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.
I have always been interested in street photography, but never really went out with my camera on the streets of Mumbai as i used to feel to shy to photograph random street shots with people. Offlate, i dont really give a damn if people stare at me while I am doing my stuff. This lends a lot of freedom in composing shots.
On one such day i was out on the streets of Bhuleshwar, the Gujarati neighbourhood in South Mumbai. I used to pass through Bhuleshwar everyday while commuting to my junior college, but only on this particular day, i actually discovered Bhuleshwar. The alleys, the pre-independence Gujarati Wadi’s which still maintain that old world charm, the Bengali workers alley which has menus displayed in Bangla script and many other such small things.
The idea behind this photograph was to try to follow as well as break the rule of thirds. So i did the former by placing Swadeshi Market, Nilesh Optics and the people off-centre and the broke the rule by having the electric box bang in the middle.
But just the mere frames were not looking that great, so i waited till some people passed within that frame. These two people really brought the frame alive for me. Just began to wonder where they are coming from? where are they headed to? what’s worrying the lady so much? are the clothes behind owned by members of the hut on the right?
Street photography is addictive as well as challenging. My interpretation may not agree with many, but that is how I see the image:) Other interpretations are more than welcome:)