The Gift of the Mag(g)i

It is the ultimate symbol of the Indian student life rather, single life. Any trip to the Indian grocery shop would not be complete without picking up the delectable, branded as junk food of the highest order (competing closely with the big Mac),easiest meal in the world and bliss to the hungry stomachs abused by lowest grade-brown goo garnished liberally with glass pieces – tiny yellow packets. Yes, to the experienced I needn’t say more – Maggi.
I am not a regular consumer of these noodles. All the lure to eat this was drained out during my childhood when my mom steadfastly refused to make any of this at home and forbade us from eating any of this. She used to make awesomely tasty Hakka noodles and satiate my hunger for all things noodley. The only exceptions were those cup ramen noodles that my sister and I used to eat on train journeys after long walks, wobbling and rattling through bogeys after bogeys to make our way to the pantry car. I wonder why the hawkers never sold them in person. ( Now you know why I loved train journeys. It was the best way to pig out and eat all sorts of junk and delicacies – cutlets, chikkis, samosa, omlettes (the best one ever in Itarsi station), vada pav, kachoris etc. within a span of 30 hours) Okay enough of digressing from the main topic. All this resolve not to touch Maggi ended when I came to college and in the second year Nescafe made its way into all our pocket money and finances.

Exhorbitantly priced at 12 rupees, that small aluminium tray filled with yellow noodles cooked so slowly that one would wonder if they are just harvesting the wheat crop, became my dinner every single day of college. Of course, my health took a beating since I was getting the nutritional equivalent of butter. So in my fourth year when the health conscious conscience in me arose, I gave up all things Maggi. After eating it continuously for three semesters I could bring my taste buds to believe anything I was eating was maggi. The other factor being the seemingly healthier, cheaper and tastier option of oily omelettes and pav with cheap tea rose to popularity. To the uninitiated – J or Jhopdi was the hot spot to bust exam stress and all the tension about future plans. (Usually in a cloud of passive smoke).

Aah, I realize I havent really got down to what I was about to say. So ever since I came to the US, I have seen countless crates of maggi being bought and consumed, never giving in to the temptation to eat it myself. But yesterday was different. Insane work-load and unbearable anxiousness restricted my entry into the kitchen and I was left hungry and craving for something which would soothe me. Lo and behold! The answer lay in that small yellow packet lying at the very back of my pantry ( the section I call emergency purposes). I marvelled at how my brain automatically remembered where maggi was after so many months but doesnt remember the location of everyday spices. There is something about Maggi that no other dish can provide!
So when you are in a mood to tell your body ” Hell yea! You think you can brainwash me into feeding you everything healthy, now take this for revenge” Maggi serves the purpose. It left me feeling full, was finger-lickin’ good and was made in 10 minutes. (I really really really want to find out who can make perfect maggi in 2 minutes). It brought back memories of when folks roamed dark hostel corridors past 2 am shouting “MAGGI HAI?”, all the dirty kettles in the hostel sink with maggi stuck to the bottom or usual demands “Hey get me 2 packets from the supermarket no?”. No explanation for the packets was ever necessary. I also remember maggi trades happening and diligently noted. “Last week you took my maggi no, now that makes it 2 you owe me total. But I owe Shalini three so you can buy her one directly instead.” It is a way of life I tell you.

No matter what Pad-thai, Lo-Mein, Chopsuey, Garlic noodles at P.F Changs or Udon noodles you name, Maggi is ingrained in the psyche of every Indian student. Soul food indeed!

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A complete circle

I was sitting on my bed and reading a journal paper, laptop beside me with at least some 10 tabs open. One of them being NDTV. It was 11:45 at night and sleep was just showing its first signs after all that cycling and exercise. I casually clicked on the tab to glance at the latest news and the world now knows what I saw. The mastermind, supercriminal and most wanted fugitive who managed to evade the mighty US forces for a decade was now dead. It brought back memories of 9/11, an experience that I would never ever forget.

Cut to 2001, warm summer Chennai evening. Mom doing her puja, I had just returned from play with Whisky and was giving him some water. The phone rang asking for my sister’s phone number in US. She worked in NY on the 78th Floor of the WTC North tower. It must be around 7pm. I ran upstairs, booted that ancient computer and gave the number. Then another call came and another. I wondered why so many people were suddenly asking her number. My mom got suspicious and asked the latest caller, must be atleast the 20th that evening. She hastily told “Nothing Aunty, official work”. Dad was home and eating dinner. I was now upstairs playing with whisky in my room. And then one of my sister’s closest friends called and told. “Uncle, turn on the TV”.

The next three hours were the most horrific of my life. Even as I type this, 10 years on, I can hear my parents scream in horror, the disbelief that something so awful can unfold and that my very sister is there under attack. Images that I never want to see again, but unfortunately captured by my brain flashed past me as I muttered “No, no nothing can ever happen to her. She’ll be fine.” With no calls being answered and the ultimate collapse of the towers, my parents lost hope. I could not believe what I was watching and was hoping against hope. I remember being so blank that nothing was entering my mind or getting processed. Amidst all the tears, the witch like boss of my sister announced over the phone. “We’ll let you know one way or the other”. One way or the other? What does she mean? How inhuman can one get, I wondered.

At 2 am, the phone rang. It was a long call, the ISD variety. I picked up the phone,heart thumping so loud I think the caller could hear and heard the voice that made me realize the value of life in an instant. Silence (time delay) followed as I barely muttered “Hello!”, I heard finally ” Chotu?” It was my sister. That instant is one I will never forget in my life. Ever. I could not say anything more and passed on the phone to my mother, who was in tears. We hugged each other and smiled. Whisky jumping around in happiness, confused and tired but happy nevertheless. The cold dinner was warmed up and eaten at last, hunger returning out of giddy relief. It was past 3 am.

For the next few months, horrific images flashed across the world with unbelievable headlines swamped across the front pages of The Hindu. It has been a long battle, the pain of loss easing a little, but never being forgotten. I know how hard it must be for thousands of people who lost their near and dear that fateful day.
I came back to reality, listening to the White House briefing. I smiled in happiness. “Finally! “I said to myself and thanked God for his blessings, the gift of life ,family and my sister once again. This is a day I wont forget. Just like the one 10 years ago.