The sound of silence and Maggi
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Madhav Dutt
Art: Smrity Kushwaha
“Oye, Saand, get your ass to the changing room and turn the kettle on,” he ordered. “Saara saaman already arranged hai; cutlery is on the way. And Chottu, you stay at the door and keep guard. If any Master or Prefect comes, you better shake it and tell us in time.”
As Chottu (“Chottu” was better than “Saand” at least), I scurried towards the door and began my shift, trying my level best to look relaxed and nonchalant as I kept my eyes peeled for any teachers or prefects coming this way.
Fifteen minutes of complete silence went by, not a soul in sight. Eventually, I heard a rhythmic metal clunking coming from down the corridor. Another one of my classmates was jogging, carrying a schoolbag containing stolen forks and spoons from the school’s dining hall.
We had moved into our house dormitories a month ago, and “Saand,” one of my good friends, had already built quite a reputation as a master Maggi maker (both a blessing and a curse). Being a good Maggi maker meant you were liked by most of your seniors, but it also implied that they could call on you at any godawful hour of the day to whip up a few packets of noodles for them. Sometimes you were lucky enough to eat some of the Maggi you had made, most of the times you weren’t.
Thanks to said senior’s benevolence on this particular night, “Saand”, the silverware delivery boy and I were allowed to partake in the Maggi feast. The time neared midnight as we huddled around the square Tupperware container and dug our forks in. That inscrutable, hot Maggi masala scent filled the tiny changing room as we all shovelled bigger and bigger bites into our mouths, half an hour’s handiwork wiped clean in less than 10 minutes.
The quiet of the eating ritual was crucial. Rarely was a word exchanged as we ate, the only occasional sound was made by metal silverware knocking the plastic Tupperware. Peace and quiet was vital to the entire process of Maggi making and eating, since being noisy put our plans at risk in more ways than one. This point was even more important when we made Maggi without a senior’s patronage.
In a matter of weeks, we had become adept at maintaining pin-drop silence while making and eating the Maggi, all done to avoid attracting any wandering senior’s attention, since Maggi was the most commonly hijacked commodity around. Making casual conversation whilst eating noodles was a luxury reserved only for senior-most students, that too at later hours (normally 2-5 AM).
Having Maggi packets with you at boarding school was like having packs of cigarettes in prison— it served as a kind of currency, opening doors to power and favours. At school, outside food of any kind wasn’t permitted, so students smuggled “tuck” inside, any which way they could. When we came back from weekend outings and vacations, we’d fill up our bags and pockets with junk food of every kind, praying that the guards at the entrance wouldn’t check and frisk us. When we were being dropped off by our mothers or fathers, at times they would slip some cash over to the guards in the hope that they would look the other way, turning a blind eye to the schoolbags and suitcases stuffed to the brim with Lay’s chips, 5 Star chocolates and packets of Maggi.
The continually amorphous relationship students shared with Maggi was fascinating. For our first year in boarding (seventh grade), we were all placed in holding house, a kind of safe space with just our classmates and no seniors. Most of us brought Maggi, but not many had a kettle, immersion rod, or other means to make it. We would regularly resort to just wetting the dry cakes of Maggi, sprinkling the masala on top of it and then eating it like butter on toast. This tasted surprisingly good.
When we moved to the main houses, we learned the art of Maggi cooking: the ideal water temperature, the right sized chunks of dry Maggi to break down, the right time to put the masala in, which condiments go well with Maggi (cheese, chilli garlic spread, oregano, Fun Foods sandwich spread, to name a few) and, most importantly, the difference between “chip” (sticky as a result of too little water, resulting in the masala clumping up together) and “pich” (runny and far too watery, as a result of which the masala remains in the water) and the ideal balance one must strike between the two. It was a surprisingly nuanced affair.
In my final year at Doon I became extremely fitness conscious and decided to swear off Maggi altogether. Additionally, being a house captain forced me to at least make it look like I wasn’t getting Maggi made in the house by minions. That being said, when I look back at my time in boarding, some of the brightest and most precious memories were centred around a Tupperware bowl of Maggi and a bunch of friends, eating quietly, hearts content and stomachs full.
Madhav Dutt is a student in Duke University, North Carolina. He isn't sure which artistic medium he enjoys the most, so he's trying them all.
Smrity Kushwaha is a volatile feminist and a logophile, always on the lookout for the right words. 95% of the time, she is found doodling and bobbing her head to music and she dedicates the other 5% to the art of untangling earphone wires. Find more of her work here.