A lazy Sunday morning, a good book to read and a steaming hot bowl of Maggie were the epitome of happiness for me for as many years as I can remember. I remember the time I used to collect the WWF stickers of wild animals that were inside Maggie packets as a promotional gimmick sometime in the 80’s. I remember the one time I opened a Maggie packet and found no Masala inside and spent many happy afternoons contemplating sending them a letter and then receiving a life-long supply of Maggie as compensation as a 12 year old. I remember innumerable midnight birthdays in the college hostel where Maggie served as both the main course and cake. Maggie was such an essential part of almost every urban kid’s growing up years in India that it was impossible to imagine life without it. Friends who went abroad fretted about the availability of Maggie there and the loss of a favoured 5 o’clock snack. Life was simple and gastronomically satisfying in just 2 minutes.
And then the most unexpected blow fell on the Indian Maggie-lover after decades of consuming copious amounts of the stuff. According to a test conducted by an obscure laboratory somewhere near Delhi, Maggie was found to contain high levels of lead harmful to humans and was promptly banned. It was unbelievable. What compounded the sense of disbelief and betrayal for us Maggie lovers was the complete silence from the Nestle family. Not one statement to refute these claims. Not one advert to tell us that they were fighting these allegations. It was bewildering. I wonder if it was supposed to be a well thought-out strategy to not fan the flames of the media frenzy around this controversy. I am not sure it worked though. It just gave the haters and the cynics more room to denounce the most loved snack in India and the loyalists room to doubt and worry.
For those who aren’t aware about the reach that this single product had across India, it is enough to point out that Maggie controlled almost 85% of the noodle market share in the country. Suddenly, it has been yanked away leaving this gaping blank hole in its place. Maggie’s main strength had always been the secret of the spices in its masala mix. No other noodle has quite managed to bring that uniquely Indian flavour to a dish that is considered patently “Chinese”. Since the controversy, most students/ bachelors and sundry grown-up noodle lovers had reluctantly and under duress shifted to brands like Yippee and Top Ramen. Nobody was happy.
And, finally, after months of waiting for the courts to decide the fate of this much loved and now much-maligned comfort food, Maggie is once again back in the Indian markets. Once again, I am underwhelmed by their low-key marketing strategy. If they are back, they should have done so with a bang big enough to blow away any residues of doubts in the minds of the Indian consumers about its suitability for kids and adults alike. Instead, this tentative dipping of the toes into the Indian markets is leaving people like me who had spent their entire lives contributing to the Maggie noodle profit quota distinctly unsure and uncomfortable about eating it again.
Wake up, Maggie. Reassure us. Win us back. We so desperately and obviously want you to.