India Chews Paan, Not Gum
Paan is a tradition of chewing the betel leaf that is age-old and deeply rooted in India. The heart-shaped betel-leaf, or piper betel, is preferably plucked when it is still young and tender, as it tastes the best at that time.
One of the most important ingredient of paan is the betel nut (which in botanical terms is not a nut, but a seed) the fruit of the areca palm. This seed is locally known as supari, its the most popular ingredient in a paan. Its narcotic value, which is appreciated by all chewers of paan, is due to an alkaloid called Arecoline which is produced when lime is added to paan. Its stimulating effect increases with excessive chewing.
A small content of a volatile oil called betel-oil in the leaf creates the desired spicy, aromatic and fresh taste in the mouth.
The Effects of Paan:
The chemicals in paan reduce inner restlessness and tensions in habitual paan eaters. However, these ingredients can also cause nausea, giddiness, perspiration and initial symptoms of poisoning in those who are not used to paan.
Chewing paan has also been linked to oral cancer as most paans have tobacco in them as well.
Paan in Indian History:
In India, paan has played an important part in social life and customs for hundreds of years. In the courts of the Mogul kings and other medieval rulers, the betel leaf or paan was offered as part of hospitality, friendship and love.
In the temple of King Rama at Orcha, the pan is given out to devotees as prasad or offering from the Lord since the temple is built as the court of Lord Rama and not as his shrine. In the temple of Lord Venkatesa at Tirupati the butter from the forehead of Lord Venkatesa, wrapped inside a pan leaf, is given to devotees as a special blessing from the Lord.
In classical literature these effects have been appreciated and it is suggested that one should chew a tambula. Its basic quality is best described in a stanza from the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana saying: “After cleaning the teeth and having looked into the mirror and having eaten a tambula to render fragrance to the mouth, should a person start his day’s work.”
The Epicurean, Palliative Pleasures of Paan
This is the worst part of Paan, a Paan chewer has to keep spitting the saliva mixed with Paan residue out of his mouth. Take a look at the picture, do you see the red marks on the wall that’s the remains of a paan, which is found all over the place in Bombay and lots of other parts of India.
There have been incidents where men even spit paan on women’s clothes just to harass them. Spitting paan is a gross sight and its mostly the lack of education about how unhygienic and repelling it is.
It came to light that paan would be quite an interesting topic for those who have never heard of it. I was inspired when someone spat paan on my motorbike cover in my building, the cover was robbed a few days later.
A Different Paan Wala:
Shyam Das, a paanwallah in Bihar’s Purnia district, has taken the problem head on, at his level. Buy a paan from his shop and get a condom free! Das, who sells betel leaves and cigarettes near the red light area in Purnia, has become a crusader for safe sex. He decided to take up this issue after he lost a close friend to AIDS last year.
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