The Paanwala

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In life, you get to learn a lot from the commoners. This is a story about the same!

It was the only thing that linked him to his roots. He took pride in that.

Beetle nut leaves always managed to make him nostalgic. He used this nostalgia and instead of crying over it, turned it into a business! Yes, Raju the paanwala treated beetle nut leaves as his lifeline.

Hailing from Varanasi, the city which had a reputation for cleansing your soul, made him feel dirty. A shabby city filled with people who focused not on education but others’ family issues and laughing over it, was not his cup of tea. He decided to leave once and for all. The only thing he carried with him to Mumbai was the family beetle nut recipe.

Paan it was called. He remembered how he became friends with his nana and nani on a round of paan after meals. It was the only time he considered ‘quality’. They shared their secrets, stories, and smiles only during the elaborate paan sessions. Rests of the times were soaked in discussing how the neighbor’s daughters ran off with a Muslim guy and other crass gossips. This did not interest him one bit and hence he decided to turn his back on the drawbacks of Varanasi and headed to Mumbai. He wished that the Gods would be kind to him and make him happy, if not prosper in the city of dreams.

With a trunk made of special aromatic ingredients and a few pink notes he set up his tapri and began a new life. For him, making a butt load of money wasn’t as important as being happy. Money became a priority (certainly not the most important one) after he shifted his base to Mumbai. In Varanasi all he cared for were his buddies and meals three times a day. Mumbai gave him a direction and his tapri gave him happiness. Being a paanwala gave him a sense of pride as well as livelihood.

People enjoyed his paan as never before they had an authentic Banarasi one. The alterations he tried in his ancient family recipe were also equally delicious. He could make that from the expressions the men in ties and plastic ID cards around their necks had. Every such moment brought a smile to his face. There were times when he had no customer throughout the day yet never did he feel hopeless. He felt happy spending time in the aroma of the fresh and green beetle nut leaves. Their freshness assured him of good times ahead.

Pretty soon he started getting a reputation and then whether a paan eater or no, people came to his tapri. Sometimes they talked to him, sometime they didn’t. But most the people who came in a small group discussed their bosses. Abuses, jokes, and secrets spilled out in such conversations. He often asked his loyal customers why they continued with such jobs or bosses if it caused them trouble. Money was the only answer they had. “But why not do something you absolutely love? This way you get to be your own boss and work better.” Raju often suggested and it left his customers speechless.

 “Raju, how do you stay happy throughout the day?” his customers frequently asked him. To which his reply would be, “I am a poor man sahib. This paan tapri is my whole world. I get happy when people like eating my paan and visit me again. Also, a new madam has visited my tapri lately. She buys a packet of mouth freshener from me every day. She smiles at me and says thanks. It’s the high point of my day.”

“Is that all that keeps you happy, Raju?” asks his loyal customer relishing on his Maghai Masala. Raju has become so habitual to him eating it at 2 pm every day, that the customer doesn’t even have to ask Raju to prepare it.

“Yes, Sir.”

“And here we are, earning more than two or three times than you yet have frowning faces!” exclaimed his customer.

“I do what I love. Your smiles are my rewards. I earn decent to support me and there is nothing more I want from my life!” said Raju with a toothy smile.

In that moment, Raju manages to strike a chord with the men in ties and plastic ID cards around their necks. They smile at him and leave with a profound expression on their faces. Raju continues humming the latest item number song and smells his fresh beetle nut leaves for the next round of customers.

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