The recent brouhaha over Maggi Noodles reminded me of the central paradox of O. Henry's short story The Gift of the Magi. The clever story, among other things, brilliantly exposes the inherent flaw in the Western culture of obsessive gift-giving. The obsession over gifts often exceeds the underlying reason for the gift. That might just be the biggest curse that accompanies every gift.
Oh and the almost homographic words - Maggi and Magi. Maggi is one of the world's best known food brands founded in Switzerland in 1872 by Julius Maggi, an inventor of precooked soups and sauce. Magi (pronounced - "may-jaai"), an ancient word with many meanings, generally refers to the three biblical wise men who gave gifts to baby Jesus thus partially initiating the baffling ritual of Christmas gifts that haunts parents across the world every year for months.
My kids have always loved Maggi noodles, just like a generation before them did. They specially like the way I cooked them and I am not telling anyone how I do it. Or did it - I guess - who can make Maggi noodles anymore without feeling liking a horrible parent?
For folks of a certain age who grew up in India, the phrase 'School Se Aate... Dhoom Machete' has a very special meaning. That jingle was all powerful when Maggi Noodle stormed the scene in the late 80s in India - it was a sort of gift, a blissfuly granted wish. A simple and quick, uncomplicated snack - as against the often arduous ritual of Indian cooking. And like most gifts, it came bundled with a curse. If not necessarily the curse of lead, lard and MSG, then at least that of unleashing a new style of food that brought Western style processed, middle-of-the-grocery-store diet to a population that didn't really need it.
The food consumed in India now is very different from when I grew up of course. Back in those days, there really wasn't much of processed carbs to be found around anywhere. You generally knew or could trace back the ingredients of anything. Everything was 'local'. The reasons had little to do with health consciousness and more to do with practicalities of economics and commerce. But be that as it may, it was healthier nonetheless.
While the advent of modern Western culture brought great gifts to the third world, it also opened its unsuspecting citizens to the curse of fast food, processed carbs and sugary drinks. A curse that eventually may literally outweigh the benefits.
The photo has the little one devouring her favorite Maggi noodles, perhaps for the last time, during week #273 of the 300-week photo project.