Sunday, January 01, 2006

YEH PAAAN HAI MUST MUST





Many urbane people look at the habit of chewing paan with dismay and askance. However,it is a very popular custom among rural and many urban Indians as well. Chewing paan-supari or beetel-leaves with chuna and arcanut is an addiction with some and an obsession with many. It is considered to be one of the keys to good health,wealth and prosperity. On any auspicious occasion,the function remains incomplete without distributuion of paan and supari among the invitees. Perhaps this practice has been in existence from Vedic times.

Our physicians of yore had discovered paan and found it to be useful for sharpening of appetite and digestion of food. Paan also acts as a germicide in a small way and helps human beings to keep their alimentary canal clean. Beetel chewing not only arrests the fermentation and formation of gases;it also helps to conceal the bad smell in the mouth formed by residual food particles.Consumed in moderation,the use of paan in the morning checks the formation of phlegm and helps in clearing the bowels.

And paan is a great leveller. Whether rich or poor,upper caste or lower caste,educated or uneducated,employed or unemployed,he or she gets attracted to paan like bees to a flower. Paan is associated with Goddess Lakshmi. Men and women are supposed to please Her by chewing paan and receive her blessings. "Thaambula dhaaranam karishye",says the worshipper.

Paan industry is a huge multicrore industry in India. And even in Pakistan,Bangladesh and Nepal,paanchewing is a popular pastime. Sophisticated people though,prefer paan masala a la 'paan paraag' to the basic paan and chuna and beetelnut. Companies manufacturing these products have massive advertising budgets and splash their products over newspapers and televison. They rake in huge profits. Some of them even get mixed up with the underworld mafia.

My father was a great afficianado. In his youth, he suffered from severe tonsilitis. He would lose his voice often,albeit temporarily. And those days surgery was considered to be very risky. Doctors advised him to cultivate the habit of chewing paan with some tobacco in it. He continued this habit for 70 years almost till his last days. When he went abroad,and he travelled extensively,he would take his quota for a few days with him. Replenishment would follow courtesy the pilots of Air India.In one of the cocktail parties,his foreign guests were amused at his habit of paanchewing and the host wanted to taste a paan.When he was offered one,he immediately ejected it out of his mouth saying "how horrible". And later when wine was offered to my father he spit it out in front of his host.They had a hearty laugh.Such was his loyalty to his paan.I too got slowly attracted to this habit and have enjoyed my paanchewing though I have never been able to match him in his consumption rates. He preferred to chew only madrasi paan though other varieties like poona paan,banarsi paan and kolkata paan are also available.

Paan making is an art in itself. Each heartshaped paan is given a layer of chuna and filled with perfumed supari or just broken arcanut and folded with silver foil before placing it in the mouth. Then comes the period of ecstacy when you chew it to your heart's content and after completion spit the reddish liquid out.Government offices are famous for the red colour melange in their walls which bear mute witnesses to the indulgences of the babumoshais. In some cases the paan is split into two down the middle.The two halves are placed together.The fingers are then dipped in a pot containing thick lime & water solution and the top half-leaf is coated with the white paste. It is the alkaline substancce that protects the mouth from the sharp pungency of paan juice. Then a brown liquid would be applied over the white paste and then the green,brown and white tones of the paan form a perfect foil to the spices that are to follow. Finely grated supari,cardamom.fennel seeds,gulkan etc are then added and then the paan is wrapped to form a small cone and held together with a clove stuck through the edges.

Particularly after a hot and spicy meal,the cardamom,fennel and cloves act as chasers. Some paanlovers even have it with jarda or perfumed tobacco. Paan is considered to be an aphrodisiac,an inexpensive substitute for the modern Viagra.Not always though.There are paans which can cost a king's ransom.

The Oriyas refer to their paan as gundi paan.The 'beeda' is popular in the South.It has coconut shavings added to the paan.The Banarsi and Kalkatta meetha and theeka varieties, I suspect, are the most popular,at least in Mumbai. When I have a heavy meal paan is a must. My favourite paan shop is about 10 minutes walking distance from our house. Rammurat and Shriram run a thriving business.It is called Ram paan Parlour. The gliterrati of Mumbai come driving down in hordes in their imported cars to pick up their favourite banarsi or kalkatta meethas. Late Dhirubhai Ambani used to drive down in his Mercedes,chat with the Ram brothers and take back with him about 2 dozen paans. Kokilaben, Tina,Anil and Mukesh and the family continue to patronise the Ram Pan parlour after Dhirubhai's demise though they prefer to have their paans collected by their liveried chauffers who drive down in a Maybach or an Audio. The Ram brothers often fondly recapitulate their conversations with the late Dhirubhai.

Prices vary from Rs 10 to Rs 1500 per paan.They are other paanwallahs who sell even more expensive paans. What they contain is anybody's guess. Like Deve Gowda our ex-PM who likes to call himself a 'humble farmer',I like to remain as a 'humble paanchewer'. I stick to the Rs 10 variety.The Ram brothers make it to my specs and I get the bang for the bucks.

21 comments:

shanaya said...

That was a very nice read. I have never really thought much about paan - it made me feel like stepping out to eat one.

gs said...

thanks shanya.i am glad you liked the posting on paan.i recommend one paan a day for general wellbeing.

rums said...

uncle your post reminded me of my grandmother. she used to carry around an ornate box which contained all her pan stuff. during holidays when my cousins and i visited her we would crowd around her box after lunch and would be given a pan each. after that all the adult women of the house would sit in the verandah, eat pan and gossip to their heart's content.

gs said...

rums,like i said,paan chewing has a long tradition.when i got married,my mother presented me with a silver paan box which could keep upto about 15 paan leaves,chuna and arcanut neatly compartmentalised.i suppose,it signified my graduation from a brahamachari to a grihasta.i used to carry it to my office much to the amusement of my colleagues.

