It is not easy but still possible for a determined Indian to avoid Baba Ramdev at all costs. Imagine a middle-class man who struggles to make ends meet, yet does not hanker for an ideal male narrative that will give him jollies. He is Hindu but he does not wear his Hinduness on his sleeve. He does yoga but does not drown it in religiosity. He does not think of homosexuality as a disease. He does not buy the argument that celibacy makes you purer and gives you a platform to make statements that you have no business talking about. He is as happy to have a gild child as a boy. In short, he is a profoundly likeable man.
He is also, for all of the above reasons, someone who has no truck with Ramdev. He has friends who gush about Ramdev’s brand of yoga, those callisthenic exercises in which the guru sucks his stomach in and contorts his body into all manner of shapes. He finds the acts impressive, as he would a clown in a circus. That, however, is the extent of slack he cuts Ramdev. He would be damned if he let the baba tell him about politics or living the good life.
In spite of the ubiquitous presence of Ramdev, this man has so far kept the baba out of his system. But recently, he has seen the guru pop up in new and hitherto safe places. The baba is in the grocery store, smiling condescendingly from a pack of noodles. He is on the TV screen, appearing on panels and dishing wisdom. Hell, he is even on the radio.
The presence of worms inside a Patanjali Noodles pack is, therefore, comeuppance of a sort to this Indian. According to a report in DNA, worms were found inside a sealed packet of Patanjali Noodles in Haryana. The incident took place in Nirwana in Jind district. The aggrieved customer has decided to file a lawsuit against Patanjali.
The bugs in the noodles were not entirely unexpected. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has categorically stated that Patanjali did not seek its clearance for the noodles. Patanjai came back with the rather patronising riposte that since its pasta had been cleared by the regulator, it saw little reason in undergoing the process for noodles.
One wonders if any other company could have displayed such insouciance. Maggi, with all of Nestle’s power behind it, had to destroy tonnes of insta-noodles packets after the FSSAI raised concerns about the level of lead in its tastemaker. The 2-minute packs disappeared from the shelves within days.
The question is inescapable: Does Ramdev think he can get away with flouting processes due to his immense popularity and closeness to the powers that be? Is he cocking an Ayurvedic snook at the system?
The timing of the launch of Patanjali Noodles is suspect too. It made a splashy entry at the precise point when Maggi was facing flak from all sides. With little traditional marketing, Patanjali nevertheless gained mindshare quickly due to the seraphic image of its founder, India’s preternatural yoga guru and destroyer of all things immoral.
If there is one thing that marketing teaches us, it is that brand extensions work only when the extension gels with the overall personality of the brand. Which is definitively not the case with Patanjali noodles and pasta. In spite of the bastardised version of noodles popular in India, and in spite of sundry aunties now making fusion dishes with this snack, it would be a stretch to call noodles Indian. For Ramdev to appropriate it and add it to his growing product portfolio of chyawanprash and ayurvedic toothpaste is sheer marketing genius. If only he had done something about the insects.
In May this year, Ramdev was in the eye of another controversy when a medicine from his Divya Pharmacy was labelled “Divya Putrajeevak Beej” which translates to “son-searing seed”. Following an uproar, Ramdev clarified that the medicine was for infertility and did not work to produce a male child. He, however, refused to change the name of the product, saying a conspiracy had been hatched to malign him.
To be sure, there is a world of difference between worms in noodles and a putrajeevak. That May incident smelled like Ramdev, he with his ideas of the good and proper. That was the kind of stuff we expect from him, stuff that is entirely at home with Indian concerns. Want a male child? He has a remedy. Want to cure homosexuality? He will help you. Think AIDS has a remedy in the Indian scriptures and the focus on sex education is a Western import? He is your man. Any Indian neurosis that we can find justification for in our myths and traditions and social reality Ramdev is game to promote. I am sure he has a drug in R&D that promises Lord Ram’s adarsh purush qualities to its taker.
But noodles? That was taking things too far. Maybe the worms are a conspiracy, an Italian hit job or a Chinese takedown, orchestrated by an underground gastronomy ring hurting at a beloved dish being debased remorselessly as part of the baba’s ongoing cultural re-engineering.
PS: Newslaundry undertook a noodle cook-off to determine which of Patanjali and the since-returned Maggi noodles tastes better. The results were abysmal, with neither brand covering itself in glory. I have not tried Patanjali but I have tried the new Maggi noodles and they taste nothing like their former self. The tang in the tastemaker is gone and the noodles are stickier which, for insta-noodles, is a travesty. Sometimes you wish the government and the regulator worried about more germane things than the health quotient of a beloved, if lead-infused, meal.