Daring a glare


Fascination can emanate from, of all things, a bucket of water, dirty in appearance, and dark betel leaves and sundry substances kept in small tins. When I see paan vendors at work on the roadside I must stop, gaze and then move on, with a tinge of regret.
My fascination for sweet paan goes back to school days. When I was in school and even after I entered college, my mom never stopped me from eating a ‘beeda’ because it was a rarity and she herself never bought one for me. A great attraction of eating at a hotel and or at marriage functions then used to be ‘beedas.’ Sadly, ‘beedas’ are off the menu in most hotels and present-day weddings.

The roadside paanwala, however, still flourishes. I watch spell-bound as he takes out a betel leaf from a not-so-clean water bucket, wipes it on a wet red cloth, equally dirty-looking, and de-veins it. He nips off the edges and goes on to add ingredients of all colours and flavours, folds it into a triangle and secures the folds with a clove. He hands the finished product to the customer with a flourish, with or without a smile. My budget never crosses Rs 5 or 6 for a beeda.

The regrettable part is that buying a beeda on the roadside is tough for me or, to be frank, just impossible. I have never seen a woman walking up to a paanwala on her own to buy a beeda. In Bangalore or elsewhere, paan shops are men’s domain, wherever they are located. Any woman daring enough to approach a paan shop should brace herself for an x-ray like scrutiny from men’s eyes.

Recently, I did buy a paan beeda from a street-side vendor as I had the company of my sister-in-law and niece. After the outstanding feat, I told my sister-in-law, “Gandhi had said India can celebrate its Independence only when women can walk on the streets at midnight. I feel that we can celebrate Independence Day when a woman can buy a beeda on the roadside without attracting glares.” My niece immediately nodded her head, as she is also a beeda lover, while her doctor-mother offered no comments.

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