Lulu said...

hi appa
this is one of your best blog posts. made for a great read. i love meetha paan and also the good ols vethalai paaku!

gs said...

thanks lulu,i am happy you liked it.it could have been shorter.brevity does not seem to be my forte.dna have a perennial problem with my 'special interest' column.they want no more than 500 words and pictures.i give them pictures for every subject and about 700 words.they end up chopping one of the items!.

it would be interesting to find out whether there are paanwallahs in london.i must also write about that mucchonwala paanwallah at napean sea road warden road corner.
that would be an interesting read.his clientele and the money he makes.i am told he even has a website.and of course his impressive and long moustache a la veerappan.

monish said...

hi gs,
please tell us the effect( both good nd bad)of eating arcanut on human body.

Rahmanic Ritesh said...

Please can u tell me an estimate percentage of population consuming?and also Industry value sa to how big is the Pann Industry in India and Mumbai........

Thanks GS

gs said...

hello rahmanic ritesh
that is a very interesting question.i don't have an authenticated information. but if we take 10% of the population of india as paan consumers,you get a figure of 100 million or about. the paan masala industry value is about Rs 4000 to Rs 5000 crores. i guess the paan industry will be about half of that.i.e about Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 crores. these are all ballpark figures.

Rahmanic Ritesh said...

thanks gs for answereing the prev question

here comes the second one ........i hope u will help me on this too and the subsequent question i ask(if any).

i think that many Rich population would want to consume Paan but the status comes into picture for them(except people like Dhirubhai Ambani).......they may think that consuming paan is a bad habit and is followed by middle and lower middle class, so it is a negative status symbol for Rich guys.
Now i got 2 question on this
1) Is it bad to get the taste of our culture?
2) Wont these rich guys consume Paan if it is offered at a premium price say Rs30-40 per paan, which suits their status?

what do u thibk of this ...?

gs said...

hello rahmanic ritesh
you seem to be doing a study of the paan market.paan chewing is a national habit.of course there are exceptions.some consider it to be a bad habit.which really is not true.one paan a day after meals is a healthy habit.like anything in excess is bad,so is paan chewing.
the rich like to have their paan prepared under hygienic conditions.they also want to be very sure of the ingredients that go into the paan and are prepared to pay the price.premium priced paans already exist.and the rich patronise the paanwallahs who prepare expensive paans.
branded paans can entice the not- so- willing people to chew paans.and they will be prepared to pay a premium price.

Rahmanic Ritesh said...

oh thanks a lot gs for heloing me out

actually interest started developing in my mind when i came accross your blog thru a general search on pan and related queries.......

the way u have put up each and every thing and explained paan consumption pattern from so many different angles is outclass ....this is what lead to creation of such questions .........
well gs am keen to ask u more such questions if u would like to take this discussion
ahead...........
:)

Rahmanic Ritesh said...

hey GS ......its long time u haven't replied .......

we have been missing ur presence on the blog .......please spare some time to post in ur broad views on this topic to take this disccussion ahead......


thanks

gs said...

hello rahmanic ritesh:
very sorry to have missed your comments.actually,i travel a lot on company work.i miss the internet on some days and some emails get lost(hidden) in the heap that i download later.i am no authority on paan;but i like such discussions.please feel free to shoot any questions that you have.

Rahmanic Ritesh said...

hey gs am so happy to see you back ........
u know i had lots of questions and i think ur the rite person who has got such a lot of info on paan industry ...........actually am an MBA student residing in mumbai ....i wanted to do a marketing project on any product so i thought why not take some weird product which no one can think of...take such a product which is mass and its still not branded ...immediately wht cliked my mind was paan .......i googled it and got ur blog as the first search result ......
can u just mail me ur gmail or yahoo id so that we can have a chat on a messenger instead of blogging, cause clear a doubt it takes so many days ....so i hope we can chat abt this and u wud provide me all the assistance needed to complete my project .......i want my project to be the best ....so please i hope for ur assistance....

:)
riteshvarma4u@gmail.com

gs said...

hello ritesh
i can certainly help.that is not an issue. i travel frequently out of mumbai.that is a problem.though i carry my laptop with me,i often just don't get the time to blog.my knowledge of paan is very limited.therefore,don't have high hopes.my email id is gopgop28@gmail.com.i am in orissa now and will be back in mumbai on saturday 3rd jan. happy new year.

gs said...

hello ritesh
i can certainly help.that is not an issue. i travel frequently out of mumbai.that is a problem.though i carry my laptop with me,i often just don't get the time to blog.my knowledge of paan is very limited.therefore,don't have high hopes.my email id is gopgop28@gmail.com.i am in orissa now and will be back in mumbai on saturday 3rd jan. happy new year.

gs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Anonymous said...

hey gs....i was jus' goin through wikipedia to know the ideal menaing of jarda in eng is when i found this blog!! it was a real pleasure to go thru the column as m a gr8 paan chewer myself!! i like it with supari n jarda only, sometimes a lil' bit kimam on it. my father's family r hardcore paan chewers.. n i started following it religiously 1n half yrs back!! n now m quite surprised to find out only when i calculated myself that my financial status has really improved buddy!! m pleased n perplexed ol at the same time though!! is it really true?? i wish it is!! but nways its a pleasure to have paan n read such n article on it!! keep up!

gs said...

hello anonymous
pan-chewing is a good habit. keep it up;but only in moderation. avoid tobacco and jarda, if possible. health,wealth and prosperity will surely follow!