Monday, 15 August 2016

Happy Independence Day - 2016

This Independence Day, let's watch this Award-winning Short Film.

The language of the writing on the wall in the background is Odia

Sunday, 7 August 2016


Last week during my visit to a relative, i went around her beautifully manicured garden. Among the flowers with brilliant colours, i noticed a creeper with green heart-shaped leaves, luxuriously growing from a pot. It was the paan (betel) vine.

I requested her to give me a cutting and she immediately obliged. Back home, i cut the longish cutting into two pieces and planted in my garden, one in a pot and the other on the ground near a wall. Both the pieces responded to my love and care and started growing. Here they are:

Pot and pan

Climbing the wall

In India, the English word ‘betel’ for paan is generally not used; it is simply called ‘paan’. Many people love to have a paan leaf, or a half of it, stuffed with spices, after a meal. Paan is taken with zarda (a tobacco-preparation). Those who do not like the intoxicating taste of tobacco, take paan with spices like cardamom. Paan leaves are generally chewed in combination with slaked lime, flavoured areca nuts and other exotic stuff like aniseed, spices and, sometimes, other sweetening agents.  Often, the folded loose ends of paan are fixed with a clove. When tobacco-preparation is added, sweetening agents are not used. Catechu, a gum extracted from a kind of acacia trees (katha in Hindi, khaira in Odia) is also added to paan. Catechu makes the mouth and saliva red when paan with catechu is chewed. Paan without betel-nut and catechu is called 'bidia' paan in Odia. Such a paan is taken by persons who do not like lime.

Preparation of paan is an art. There are several ways in which paan can be folded. Paan can be rolled to become like a cone or can be folded to look like a triangle.

In rural India, paan is offered as a gesture of hospitality.  As paan- chewing makes the mouth red, in ancient India, it served the purpose of lipstick; many folk songs refer to red lips of young women.  

Paan leaves are considered as holy and are essential in many religious events in India. In Odisha, money offered to priests is placed on paan leaves.  Paan leaves are an essential part of marriage-rituals of Hindus. In West Bengal, the bride comes to the marriage pandal, covering her face with two large paan leaves. She removes them at the auspicious time for exchanging the first glance with the groom.

Paan is popular among many people in Odisha. Earlier, at the time of marriage, a paan bataa (small box with two layers and several small compartments to contain paan leaves, betel nuts, lime, khaira, various spices etc.) formed an essential part of the things given by the bride’s family. The box was usually made of brass and had several embellishments to make it attractive. It had a small handle at the top. People used to carry a batuaa  (a small handy cloth bag) with three or more compartments to contain various items for making paan and a betel-nut cracker. It could be closed by pulling the attached strings from the two sides. Some batuaas had colourful appliqué stitched on the sides. During modern times, it became fashionable to carry a modified version of batuaa to carry lip-stick, and other beauty-aids. Batuaa  was the earlier version of ladies’ purses.

Paan is the central object in a legend associated with the construction of the Konark temple. This temple was built by Langula Narasingha Dev, the then king of Kalinga (Odisha). Bishu Maharana was the chief sculptor. He used to work on the sculptures on the temple with full concentration and uninterruptedly. He had the habit of chewing paan endlessly. When one paan was finished, he needed another immediately. An attendant with paan used to stand behind him at all times. In order that Bishu would not have to interrupt his work even for a moment, he used to extend his palm back as soon as one paan was finished and the ever vigilant attendant would immediately place another paan on the sculptor’s palm.  The latter would put it into his mouth without taking off his eyes from the sculpture under carving. One day, it so happened that the assistant had moved away for a moment. Exactly at that time, the sculptor extended his palm for another paan. The King, who had come to personally satisfy himself about the progress and quality of the temple-construction, was passing by that spot at that time. When he saw Bishu’s extended palm, he took out one of his own paans and placed it on the sculptor’s palm. The latter immediately put it into his mouth. He felt that the flavor was different; it was more spicy and more fragrant. Surprised, the sculptor turned back. He was astounded at what he saw; the King and not the assistant, was standing behind him. He realized that the King himself had handed him one of his own paans! The attendant was not there. He bent down to touch the King’s feet but before that, the King embraced him and said, “I know about your love and need for paan; when I saw your extended palm and did not find your attendant, I gave you one of my paans so that your work should not be interrupted.”  The King’s paan had his own favourite flavor.    

Paan leaves are heart-shaped. Since love is a matter of the heart, it is graphically represented by a paan–shaped drawing with an arrow – arrow of Cupid.

Paan is an antiseptic that freshens breath and is also an ayurvedic medicine. It helps in digestion.

The term ‘chai-paan’ has a special connotation. Although literally it refers to hospitality by offering tea and paan to a visiting guest, it also means ‘speed-money’ to grease the palms of persons who have official power and authority to do something especially in government offices. ‘Chai-paan’, which is money several times the cost of a cup of tea and a paan, has sometimes to be given to move a file stuck in a Government office red tape or to grant a special favour, which may be legal or illegal.  

Paan Cultivation


I have seen some paan shops sport name-boards like ‘Beetle Shop’, ‘Bittle Shop’ etc.