Well, reporting to the world from Hyderabad, still. I am starting to miss New Delhi greatly, though. So to cheer myself up, I went looking for another Hyderabadi passion. ”Crane Supari” 🙂
This is packaged sweet betel nut. You get one that is not sweet too. But I prefer the sweetened version.Terribly addictive, terribly fun.Oh , by the way, for those not familiar with betel nut, please read about it here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areca_nut
Betel nut and ”Paan” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paan ) remind me of three things.
1. My Grandmother
My paternal grandmother. A diminutive woman with an iron will. She was not really beautiful in the classical sense of beauty that is desired in an Indian woman. That is, she did not have a chiseled nose, full lips,big eyes etc. But few would/could forget her radiant smile ,that danced, both, on her lips and in her eyes. Or her laughter. Full, open, and un-restrained. When she laughed, I remember imagining a bird that has been set free from the cage.
Clad in finest cotton/muslin sarees in summer and flowing silks in the winter,she was showered with jewellery, perfumes etc by her doting brothers and husband. And she would take great delight in dressing up in them, helped by her vast array of maids.When my grandfather died, she gave up these ‘earthly” delights, to dress in a starched,stark white cotton saree with no kohl in her eyes, no vermillion on her forehead and no jewellery. The smile remained radiant,though became wistful at times.When I noticed that, I would ask her if she was missing my grandfather. She would retort ” Nah, nah I am thinking about that actor you moon about. Amitabh Bachchan ” 🙂
My grandmother gave away her all jewellery to her daughters and daughters-in-law.The only thing of ornamental value and design that remained with her was her “Paan box” with its numerous small silver boxes of various ‘paan’ ingredients, ‘paan’ leaves wrapped in a moist cotton cloth and a betel nut cracker with a silver handle.After every meal, she would make a ‘paan’ for herself and if she had guests, she would offer them, too.It was fascinating to watch her make the ‘paan’. The entire process exuded feminine grace, charm and I felt,it was much like the elaborate tea ceremony in Japan 🙂
( Photos are from the Internet,not mine. A betel nut cracker and ‘Paan” box. My grandmother had similar ones. Now they occupy a place of pride and memory on my dining room shelf)
2. Growing Up
All across towns and cities in India, one gets to see ”paan’ shops. Traditionally, they used to sell only ‘paan”, limited brands of cigarettes, beedis , local hard boiled sweets and sweet tamarind paste in little plastic pouches.Today, they have morphed into 24X7 utility shops stocking up on aerated drinks, mineral water bottles,biscuits, chips, all varieties of chocolates and even condoms. The transistor radio has been replaced by a TV hanging precariously on one of the walls. The ”paanwala” also no longer wears a “dhoti/pajama’, ‘kurta’ and red ‘gamcha’ on his shoulder. He wears jeans and a T shirt with strange messages emblazoned across the chest. One T- shirt of today read “Without Wife, No Life” 🙂
But coming back to the connect between ‘growing up’ betel nut and ‘paan’ shops. Well, the ‘paan’ shops were ( and still are) traditional male domains and bastions. It was the rendezvous point for teenaged boys and young adults. They would sit in the shop, order tea from the tea-shop invariably situated just next to it .And gossip feverishly about cricket and girls.Most importantly, they would not pay the ‘paanshop wala’ on a daily basis. But would have a monthly register of accounts.After the usual evening gossip session, they would languidly mount their bi-cycles and nonchalantly tell the guy ”Put that on my account”. This relationship between the young chap and the shop-wala was very sacred and adhered to strictly by both sides.
( Photo is from the Internet.This is a modern ‘paan’ shop. Back in the days, the shop was not that elaborately stocked)
Returning from school on our bi-cycles with my sister, I would watch this with great interest and longing.First,I desperately wanted to be a guy.When I realized that couldn’t happen, I wanted to do all these ”cool-guy-like-stuff” that was forbidden to girls 🙂 So, in Grade 9, I mustered up enough courage to cycle down to the ‘paanshop’ near my house , buy a ‘paan’ and bravely say ” Put that on my account”. The shop wala agreed ,though he was terribly tickled. This blissful state of affairs continued for a week till my Dad’s PSO found out about it and snitched. My account was closed un-ceremoniously. I was made to sign up for art classes after school. Where I proceeded to vent my anger by creating paintings that caused the art teacher to think I was mentally disturbed 🙂
3. Amitabh Bachchan & Don
Amitabh Bachchan remains my favorite Bollywood actor till date. Of course, the crush I had on him when I was 12-16 years of age is not that painful now.In my teenage years, I used to kiss a huge poster of his on my study room wall every night. A ”Goodnight” kiss.Sometimes I felt all naughty, daring and rebellious and kissed him long and loudly in broad daylight 🙂 This normally also happened after the inevitable firing from the parents after the inevitable miserable bad grades in Mathematics 🙂 I would try to forget my misery by calling forth my passion. Ha! Once, my Dad caught me ”kissing” Amitabh Bachchan. I thought my Dad would fly to Bombay and beat the s**t out of the poor, unsuspecting actor 🙂
And ‘Don’ of course is a most beloved movie. The ‘paan’ song is a legend like the actor. When ‘Don’ was remade in 2006, I went to the theater, all ready to hate it and rip it apart. But I didn’t.I enjoyed it. I saw the movie as essentially what it was perhaps meant to be by the director ,I think. A tribute to the legend that is Amitabh Bachchan. Here is the ‘paan’ song of the one and only ”Don” 🙂