Hyderabad: Not long ago, the streets of the city were dotted with vendors selling betel leaves. While a few set up stalls on the pavements, others preferred to move around on foot or bicycle, selling one of the most sought after essentials in the days of yore. After all, what is life without the flavour of ‘paan’?
Scenes of a youngster holding a few betel leaves in his hand and a basket hung around his neck, shouting ‘paan lelo paan’ were regular at public places, especially at Dabeerpura, Yakutpura or Malakpet railway stations, the CBS bus hangar and the Charminar and Afzalgunj bus-stands.
‘Paan’ has always been an integral part of Hyderabad’s culture for centuries. After a sumptuous meal, many look out for ‘paan’. During the Nizam’s era, it got a royal touch with members of the ruling elite, nobility, courtesans and also the ‘aam aadmi’ turning to ‘paan’.
Integral to Hyderabad
Says historian Mohammed Safiullah: “The Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan, sourced and stocked betel leaves from a shop near Jilau Khana in Laad Bazaar. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the seventh Nizam’s rule, one of the noted personalities of that era, Raja Dhanrajgir, presented a golden ‘paandaan’ (betel leaf container) encrusted with the royal emblem.”
The practice still continues, although the new generation is not too familiar with the sophistication of ‘paan’ making, looked upon as a sign of culture and good etiquette in the bygone era. Earlier, several families used to have a ‘paandaan’ at their house with the elders making it a point to offer ‘paan’ to guests.
“The practice has stopped to a large extent and as a result, shops selling betel leaves have come down,” says Rashed Khan, a betel leaf seller of Charminar. What one misses nowadays is the scene of elderly women buying the leaves and then keeping them in a small cloth before tucking it away in their purses.
Buying ‘paan’ was also a responsibility for youngsters, failure in which attracted an angry stare from the elderly women in the house. One would also notice youngsters stopping their bicycles and scooters near the ‘paan’ shop and saying “Do rupiya ke dedo aur ek choti chunne ki dabbi bhi chicha.”
“Prices of loose betel leaves have increased over a period of time. Now we sell 12 to 15 leaves for Rs.10. Earlier, people used to buy it in hundreds, especially during festivals. Now, the highest we sell to an individual is 20 leaves,” says Zaker, a ‘paan’ vendor at Engine Bowli.