Hyderabad: Hyderabad is not all about biryani and sherwani. There is yet another delicacy that has not received its due. It is the quintessential paan without which no party is complete.
Amitabh Bachchan immortalised the paan with the raunchy Khaike paan Banaraswala. Years before that the svelte Waheeda Rehman danced her way into the nation’s heart with Paan khayo sayyan hamaro. But Hyderabad takes the, well, paan, in the art of paan making.
The heart-shaped leaf has a timeless appeal here. Not just as a social indulgence, paan chewing attained hallowed status in the land of nawabs. The Nizams, jagirdars and courtesans lent a touch of sophistication to it. Biryani, chai, paan — it comes in that order. And paan remains Hyderabad ki shaan.
A woman’s saliqa (finesse) is judged by the way she keeps her paandan. Old-timers recall how affluent families used to present a paan kaneez (maid/slave) along with a paandan when daughters were married. Wedding invitations were delivered with paan, supari and elaichi. Even the birth of a baby is conveyed through paan and clove. The Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was bitten by the paan bug. He used to get a regular stock of betel leaves from a shop near Jilau Khana in Laad Bazaar. On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of his rule, Raja Dhanrajgir presented a golden paandan encrusted with the royal emblem.
Paan has a huge fan following in Hyderabad among all age groups; it is ingrained in the people’s DNA here. Whatever be the occasion, paan is must. A typical Hyderabadi can be seen placing order for a pocketful of paans even as red betel juice drools from the corner of his mouth.
A dash of chuna, a spot of katha, a pinch of zarda, chaalia and qhimam — lo and behold your favourite paan is ready. No wonder Hyderabadis take pride in painting the town red. They leave no corner unspat.
The ethnic Indian chew may be a pleasant pastime for some but for many it is the very lifeline. Hundreds of families eke out a living out of it. So rich is the paan tradition in Hyderabad that a lively genre of paan poetry has come up.
Well known horticulturist, Nasir Ahmad Khan, has done painstaking research on paan and collected beautiful couplets in his book Paan aur Adaab-e-Paandaan.
Sample this verse of Daagh Dehlvi which describes the redness of the beloved’s lips after eating paan:
Is laal lab ke hum ne liye bose iss qadar Sab ud gaee missi ki dhadi do ghadi ke baad (I kissed these luscious red lips thus
Melted away my alum-coated charm in two heartbeats) Mah-e-laqa Bai Chanda, who was a dancer and poetess during the reign of Nizam Ali Khan, the second Asaf Jahi ruler, came up with this saucy couplet:
Rukhsate bosa diya paan chaba kar zalim Apni qismat mein magar tha yeh hijab-e-yaqut (He gave me the farewell kiss with betel stained lips
It was in my fate to get a taste of those ruby coated veils) Extolling the virtues of paan, Bekal Utsahi says:
Woh amiron ka mahal ho ya gharibon ki kuti Har jaga husne sharafat ki zamanat paan hai (Be it the palaces of the rich or dwellings of the poor
Everywhere, paan is guarantor of their nobility) Yet another poet says he wouldn’t relish the fruits of paradise until someone gets paan from India.
Bud maza munh na karoon khuld ke mewe kha kar Hind se paan na laaye koi jab tak jaakar (I wouldn’t want to spoil my taste by eating heavenly fruit
unless someone doesn’t get me paan from Hind) With generations of Hyderabadis brought upon the fragrant betel leaf staple, it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone asks PAN details and gets this answer: Baba 120, Ratna 300, Chitta Rampyari, Kalkota Navaratan Sada.