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The Paan Shop

A paan shop is the Indian equivalent of a cigarette kiosk.  It is a small shop where you can buy cigarettes and something called a 'paan'.  What is a paan?  I suppose the western translation would be a mouth freshener.  It is something that is chewed after meals, or any time at all, to give a sort freshening up effect.

Years ago, when my husband and I used to go for evening walks, before we had kids, we always used to stop at the paan shop so that he could buy his cigarettes and he sometimes bought paans for me.  I would take paan if I was in the mood.  People who chew paan habitually have red stains in the mouth.  I certainly didn't fancy that!

About two years ago, when we were on a rare evening walk, we stopped by the paan shop just like we always do.  My husband said hello to Mr. Kapoor, a neighbour of ours.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mr. Kapoor's wife Indu (who has since died - she died suddenly sixteen months ago) standing quite a long way off.  I went over and said hello.  I couldn't figure out why she was standing so far away from her husband.  Then the penny dropped.

Respectable ladies traditionally don't go anywhere near a paan or cigarette shop.  It had taken me fourteen  years of living here to find out.  Indu was the most traditional of women.   She always wore full sleeves even in the height of summer.  She always kept her hair braided in the manner of the older ladies. She was in fact four years younger than me.   Come to think of it, I can't recall seeing even a single woman standing beside the paan shop, ever.  Except me.   But what did I know?

Last year, my father-in-law was approaching the end of his life, although we didn't quite realize it.  In his last days, he developed a craving for paan.  Sometimes, when there were no males in the house, there was no one to bring the paan and he would never send me.  I felt sorry for him, so one day when he was craving for paan and my mother-in-law told him to just forget about it, I slipped quietly out of the house.  I went to the paan shop.  Next door to the paan shop there is a small general store, owned by the same man.  I went over to the shop assistant and asked him to help me out.  I explained to him that 'Dadajji' (that's what they called my father-in-law) needed a paan but was not permitting me to go near the paanshop.  The fellow understood quite well and assisted me as I required.  When I brought the paan home, I assured my father-in-law that the boy from the store had helped me to procure it.

However it couldn't go on like that.  Dadaji's requirement grew to be a daily habit before long, and it just wasn't practical for the boy to leave the shop every time especially when he had customers waiting.  I ended up going to the paan shop myself.  I would stand at the side and whisper 'Dadaji' and the paan wala (paan vendor) knew what was required.  But as far as the father-in-law was concerned, the lad from the shop was still helping me out.

What else could I do?  He needed the paan.  I needed to get it.  Social customs are one thing and practicality is something else altogether.


  1. With guests coming from America later today, I've no time to write a proper comment, but I loved this post and the one yesterday about the mail and newspapers landing where ever they are tossed. You do an amazing job with your descriptions, but lately I find myself wishing more images than the ones in my head ... I'm so greedy sometimes I do wish you would consider adding some photographs of some of the places you visit in your life.

  2. I've got tears in my eyes... what a wonderful story. You're a jewel gaelika... you are.

  3. Some social customs strike me as so silly and impractical. I'll never understand why some cultures bring such hardship on themselves by restricting women so, by denying half the brain power available to them. Lucky for your FIL he had a western DIL.

  4. You were so good to your FIL, in spite of him being a difficult man. You are very tolerant and kind. I'm sure he really appreciated it.

  5. Your life seems to be a series of errands for other people. Well done you.


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