It’s day 11 of the lockdown, as I write this. I have had adrenaline-rush moments, during which, ladle in hand, I have dished out a full three-course meal. I have also had those pulling-out-my-hair-in-clumps moments, when I have wanted to club everyone and everything in sight with the rolling pin, which is now my everyday companion. My constant endeavour has been to prepare simple, one-dish, tasty meals, to save time, energy and sanity, but with varying degrees of success. But, I am now aware of one food item that can come to my rescue, on a particularly mad day. Curious?

Let me go back to the day the lockdown was announced. At that hour, the shops in my area, in Pune, had already closed, and not realising the impact of this sudden clampdown, I did not venture out. Our housing society’s WhatsApp group was buzzing with the women’s concerns about stocking up food and milk and other essentials, as also reports about how the sole open shop in the neighbourhood was packed with people, flouting social distancing. Addressing imminent hunger had become the most urgent and immediate issue.

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I tossed and turned all night trying to remember the provisions that I had at home, perishables like fruits and vegetables, grains, and so on. I had enough to last barely a week, and I was certainly not equipped for a three-week lockdown. The virus lurking around was threatening enough but now there was the imminent threat of depleting supplies. Through decades, I have watched my grandmother prepare for such eventualities. Whenever there were announcements of food shortage due to a transport strike or an arbitrary bandh, grandmother would stock up on onions, potatoes, rice, dal, salt, sugar and tea. These, she assured me, were enough for survival. I followed suit the next evening, when a neighbouring shop opened for an hour.

Though I’m not an automatic tin- or can- or processed-food-packet-opener, I grabbed the packets. A drowning woman will clutch at a straw.

As I was about to pay the bill, the owner asked me, “Don’t you want Maggi? Madam, I have only two packets left,” he said, pointing at the empty shelves that normally packed with a large number of packets. It was, I could see from his face, an important reminder. Sensing my hesitation, he continued, “Everyone’s buying them. Easy hai na. Khana pakaane ka zhanzhat nahi (It’s easy to make. No hassles of cooking). I had to place an order with the supplier twice. All gone!” Though I’m not an automatic tin- or can- or processed-food-packet-opener, I grabbed the packets. A drowning woman will clutch at a straw.

I remember the time when noodles first appeared in the market, and the clever advertisement that promoted it as an instant food. Every child wanted its mother to be the cool woman who assured her hungry kids that steaming hot food would be served to them in just two minutes. That eating it for the first time was like tasting blood, for most kids, is a part of almost every household’s gastronomic history. A fresh food freak, the kids’ periodic demand for the stringy fast food, tested my patience. No doubt it was convenient and quick and, if you saw the expressions on the kids’ faces when they ate it, probably heavenly too, and what’s worse, highly addictive.

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While it was filling, I had serious doubts about its nutritive value. So, I added loads of vegetables, rationed the stuff, making it a once-a-week or once-a-fortnight fare, hoping that the kids would opt for ‘true nourishment’, as I kept extolling the virtues of green vegetables, sprouts, fruits, salads and the other wholesome stuff. Once, I even clocked the actual time needed to prepare the noodles, right from the moment of opening the packet and bringing out the pan, and boiling the water, and so on, just to prove that it took at least seven minutes, and they could stop banging their plates with spoons to hurry me up, chorusing, ‘Two minutes, two minutes.’

Though I have just surrendered to the sway of this fast food, I’m not a convert yet. I still feel like a pariah, standing on the fringes, watching the noodle-eating community make merry, while I choose to perspire

When the kids came of age, they often returned home with packets of noodles. They scrunched up their noses at all the carefully cooked, fairly tasty fare laid on the table, and gobbled up bowlfuls of noodles, infuriating me. They looked so satiated at the end of the exercise that I did not dare say a word. They’ll come around, I thought. At work too, some of my colleagues called up the canteen to order noodles. ‘What the hell do you like about it?’ I asked. ‘Ma’am, you won’t understand,’ they replied, their eyes wearing a dreamy look. I know they gave my ‘healthy’ meal a disdainful onceover, making me feel like a relic, and almost apologetic for eating ‘uncool’ food. But, if I thought it was just the youngsters, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have seen a toothless grandpa slurp up the strings noisily, a beatific smile on his face. My octogenarian mother’s eyes light up at the mere mention of the food. A young couple, who lives next door, stores dozens of the packets, because after a hard day’s work, they have no energy to cook elaborate meals. ‘Noodles, zindabad,’ they chorus. I have accepted now, that here is a staple food that has broken the barriers of gender, caste, class, age, nationality.

For the last few days, I’ve been sweating it out in the kitchen cooking three meals—breakfast, lunch, dinner, not to mention those extra cups of tea. I have been noticing that some of my neighbours look as cool as cucumbers, as if they are sailing effortlessly through the day. Our kitchens face each other, and we sometimes make small talk. Curious to know the secret of their uber-cool air, I asked one of them, ‘Cooking done?’ She dismissed me with a wave of her hand. ‘No tension. Maggi hai na.’ Soon after the lockdown, one of my colleagues went through a tough situation when she ran out of gas, and no cylinder was available. When I worried sick about how she would survive, she was calm, ‘Don’t worry. I have a microwave. I just made some Maggi.’ One day, I asked my sixty-plus house help, who has an alcoholic husband to contend with, how she manages to work in so many houses, and cook at the end of an exhausting day. She laughed aloud and said, ‘Nothing to worry, tai. There’s Myaggyi.’ My jaw dropped for two whole minutes.

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Maggi (I’m using this as a generic name for all kinds of noodles)—the instant, ubiquitous saviour. When the history of the pandemic is written, this stringy food is going to find a prominent mention. If you suspect that I’m a spokesperson for this food item or that this is a promo, perish the thought. Though I have just surrendered to the sway of this fast food, I’m not a convert yet. I still feel like a pariah, standing on the fringes, watching the noodle-eating community make merry, while I choose to perspire. But, I confess, the allure of a time-saving, user-friendly, tried-and-tested food item is great. Considering its possible expanding effect on my waistline, I’ll turn to it only during an emergency. Two packets lie in wait. And I have two minutes to spare. Otherwise, a bowlful of steaming hot khichdi is my ultimate comfort food.

Image Credit: Artem Labunsky on Unsplash

Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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