It may have originated in what was known as the Magadh region, present day South Bihar, but its omnipresence across the length and breadth of the country obscures its origin. In fact, it has already gone global. This round, hollow puri, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of flavoured water, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, chilli, potato, onion, chickpeas is available across continents, and in several cities in USA, UK and Europe. Known by diverse names like phoolki, phuchka, paani puri and gol guppa, the ubiquitous water-ball is the undisputed king of the tangy-hot world of chaat. Need it be said that gol guppa is a secular snack that cuts across caste, class and religious distinctions? Barring few exceptions, it has largely been a female favourite though.
The hollow of a well-bloomed pani puri filled with salted masala water is more than just a tangy obsession. Neither is it branded nor does it confirm to any standards, yet a gol guppa popped in from the roadside seller holds mass popularity. The sociology of its widespread popularity is worth a doctoral degree.
Who cares how a speck of dough is ballooned; where from the water to fill it up is sourced; and the often unhygienic surroundings where the cart is stationed by the roadside? Unlike other products in the market, there has been an unwritten faith in the ‘collective responsibility’ of the gol guppa supply chain. And the roadside bhaiyya (brother) must be credited for having stood by it!
Though upmarket vendors have started using ‘doubtful’ mineral water and ‘dubious’ plastic gloves in the name of so-called ‘hygiene’, rarely does it bother anyone that the dust-laden winds are depositing a thin layer of ‘desh-ki-mitti’ (mother earth) through the day all over the cart. It is the unflinching faith of its consumer base that has added to its unending popularity.
What is intriguing, though, is the fact that those who are otherwise finicky about drinking water from any public source show utmost respect to whatever quality of water that fills the ball. For me, it is no less than an act of ‘water-ball patriotism’ wherein we not only repose our faith in ‘your’ people but on water and dust that inevitably comes along.
No wonder, consumer courts have yet to hear any complaint on your neighbourhood pani puri wala! Since everyone asks for ‘more water’ even after finishing with his/ her plate of gol guppa – “Bhaiyya, thoda paani aur dena! (Brother, give me some more water) – it is quite unlikely that any complaint would ever get fled. I will keep my fingers crossed though!