my cousins visited, we played table tennis` on 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.”

OK, there! I remembered his name.

“Ohh…what is it?” my mother asked.

“It is called Maggi noodles and is very tasty. Can we buy it?”

“No baby. That must be costly. We don`t make that much money, yet.” The ‘yet` in her sentence gave me hope.

“But father is always at work. Doesn`t he earn money?”

“Listen, why don’t I make kheer for you? You and your sisters love it, don’t you?” When I close my eyes I can still visualize the expression on my mother’s face at that moment. It was what I today know as please-accept-my-offer-for-I-have-no-other-choice expression. But back then I didn’t understand such expressions.

When I kept staring at her, she continued: “Don’t you think it makes more sense to spend that money on other things? You will anyway end up finishing it in two minutes.”

“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 Maggi’s advertisement was shot – the steam escaping from the yellow bowl in which Maggi noodles was being served made me yearn for it every time I saw it. I swear I even got the aroma each time Maggi’s ad appeared on TV.

First Maggi noddles pack we cooked at home

I must have watched the advertisement at least a hundred 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 how we should cook it. There were arguments on the approach to be taken, there were agreements on the risks involved. Everybody wanted it to work out fine. After all, it was going to be our first bowl of Maggi made at home.

My father was then posted in Akhnoor, Jammu and wasn’t in the kitchen that day to give his opinion on how the single pack of Maggi noodles should be cooked. Everybody else had a say.

I remember my sister, an athlete at school, saying: “Looks like cooking Maggi 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 poured more water than needed and over cooked it. After eating the ten strands that each member got we came to the conclusion that cooking Maggi noodles wasn`t an easy task.

Maggi noodles packs I bought with my first salary

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 each family member. After all, it was a day to celebrate.

Once again, we had a conference of sorts where it was decided that this time my elder sister would cook. She did a fairly good job. The Maggi in my bowl wasn’t soggy or too hard – just the right amount of water had been added. My father had retired by now and he also joined us at the dining table. He took a mouthful of Maggi, enjoyed a few seconds of bliss and turned to us and said, “Wow, this Maggi thing tastes good. Why haven’t we had this till now?”

At this my sisters and I looked up at my mother and let out a smile. After all, now we had grown up and understood why she would suggest kheer every time we wanted to buy Maggi. My younger sister came to my mother’s rescue, “I know dad! How did we even miss this?!”

We decided to do this often – a whole family get together with Maggi as the main attraction. For the next few months every time I would walk in with my salary, I would have five packs of Maggi noodles with me.

After a few months of the Maggi ritual, we forgot all about it and got busy with our lives.

Maggi love never dies, it just goes down deeper

Now the innocent yearning for Maggi isn’t there. One doesn’t have the urge to eat Maggi every day. It doesn’t double up as a evening snack any more. But when I see a pack of Maggi, in all its vibrant yellow glory, it starts talking to me. Like a long lost lover you suddenly bump into in the shopping mall.

“Hey, remember the good old days?” the pack of Maggi would ask me.

“Of course, how can I forget the first kiss.”

“You just couldn’t take me off your head,” the pack of Maggi would continue feeling proud.

I would just chuckle, and say “Yes…now when I think about it, it does sounds funny.”

With its pride hurt, the pack of Maggi would reply: “No, it wasn’t funny.

In order to salvage its pride, the pack would continue, “And remember the day you took me home to your mother? I loved it.”

I would smile back. For the memories this conversation has brought back are so strong that I can’t ignore them. I have to feel her warmth yet again, even if for a day. I reach out for the talking Maggi pack and put it in my shopping cart for a one-night stand.

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.

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