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“Paan ki peek”

Hafsa Ahmad

This is not an official way to start an article but I think the title has successfully grabbed your attention so, here we go!

What would you feel, if you visit Anarkali; wearing all white spotless Kurta and coming back home with floral patterns of coral red, sprayed on the front of your shirt, probably agitated?

But it threw me all the way back in the soothing lap of my Bibi gee ; eating something like a wrapped leaf with aromatic spices in it and always keeping her sandooqchi (silver box) close to her bed and always carrying this betel leaf thing closer to her heart.

I, asking with widened eyes, ‘‘Bibi gee, is main kya hy?’’(What is in this silver box, grandma?) And she, always repeating the same answer to me “bachay is main mera ghar hy” (My home dear!). Wondering and showing that I have gotten her, I always used to leave her in a state of bafflement, not exposed to the idea of finding home in inanimate objects. Absolutely clueless that what sort of gravitational force these petty cornucopias hold, what laws of attraction pull you back to the rich culture you once were a part of.

And one day, she left her sandooqchi on her bedside for good, which ended up being a useless box, rusting; in a lone nook of our store room. In this manner as well, the stain on my white Kurta, I am eternally grateful to it because like a long lost beloved toy, it brought memories and peace.

Localized pleasures like Paan, Huqqah, turban used to be the epitomic esteem of our culture. The stiffness of freshly laundered cotton turban; its Karrak sound , and the gurrgurr of huqqah was nothing less than the melodious boast of elite class, corresponding the shaan (esteem) of the elders of our family.

It won’t be wrong if we claim that this particular delicacy sprout from this very land of ours. Carrying a whole legacy of Muhajirs (who are the ones doing business in import, export and cultivation of betel leaves in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), paan succeeded in maintaining its special place in the torn pieces of subcontinent, independently.

Manto was enjoying it at occasions, Ghalib enjoyed it decades back, we still do but under the strict terms of legal ban. The “culture representing peek” has been reduced to a mere symbol of unsophisticated manners and a stain representing probability of oral cancer.

Not making any offense on the part of our cultural symbols, the shaan and esteem of this elegance has been replaced by the authentic precautions and advices of doctors. No-no! We haven’t abandoned it because doctors say it’s harmful, we still chew it, still serving a long menu of Meetha Paan, Saad apaan, Silver paan, Dilruba paan and so on_ it is just that it has lost the classic charm.

Well, I myself am not in the favor of consuming dyed stones in the name of Supari and betel leaves, that are everything else, but betel leaves but neither I favor snatching one’s integrity and identity as an object of luxury.

I am not deaf, I can hear the shrills, somewhere, far away, in the dark nooks and crannies, these barn red stains somewhere in the territory of the walled city, somewhere in Shahi Mohalla, on the walls, under the always moving in different footsteps of this generation; it mourns on being deprived of its place, its royal symbolic existence.

The writer is a student at Department of English Language and Literature, University of the Punjab, Lahore and can be contacted via the following email address:hafsaahmad600@gmail.com

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