The Rift of the Maggi

Maggi noodles has never been my comfort food. Unless you count the countless times it has helped comfort me from hunger away in a hostel that served consistently bland food. But I experimented. Maggi, Top Ramen, Yippee, Wai Wai. They all worked for me. I threw in a generous amount of tomato ketchup to get the right tang. Goodbye, soul wrenching hunger. But the health people can’t let us lie in peace, it seems. Exactly how you feel when you spot a red ant in the bottom of your lemonade glass – after you’ve finished it.

Maggi has too much MSG, it seems. That’s monosodium glutamate for you. Very bad for your health. It also has excess lead. Imagine lead! At a time when even gasoline comes unleaded. I experience deja vu about that time Coke had pesticides, Cadbury had worms and Dominos pizzas had filth (apart from loads of calories, of course). Unsavoury substances have a curious habit of penetrating the foods we love best. The big bad brands hide the realities of their quality systems to dupe us out of our money and health. Isn’t it awesome to find someone to blame for all our health failings in this age of cynicism, lifestyle disorders and absence of exercise?

Don’t get me wrong. I am neither defending nor bashing Nestle. The devil is in the noodles – um, the details, and let’s give them a chance to clarify. Maggi has been everyone’s favourite snack for a long time. (Not yours, I know. You are either a Top Ramen loyalist or a higher mortal who eats only salads.) I remember kids in school, hassled with their rotis and sabjis, fascinated with the kid who brought Maggi for lunch. For the Mom wanting to whip up a quick meal, Maggi was indeed a gift. Granny used to make us Maggi on cold Sunday mornings. She ignored the taste-maker and added a delicious combination of masalas and vegetables to the boiled noodles. I am lazier; I use the taste-maker generously. With time, I will admit, I have weaned off Maggi and switched to – no, not salads, but pasta. (Err)

I wonder if our years of Maggi are germinating into a physical disorder inside our bodies. What is the likelihood of lead poisoning from spoonfuls of Maggi as opposed to lead in the environment? (Oh, there are ample sources of exposure.) What about all those shops that sell variations of Maggi at a premium – egg Maggi, chilly chicken Maggi, et al? I am not overly attached to my noodles (or “Indian Chinese” in general), but removing them from the face of the country seems unsettling.

Anyway, while we are at it, we should also remove the flies from the sweet shop, the grime from the panipuri wallah, the roaches from our kitchens, the maida from processed foods and the lack of exercise from our routines. I doubt if we can do this in 2 minutes.

How Auto Rides are Killing Me

Auto Rickshaw

*Picture from https://housing.com/

If you look inside one of those omnipresent auto rickshaws in Pune and spot a particularly hassled passenger, it might as well be me. Wave out to me, Good Samaritan, and I may last out that bit longer. Why the drama, you say? Read on.

I cannot expect to always get an answer when asked to be dropped to a certain destination. The likelihood of an answer depends on the quality of my destination, the driver’s mood and I assume a few others unstated factors. I must learn to equate silence with either a “no” or an obnoxious fare.

They never seem to find passengers anywhere. My chosen destination is always either too close or too far, too crowded or too sparse, and always bereft of people needing an auto ride.

If I am lucky enough to find someone who will drop me, I may have to pay a good amount over and above the meter reading. It is apparently the half return fare and the drivers have the right to claim it. Why? See reasons above.

I have to be prepared to be introduced to new roads, lanes and turns especially if not familiar with the route. I have tried saying that the GPS tracker suggests an alternate route but am grumpily told that stuff is crap.

As a customer, I must carry exact change. I cannot expect the auto wallahs to have change when it is morning (too early in the day), afternoon (lunch time) or evening (rush hour). The little bundle of notes under the seat is meant to be taken out only in extreme circumstances, usually after a nasty argument.

I am facing severe withdrawal symptoms. I really miss the crowded, air-conditioned compartment of the Delhi Metro which barely let me stand yet always safely dropped me to and from work – all at very little cost. And now, all this auto-mated learning, all at once, is killing me. Help me, Lord.

A Celebration like No Other

Home

On summer afternoons, sometimes, I watch the sunlight streak in through the window and drop onto the floor. It is usually golden. It reminds me of sitting on the floor surrounded by sketch-pens and drawing paper, accompanied by a glass of lemonade, a bowl of mangoes and a very excited Mom. She laughs when I tell her about my reminiscence. “That is a nice and subtle way of saying you miss me. I had warned you as much when you were busy buying wedding saris.” To make me smile, she sends me pictures of the potted plants in our backyard. The colourful new blossoms dancing in the wind instantly cheer me up.

To be honest, nostalgia can be immensely absorbing. Ditto for foreshadowing. When I am on my own, in the solitude Wordsworth talked about so generously in his poetry, I find myself indulging in both. Going out into the evening to play Badminton with Grandpa. Fidgeting all around the dining room in anticipation of the chicken I could smell in Grandma’s kitchen. Penning down a perfectly crafted tale. Dreaming of my next vacation when I would see clouds peep in at my door. Planning my wardrobe revamp for Durga Puja in October. The exercise always ends with a bang – or rather, the ring of my mobile phone, a knock on the door, the beep of my microwave.

