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Karachi’s love of paan

July 08, 2012

TO date, this writer recalls the antique silver ‘paandan’ always kept under the watchful eyes of our grandmother. No matter how hard we tried to get the enticing paan from inside the mysterious silver pot, we were never successful. “Buri baat, bachay paan nahi khatay” (kids don’t eat paan), was what we were told to keep us away.

Although being an occasional addict of this green delicacy, I strongly feel the way paan cabins or khokas have sprung up all over Karachi is cause for alarm. Considered a mouth freshener, this sweet delight is now easily available at every corner. It’s not very difficult to miss it; wherever you see a bunch of guys glued to a cabin, you know you have reached a paan shop!

In earlier days, this city had a few renowned paan shops. Perhaps the most famous is the PIDC ka paan. Families used to make special plans to get their favourite paan, and even to this day having paan is considered the perfect way to end an outing.

However, of recent the fact that paan can be unhealthy has been highlighted, leading to mouth cancer and other ailments.

Also, its red peek, which is usually spat rather than swallowed, ‘decorates’ the city walls and neighbourhoods quite awfully.

But if you ask your elders, Karachi had less patterns-cum-abstract art caused by peek in the past compared to today.

Perhaps people were more well-mannered then. The awful red liquid resulting from chewing paan is playing a pivotal role in ruining the cleanliness of our city, after wall chalking of course.

From saada to saada khushboo, saada saunf to meetha embellished with lots of desiccated coconut and sweet betel nuts, these are tobacco-less options available at almost all paan khokhas in the metropolis. You may ask for clove or cardamom to add to the flavour of your paan. However, as the health warnings declare, the deadliest of all are the paans filled with tobacco, usually containing a strong blend of Pakistani and Indian edible tobacco brands.

Paan-shop owners have seen a radical change in their earnings over a decade in this city. No wonder they have transformed the simple cabins into small tuck shops from where you can get snacks, mouth fresheners, suparis, candies, chewing gum and all sorts of prepaid scratch cards.

“Kal bhi hit tha, aaj bhi hay” (it was a hit yesterday, it remains a hit today) remarked a paan salesman when asked about the green leaf’s popularity and increase in sale in Karachi. “There are five types of paan leaves available in our city: Bangkok, Ceylon, Karachi, Bangla and Sachi. Rates normally start from Rs5 per paan and the price varies from type to type. Zahoor Raja Jaani is one of the most popular tobacco paans. Nowadays, paan is an essential part of the menu, especially in Karachi.

Hence we usually get orders in bulk for weddings”, said the paan-wala.—Rabab Abedi