Monday, July 26, 2010

Paan - Lucknow's obsession with the Betel Leaf

A Paan Shop
Chewing Paan has been an obsession in Lucknow from the times of the Nawabs, when Lucknow was known as Avadh. The paan also referred to as the 'gilourie' was consumed mostly by the royalty and was a symbol of sophistication and upward mobility. Movies like Shatranj ke Khilari and Umrao Jaan - both the 1981 and 2006 variants, portray the paan fetish of Lucknowites magnificently. Back then paan was offered to Nawabs in ornately carved silver cases known as Paan daans. The Paan daans had several small containers in it, each for the various accompaniments of Paan, like the Supari (Areca Nut), Kattha, Chuna (Slaked Lime) and various other spices usually consumed with Paan.

Today, every nukkar (road crossing) of Lucknow has the ubiquitous paan shop. The Paan walla, also known as the Panwari is not just a paan vendor, but also the friend, confidant cum agony aunt of all his clients. Chewing paan in itself is not injurious to health, but most of the paan enthusiasts like to have paan along with tobacco, which has harmful effects. Another side-effect of this habit is the spitting which ensues after a paan is consumed. Once a paan is put into the mouth, the eater will go into a trance like stage, where he will close his eyes and become silent for a minute or two. Within this time, the paan releases its juices inside the mouth of the eater, and then he is engulfed by an overwhelming urge to spit. At that time he becomes as dangerous as a terrorist wielding an AK-47. He saunters around as if in deep hypnosis, and releases the red concoction from his mouth on the nearest object that he decides to make his spittoon. A visit to any Government office or even the Lucknow University, and one can see the tell-tale signs left by the Paan eaters. This nuisance becomes even more nasty when people decide to spit out of moving vehicles.

Although the younger generation is not much fond of Paan, but the abundance of various brands of paan masala available in the market makes up for the lack of interest in paan. The spit of the paan can not only cause a stain, but as this link shows, continuous spitting on a metallic object may even cause corrosion and rusting, resulting in permanent damage to the surface.
I personally have a deep bonding with paan, although I myself is not a connoisseur of the same, neither do I particularly relish the taste of Paan. My attachment with paan is because my dad , my father-in -law, my uncle, in fact my whole family, with me being the sole exception, are all voracious paan eaters. Due to this reason, I have run numerous errands to the paan shop since my childhood. The local panwari knew me so well, that the moment he saw me he would start preparing my dad's favorite 132 masala, Banarasi paan.

Now that I have moved away from Lucknow, whenever my dad visits me, its my job to look for a good paan shop in the locality, as I know what my dad will demand first thing when he lands at my house. As I am presently settled in Chennai, I have identified a few good Paan shops here. Paan, is known as the 'Beera' here and is consumed mostly after lunch or dinner, but much more sparingly than its done in North India.

Way to go all paan eaters of the world, lets go paint the town red !, Literally!!


doctoratlarge said...

while paan is definitely less dangerous than tobacco, still the kattha and chuna can cause damage to the mucous membrane of the mouth.

Gautam said...

You are very correct in pointing that out. In fact, any habitual paan eater can be identified by the brown kattha stains on his/her teeth.