Paandaan

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Paandaan or the betel leaf box (literal translation) was considered a part of every day meal routines and hence part of the trousseau. Most of the paandaan items were available in regular bartan (kitchen-ware) stores, or jewelry stores in the later years. Before that the jeweler was given the task of making it from silver. By the time my parents got married, they were given (as part of the dowry) a silver box with some pre-made paan (betel leaf) and some supari (betel nut). Every family decided what to give based on what they could afford and in some cases the boy’s family would say not to give anything because they already had everything and these things were handed down to the next generation.

In most homes there were two boxes. One heart shaped box to store the actual betel leaves and the second rectangular one with several compartments and little boxes to house the paraphernalia. These were made of a white metal or silver. The little boxes were almost always made of silver. The silver boxes would hold the wet ingredients like chunna (calcium hydroxide) and kattha (made from the khair tree [Acacia catechu]). Both these ingredients were also stored in their dry form in more silver boxes that were kept in the bottom of the big rectangular box. This box had a tray that had compartments and the bottom held all the extras.

Shashi’s mother Mohana Devi from Boggulakunta, Hyderabad showing the paandaan.

The rest of the supplies were lavang (clove), elaichi (cardamom), black supari (calcium hydroxide), regular supari , whole and chopped, zarda (tobacco) and khimaam (liquid tobacco which is mixed with dry leafs of tobacco before filling a pouch to keep tobacco fresh). Some people had saunf (fennel seeds) and dhania dal (coriander dal) in their paandaan and with different containers for those.

Some people used their finger to smear the chunna and kattha, some used the back of a tiny spatula which was also made of silver. Some people used wet chunna and dry kattha powder sprinkled on the chunna. Then you put the supari and elaichi seeds in the middle of the leaf and folded it to form a beeda (tube) and secured it with a lavang. The khimaam and zarda were always offered on the side.

The paan leaves are the betel leaves and have known medicinal benefits. In order to keep them fresh, the leaves were always wrapped in a wet cloth. This would make them last for over a week. It was a ritual to make paan after a meal each day. When you had a get together, you made a whole stash of them to offer to your guests after the meal.

Paan or the betel leaf box

In weddings, you had a selection of different varieties of the basic paan. The other additions were sukha khopra (dry coconut), gulkand (a mixture of rose petals and sugar cooked in the sun) toasted sesame seeds, sweet supari and tiny silver sugar balls. They used to foil the paan with silver leaves. While growing up I saw my grandparents generation chewing paan on a regular basis but my parents’ generation were occasional paan consumers.

by Shashi Sehgal

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