Volume: 10, No: 01 ; January-2016
Paan (a betel-leaf preparation with some ingredients folded to form a cone. This is usually chewed to extract all the combined juices) chewing may be a custom for some elsewhere, but in Lucknow it surely is an art that was refined and perfected. A painstaking process that involves not only careful selection of ingredients but also cutting the wedges of the betel nuts, that too special kind of cured nuts, cardamom and tobacco, the process of storing, serving and chewing all are a part of this art that is perfected in Lucknow.
Qivaan is a process of making chewing tobacco. In this the tobacco leaves and stalks are boiled thoroughly until the juice becomes thick like a paste, and then musk, rose-water and other perfumes are added for fragrance and a bit of flavour. The tiniest morsel added to the betel leaf tastes sweet and the fragrance remains in the mouth all day long. After this, minute pills are made of this paste, each sufficient for a portion. When wrapped in silver or gold edible foil they look like pearls. A certain lady of Mufti Ganj quarter used to prepare such excellent qivaan paste and pills that connoisseurs of Lucknow would buy them only from her and nowhere else. About the same time, the firm of Asghar Ali and Muhammad Ali’s started to manufacture both of these on a commercial basis and sold them throughout India. After the death of this lady, Asgar Ali’s firm became the sole manufacturer of the qivaan paste and goli pills. Since then many people and firms have begun to manufacture them, but the quality of their products could not match that of Asghar Ali’s firm. There was however in these preparations one defect, that the pungent taste of the tobacco was lost as soon as the juice was spat out, although the fragrance remained for quite some time. Finding its remedy, Munshi Saiyyid Ahmed Husain started making patti, scented tobacco leaf, in which the taste of both bitterness and fragrance remains in the mouth as long as the betel leaf lasts. Everyone adopted it readily and soon it became so popular that the paste and pills seemed to have disappeared.
Several new ideas also developed in Lucknow. Cardamoms were processed in such a way that one’s lips became red by eating these, the same as one would expect from chewing betel leaf itself. Although in preparation sometimes the ingredient of the betel leaf include cardamoms and they produce a better colour, though they cannot be regarded as a substitute of the betel leaf. Another method is to fill cardamoms with missi, a cosmetic tooth powder, so that when the cardamom is placed in the betel leaf and chewed, the powder adheres to the teeth and a firm dark tinge appears in the interstices. But the red cardamoms cannot replace betel leaf and the black ones do not have the pleasant smell. Thus cardamom is mainly used for decorative purpose and has not become widely popular.
The other ingredient is chikni dali, betel nuts boiled in milk. Although this is not an indispensable ingredient of betel leaf, it certainly adds to its refinement. Some people use it in the preparation of betel leaf in place of ordinary betel nuts while others chew it along with cardamom, as the taste is quite pleasant. Chikni dali is the same betel nut used in betel leaf, but after special processing. This is not done in Lucknow city, but comes already prepared from the places where it is grown. It is said that nuts are boiled in milk. Whatever the method of preparation, the result is that they become juicy and lose all woody dryness. Sometimes if one eats too much of uncured betel nuts, throat tends to become dry, but this never happens with chikni dali. The Kernel is delicate and fine in taste, but the portion near the rind is a little astringent and the bottom is insipid in flavour. In order to avoid the bad taste of these parts, special ways were devised in Lucknow of cutting the nuts. One way of doing this is called do rukhi. In this a good deal of the top and bottom and a little of the sides of the nut are cut, leaving a bowl-shaped residue which contains the soft and delicate kernel. Another way which is called ek rukhi, rounding, is to scrape the nut all round but leaving the bits of the defective portions either at the top or bottom. A third variety takes the form of octagonal lumps cut entirely from the kernel. The scrapings left after the kernel is cut are sold separately and constitute another quality. All the scrapings are then divided into various categories and graded according to quality, the scrapings from the kernel being at the top, followed by those resulting from do rukhi and ek rukhi. They all differ very much in taste and there is a corresponding difference in cost too.
Now let’s understand the appurtenances used with the storing and serving of betel leaf. The most important among them is paandaan, the betel box, which transforms the raw leaf into a thing of glory. In former days in Delhi, these were little boxes of all shapes-round, square or octagonal. Probably when these boxes arrived in Hyderabad from Delhi, copies of these were made in metal. To this day, on the occasions of weddings in Hyderabad, they are liberally filled with the usual ingredients and placed before the ladies. The same were brought to Lucknow from Delhi about two centuries ago by some ladies of the royal house-hold, and it was then that modifications were made here. In the first place, the shape became round and they were made only of silver-plated copper. Then their lids were raised and rounded until they looked like a white dome, as they do at present. An elongated ring was fixed at the top to hold them. In the boxes are two metal cups to contain catechu and lime, and three smaller, equal-sized receptacles for cut nuts of various kinds. All of these are arranged in a circle, in the middle of which is another small container to hold cardamoms or cloves. The lids of the small receptacles are firmly fixed, in fact they are difficult to open, but the cups are simply covered. There are tiny spoons for catechu and lime, sometimes with a peacock crest and sometimes plain. Placed over all these containers is a large tray of the same size as the betel box itself, in which raw betel leaves are placed, wrapped in a damp cloth. In earlier times raw betel leaves were placed in a separate covered receptacle, called nagardan, but since this was kept shut the air could not reach the leaves and they went bad. For this reason the nagardan, although still seen in some old-fashioned houses, has gone out of fashion and will soon be forgotten.
In the course of time the handy betel box also came to serve as treasure-house and cash box for women. The size began to increase until it came to weigh as much as twenty to forty pounds. At the same time it became necessary for ladies to take it with them wherever they went. Just as in case of turbans, the larger the turban, the greater the learning, so the larger the betel box, the greater was the status and grandeur of the lady. There were instances that the betel box took up all the space in the palanquin, in which the ladies travelled and there was no room for the lady.
Then suddenly the taste for daintiness showed itself in this direction and a new, small, narrow-domed betel box with a decorative protrusion in the top centre was designed. At first this was called aramdan, but it is now known as husndan. It was attractive in appearance and convenient to handle, but the internal arrangements remained the same. In Lucknow they were first adopted by those not given to show and display, but they soon became popular here and in other regions as well. Although old-fashioned betel boxes have not disappeared, the husndan is at present more general in use.
In addition to husndan there is a khasdan, the betel case, in which the prepared betel leaf is served in formal gatherings as well as to any visiting guests at home or outside. In Delhi betel leaves were served on a tray, on which chopped up betel nuts and betel leaves with lime and catechu in them were placed. They are still served in this manner to this day. But in Lucknow they use two betel leaves and fold them into triangular shapes to make a gilauri. The present shape of a gilauri is conical, and the leaves are kept in place by a tiny peg. At first cloves were used for peg, but later small chains were attached to a tiny silver weight and the betel leaves were fixed to the pegs attached to the chains, and then placed in the khasdan. This was however an elaborate system and in everyday life it became the custom to hold the prepared betel leaf in shape with a small nail.
It was not considered proper to serve gilauris in an open tray in Lucknow and so a dome-shaped lid was designed to cover them. This made the khasdan look like a small husndan.
No wonder that Paan Chewing is an art in Lucknow and more than the Paan itself, the style around it gives a high to the aristocrats of Lucknow.
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