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how to eat a paan

Mina Malik


This poem was first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 4 (2020).


if you are just anybody, out for

dinner and want to wet a tooth


you may go to jaidi paan shop, order

something that arrives in a gold

coffin-box


and eat it in two awkward,

dribbling bites.


if you are my grandmother, you will

have a small leaf of a basket, evenly piled

with the rough pellets of betel nuts


and during chitarhaar, whilst you can

read the hindi titles and sing all

the songs, you will clip the nuts with a

small silver cutter, sharp-edged blades that bite

the nuts to spiky rubble.


if you are my grandfather, you will

drive to paan gully every month, carefully

navigating your Datsun to the far end of

anarkali

and buy a block of terracotta kattha,

a packet of choona

and glossy green leaves, damply wrapped,

from shahid sahib, whose father was also

from Bareilly


if you are my mother, you will finish

lunch—roast and peas, on a saturday back when

the weekend began on friday—

and ask for a paan


and if you are me, you will sit humpbacked on the

carpet with the roses

and watch as the gleaming brass pandaan lid glides up

and the hexagon tray of leaf is thumbed, searching for the

right one, pinching off

the stem and smoothing it down.

your eyes will follow the calm ritual of a practiced hand

lifting little lids, a small metal spatula gliding white, then

brown over the waiting patta

and then, your favourite part—

the ilaichi, dry and purplish grey. Nana will

choose the right one, one that he will roll between

his fingers like lucky dice and snap open

into his palm, and because you are small

and have your mother’s eyes, he will offer you his palm first.


if you are my daughter, you will open your mouth

and let me carefully place a pinch of small black seeds

onto your tongue, and you will receive them like

a wafer or a prayer, a spell from an ancient book,

runes printed beneath your heartbeat



Anarkali by Maryam Baniasadi (gouache on Wasli paper-2016)

 

Mina Malik is the Prose Editor at The Aleph Review.


Maryam Baniasadi is an Iranian visual artist based in Lahore, Pakistan. She holds a BFA in miniature painting and MA (Hons.) in visual arts from the NCA in Lahore. She has participated in different exhibitions such as Contemporary Miniatures from Iran, Teer Art Fair presented by Azad Art gallery in 2019 and Contemporary Miniatures from Pakistan in Reitberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Maryam is currently working between Iran and Pakistan.

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1 Comment


Tāriq Malik
Tāriq Malik
Jun 19, 2023

Enjoyed reading this evocative and luscious poem as it tapped into buried memories of playing favorites with the keeper of the paandaan. And, now, all these recollections associated with that ritual are tinged with sadness and health warnings that have followed since; the Punjabi mohajirs have finally conquered our xenophobia and became just plain old boring neighbors, and the corner paan sellers have all migrated to trading in longer lasting wares.


I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to Lahore by seeing less and less paan stains on our walls. Perhaps, our other indulgences are leaving less permanent physical traces.


Also loved the accompanying artwork: Anarkali by Maryam Baniasadi (gouache on Wasli paper-2016)


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