Paandaan

Paandaan or the betel leaf box (literal translation) was considered a part of every day meal routines and hence part of the trousseau. Most of the paandaan items were available in regular bartan (kitchen-ware) stores, or jewelry stores in the later years. Before that the jeweler was given the task of making it from silver. By the time my parents got married, they were given (as part of the dowry) a silver box with some pre-made paan (betel leaf) and some supari (betel nut). Every family decided what to give based on what they could afford and in some cases the boy’s family would say not to give anything because they already had everything and these things were handed down to the next generation.

In most homes there were two boxes. One heart shaped box to store the actual betel leaves and the second rectangular one with several compartments and little boxes to house the paraphernalia. These were made of a white metal or silver. The little boxes were almost always made of silver. The silver boxes would hold the wet ingredients like chunna (calcium hydroxide) and kattha (made from the khair tree [Acacia catechu]). Both these ingredients were also stored in their dry form in more silver boxes that were kept in the bottom of the big rectangular box. This box had a tray that had compartments and the bottom held all the extras.

Shashi’s mother Mohana Devi from Boggulakunta, Hyderabad showing the paandaan.

The rest of the supplies were lavang (clove), elaichi (cardamom), black supari (calcium hydroxide), regular supari , whole and chopped, zarda (tobacco) and khimaam (liquid tobacco which is mixed with dry leafs of tobacco before filling a pouch to keep tobacco fresh). Some people had saunf (fennel seeds) and dhania dal (coriander dal) in their paandaan and with different containers for those.

Some people used their finger to smear the chunna and kattha, some used the back of a tiny spatula which was also made of silver. Some people used wet chunna and dry kattha powder sprinkled on the chunna. Then you put the supari and elaichi seeds in the middle of the leaf and folded it to form a beeda (tube) and secured it with a lavang. The khimaam and zarda were always offered on the side.

The paan leaves are the betel leaves and have known medicinal benefits. In order to keep them fresh, the leaves were always wrapped in a wet cloth. This would make them last for over a week. It was a ritual to make paan after a meal each day. When you had a get together, you made a whole stash of them to offer to your guests after the meal.

Paan or the betel leaf box

In weddings, you had a selection of different varieties of the basic paan. The other additions were sukha khopra (dry coconut), gulkand (a mixture of rose petals and sugar cooked in the sun) toasted sesame seeds, sweet supari and tiny silver sugar balls. They used to foil the paan with silver leaves. While growing up I saw my grandparents generation chewing paan on a regular basis but my parents’ generation were occasional paan consumers.

by Shashi Sehgal

Chowgda or the spice box

The chowgda is a spice-box that has been passed down from the generations in the family I am married into- the Waghray family of Kachiguda, Hyderabad. They have lived in Kachiguda for the past 50 years or so and before that they were a part of an extended family in Alijah Kotla, Charminar, in the Old city of Hyderabad, Telangana.
The chowgda housed the spices like zeera (cumin), rai (mustard), methi (fenugreek), turmeric/haldi (curcumin), mirchi (red chilly powder). But since some spices react with, in this case the pital (brass- an amalgam of copper and zinc), the inner lining or khalaiye, was laid which was made of tin that would be replaced regularly to keep the metal out of the food.

The chowgda or spice box was in use in the family when the number of people in the family were 50 and above, adults and children included. Sitting together for a meal meant bringing a group of your peers to share a large plate/ paraat and food was served in your plate only if there were 5 people available. This was a way to avoid wastage but also to make the food go around sufficiently and take care of a large family.

Cooking for the family was a routine that continued throughout the day due to the fact that so many mouths had to be fed- breakfast, lunch and dinner. My source is Meera Devi, my husband’s aunt, who would say that the three square meals were actually two meals- brunch and dinner with a small chai-snack in between at 3 pm. Her way of life has not changed much to this day as she prefers eating a brunch style meal at 10 am and dinner at 6 or 7 pm.

Shashi Sehgal, my husband’s second cousin, living in California since 1986 had this to say, “I have heard the same story from my dad, Padma bua and Laikh Raj Chacha about the meals. The other thing they talked about was how the dadis (grandmothers) took turns to do the cooking. Some did the chopping of the vegetables, some made the rotis and some made the dal. The ones who made the brunch, rotated out so a second group made the dinner. Every few days they changed shifts. Baa dadi was the matriarch of the family who was the only lady of her generation that was alive for a long time, the others had passed on when the nine siblings were still children.”

For a long time now, people have moved on to steel spice boxes which are easy to use/ clean and also a non-reactive metal if it is of a good quality.

I also wonder, what location of the brass factory in India did this chowgda arrive from? In a way that metal items in homes in India get utilized, it has a BL sign engraved on it, BL for Bidri Lal, by husband’s great grand father and it has it’s tell tale signs of wear and tear. Was the factory from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh? What manufacturing was happening then and who were the local retail sellers for this product? Where are they now in Hyderabad and what are they engaged in at this time? Some questions remain unanswered and continue to linger.

by Malini