Interestingly, when I am transported back to the present, the little gifts in my life become evident. My husband returns from work and we have another glorious evening to spend together – something which was only a dream back when we were dating. Distant thunder rumbles in the sky and the plants in the neighbourhood park whisper melodies of rain. Little kids in the colony abandon their outdoor sports in favour of a game of table-tennis in the club house.  We stand in the balcony, holding hands and nibbling at potato pakoras.

By the time the first stars come up, we have fixed yet another date to renew our gym enrolment. We have also planned to spend the weekend re-watching our favourite movies, this time with home-made summer beverages in our special crystal glasses. “But I had kept them away for special occasions.” I complain. “Life with you is special enough to be celebrated every day.” I roll my eyes; he hums a little tune over and over till I throw a cushion at him.

In all the hard work that life can be, we end up taking so much for granted. A grumpy boss overshadows the satisfying work we are assigned; fatigue makes us irritable and oblivious to the peace that is home. Putting off all our plans for “when I have more time” makes our happiness elusive. We can see it up there – tantalisingly close – but never quite reach it. Over time, I have realized that my “big” moments in life have been as much that milestone birthday as that time Mom and I spent our Sunday watching television, eating pizza and singing Hindi film songs.

When the sun rises over our home every morning, I let go of a little regret, make peace with a painful memory, and forgive myself for last night’s show of temper. I wave at the plants taking in the early morning breeze. I eat a hearty breakfast, feel the sun warm my freshly showered skin, and celebrate the fresh opportunity to take stock, make amends, laugh. Then, I open a blank page on my word processor and proceed to tell the stories that have grown up with me. With every fresh word, I celebrate life – a celebration like no other.

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*Picture from imgarcade.com

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Coke and Margarita

I was drunk with questions after my large glass of Coke at the multiplex yesterday. Drunk without having been served a margarita, that is. One of my perennial concerns is the curious price of the glass, which I fail to arrive at even after factoring in all costs. The second pertains to audience attitude in the theatre. This is scary because it leaves me feeling depressed, out of place and at odds with the world.

What, for instance, can explain the presence of several babbling, very young children during the screening of Shonali Bose’s “Margarita with a Straw”? I, for one, clearly remember the A-rated notification that popped up when I made my booking. The parents figured a straw is for kids, perhaps?

MWAS

Another question that comes to mind refers to the peals of laughter that accompany cinematic love-making or allusion to sex. I can understand the giggles of a twelve-year old, reading about the quirky human body for the first time. It however is unfathomable when similar behaviour is exhibited by adults, seemingly mature and all there. If I manage to watch a “sexy” scene – or one that is low on conversation and background music – undisturbed in the theatre, I consider it a red letter day.

Anyhow, I felt heady after my Coke and Margarita cocktail and decided to look around a nearby bookstore. Splashed all across the Indian Fiction shelves were tales involving college pass-outs and their promiscuous relationships. The books boasted of colourful, vivid covers, to say nothing of their equally colourful titles. I Kissed You, You Didn’t. You are not my Only Girlfriend. It seems strange that a generation with such, err, vast experience of love, lust and all things carnal should giggle during a heartfelt attempt to portray a physically challenged girl’s sensuality.

Back home, I poured myself some iced tea and sat down to reflect. I figured I would need to be sober to hit upon just why the world seems to be growing shallower and more tiresome by the minute.

All and Nothing

Meera looked around the living room. Several years ago, it had served as the auditorium for her impromptu dance performances, set to the tune of the latest Bollywood numbers. It was in the living room that she had cut her birthday cakes, pored over Christmas gifts and spent many peaceful hours with her pastel colours. Tired out from her adventures, it was here that she had contentedly dozed off in Grandpa’s lap.

The room had changed. It now served as the venue for family squabbles and disagreements. Her entry to the room was no longer rewarded with little hugs, chocolates and attention. She often stood by the window, unnoticed, trying to tune out the cruel repercussions of the passage of time.

The kitchen too had suffered. The ceiling was dark; the shelves cobwebbed. There was no glass of lemonade on the counter, no bowl of coconut cookies. Her Grandma cooked silently. She occasionally stared at the lemon-tree in the backyard. The view from the window was sombre; the sunlight came down in what appeared to be a monochrome, all colours of the sky stripped away in favour of a melancholic grey.

Meera walked out to the balcony and sat down on the swing. Mom usually accompanied her and the two chatted about the strange ways of the world. On Friday evenings, they would wait it out here till the Dominos’ guy arrived with their pizzas. Presently, the swing too had changed. It was dusty, creaky, and generally ill-mannered. No wonder Mom had decided to stay away.

She saw a cab in the driveway. Dad must have called for an early pick-up, though it was several hours until her flight. Meera picked up her baggage and started to walk down the stairs. As she turned around to see what she was leaving behind, she was witness to an overdose of activity. The squabbles evaporated from the living room. The kitchen shelves filled with all conceivable goodies from the local grocery store. The swing blew itself free of dust and proceeded to sing tunes from her childhood.

A lot had changed back home. But, as the cab took her farther away, she realized nothing had. In the sanctum sanctorum that her memories were, untouched by time, loss and longing, her home would always be the best place in the world.