Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A lesson in paan counting

Sure, you've counted currency notes many times in your life.
Ever try counting leaves?
I saw this man in Old Delhi, his fingers were flying from one paan leaf to the next.
What arrested my attention, actually, was how gentle he was with the leaves.
The photos can't capture that...the finesse and care with which he handled them.

When the counting was done, the leaves went into little baskets.
They were covered with damp cloth, to protect them from the sun.
And from this wholesale market, they went to little retail outlets all over the city.

If you're wondering what a retail outlet for paan is like, look no further.
I found this paan-wallah opposite Red Fort. See the leaves, hidden in damp red folds of cloth?
Next to the paan-wallah is a chai-wallah - with his trademark aluminum kettle.
These two guys are cultural icons of sorts, so this photo is almost a Delhi cliche.

Enough and more has been said about paan. Bloggers blog about it; paan aficionados dedicate websites to it. Bollywood celebrates it in song and dance. Mouth freshener, palate cleanser or digestive - whichever way you look at it, you either love it or hate it.

Me, I'm a firm hater. I don't like the sharp raw taste of the leaves. The lime irritates my mouth. And if that's not enough, here's the final decider - I'm so not into bright red lips. I
f you peer into my purse, all you'll find is a sensible brown lipstick for day time wear, and a sultry purple for the evening. I'll leave the bright paan-red lips to the Noor Jehans of the world.