February 16, 2016

The day “lead in Maggi” news came out; I was least worried about being poisoned by lead. There was enough poison in our water, air, fruits, veggies, street food to make my immune system weather mild lead poisoning. It was also difficult to believe an MNC like Nestle would flout food safety guidelines. Then came the ban and that made me heart broken. Taking away the 2-minute solution to hunger pangs that was developed over years of childhood, college, and adulthood was a nasty blow. But who can challenge the rule of the land?

Mothers and wives are similar. For them ban on Maggi meant that the entire category of instant noodles was the culprit. While the rule of the land banned Maggi from stores, the rule of the house banned Yippee, Wai-Wai, Top Ramen, and anything slurpy and resembling noodles. I was crestfallen and without any escape route. Which husband in India would dare to change the rule of the house stamped and approved by his wife.

Then came the day Maggi was re-born post ban. I was excited like a kid in a circus. I was one of the first to buy a couple of packets from market. But the delight was short lived. Wife was not pleased to see me with packets of Maggi. I was reprimanded and given a quick gyan on health, excess lead, junk food, et al while she so gladly devoured paani purias if it was the food of the Gods! No amount of logic, cajoling, whining helped to convince her that the newly re-launched Maggi could be consumed without harm. All that she allowed was to finish off the couple of packets and never again buy them. That was the last time I and my family ate Maggi. After that it was only memories.

A ray of hope streaked through when Baba Ramdev announced that Patanjali Noddles will bring healthy atta noodles in the life of poor souls like me. Even though I am no fan of Baba Ramdev, I started eagerly waiting for Patanjali noodles. The hope was based on the fact that under the guise of Ayurveda and desi healthy noodles, I could savour the closest taste of my favourite Maggi. The day I heard it has reached the Patanjali stores, I promptly made a visit and bought a packet to try it. I went home excited and hoping for a pat on my back, proudly showed it to my wife. What I got in return was again an angry face and sharp rebuke, “It is still Maggi whether it is from Nestle or Patanjli. It is still unhealthy and it may still contain Lead.” I pleaded to at least taste a packet that I had brought with me. “I will give you tomorrow in breakfast and never ever after that.” From that day onwards, every morning I eagerly wait to see the Patanjali Noddles on my plate. And the wait continues.

The marketer in me quickly realized that this whole saga of Maggi has tormented the entire instant noodles category. Mothers being the primary gatekeepers of what their kids (and husbands) consume have suddenly become apprehensive. Perhaps the “lead in the noodles” still plays around in their minds as if cast in concrete. This sounds like a bad omen for Maggi, the fallen king, as well as Patanjali, the challenger. As exaggerated as it may sound, the category may take a lot of time and astute marketing to recover and stand up again. Or am I totally off the mark?