The betel leaf, commonly known as Paan, was first cultivated in Malaysia! From there it traveled to India and just like many other things non-Indian, has become a part of the nation’s psyche. I love paans, the ones without tobacco ofcourse. Nothing like a mouth stuffed with paan after a heavy meal.
Mumbai has many such paan shops, with glistening betel leaves welcoming you and the typical tinkering of the solid aluminum stick against the copper vessel containing the chuna. I used to think that Mumbai has a thriving paan culture, thanks to the evident red stain marks that one comes across everywhere. That was until i made a trip to a relatives place in Gujarat.
The paan culture there is mind boggling to say the least. Paan shops are mere hole-in-the-wall establishments here, but in Gujarat (Jamnagar in particular) there are proper shops with paan stalls. And these shops also sell other items like cold drinks etc, but paan is the primary source of income. The bewilderment dosen’t just end there. I was taken to places where there were around ten to fifteen paan shops located beside each other and still managing to do brisk business. Came to learn from my Gujju relative that many shops have an account system with their customers, who make monthly payments for a fixed quota of paans per day. And a daily quota of paans can cross anywhere from fifteen to twenty paans per person. Fascinating, for someone who is used to eating a paan and paying on the spot.
I wont even start with the varieties on offer. For instance, I tried a chocolate paan, which was a normal sweet paan dipped in chocolate and frozen. The choclatey dimension added to the raw taste of the betel leaf was quite good.
Ok Ok i know i am deviating here. Well this paan seller from Bhuleshwar brought back memories, so captured him on camera. The thing that really attracted me to his shop was the placement of the blue colored paan masala sachets which gave a sort of continuity to the blue colored doors of his shop. Also this is probably the only paan seller i have come across who had no hint of red around his mouth, a rarity in Mumbai.