By Tazeen Qureshy
Bhubaneswar: “Do you want Raja paan? You will have to wait for 30 minutes. Please don’t complain, I already have many previous orders pending,” Goura bhai says in one breath, even before I could tell him I was here for an interview, and not to purchase paan.
He is busy with his regular customer Bipin, who has ordered 20 paans (betel leaves). “I have been standing for almost an hour now, but Goura nana (brother) is so busy that he is yet to start making paan for me,” Bipin tells me.
Sensing my quizzical look, he is quick to add, “You need to taste his betel leaves once, to understand why we prefer Goura bhai’s paan even though we have to wait for hours together. Betel lovers who have tasted his paan will never be satisfied with anything else.”
Goura Bhai, who has been running a paan shop in CRP square area since 1978, is a famous name in Bhubaneswar. Even other betel shops in the vicinity are aware of his popularity and secretly envy his popularity. Though he has been evicted by the Municipal Corporation over 10 times, he has managed to settle back every time, with the help of his loyal customers. He has customers all over the city. In fact, there are a few who commute even 20 kms every day for their stock of ‘Goura paan’.
Wearing an apron and a cap, he quickly rummages through a few containers to show the secret of his popularity.
“It is these ‘masala’ (spices) which make my paan special. My wife makes each of these spices. First, we purchase the raw material, wash and dry them. Then we combine a few ingredients to create a new ‘mixture,’” he says as he gives me a special ‘masala’ he has prepared for ‘Raja Parba’.
“To be honest, I have over 100 spices, but I can’t keep so many containers in this shop,” he says as he shows me his tiny tin shop which has just enough space for a medium-height person.
“Since we can’t keep so many containers, my wife and I decided to experiment and mix a few spices and create new variants so we can manage the space as well as have something new to offer every time.”
While an ordinary paan costs around Rs 2 a piece in other shops, Goura bhai charges Rs 3.50. The ‘Raja Special Paan’ with normal ingredients is priced at Rs 30 and the one with fruit variants costs Rs 50.
“It is not about the price, it is the taste which brings us to him. Even if you don’t eat paan, try his preparation, I bet you will come back again,” a customer who has just arrived tells me, as he requests Goura bhai to prepare ten ‘mitha paan’ (sweet betel leaves).