Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The History of Paan

This article is dedicated to my Father. He writes for several magazines and newspapers. He was asked to present a paper on old Mumbai to the professors pursuing PhD from Mumbai University. Little information has been documented on the history of Paan and Tobacco. I had access to his research material.  I have made an attempt to write on the subject and present some interesting facts about the history of Paan & Tobacco in Mumbai. Hope you enjoy the post.

Let me take you back to the days when Mumbai was actually known as Bombay. This Bombay had various customs and traditions; one of its oldest “Shauk’ or habit has been Chewing Paan.
Unlike today consumption of alcoholic drinks was not accepted by society as part of the culture. Thanks to the modern lifestyle now socializing or even discussing business over a drink has become socially acceptable. Today we tend to look down upon people who are seen chewing paan, tobacco in public. However in the olden times consumption of paan, smoking of Hukka and sniffing snus had certain social acceptance. For the erstwhile Maharashtrian community eating paan or using snus had the same importance in a man’s life as Haldi Kumkum for women. It was good etiquette to offer paan/supari to guests not only after meals but also during a casual discussion. In North India they used the line “Saale ka hukkapaani bandh karo” to outcaste anyone.

Hindi films, especially the ones based on the mafia have made the Maharashtrian term “Supari Dene” (“Supari Dena” in Hindi) very popular. In the olden days it was a practice offer important job to someone very trustworthy by offering him a supari as the token of contract confirmation along with monetary advance. After completion of the task both parties would break the supari and the balance payment would be made. While inviting musicians, Tamasha troupes, Drama troupes, Singers, Wrestlers for performing at their house or villages there was an old custom of giving supari. In the old wrestling style, the body was covered by oil and one of the ways to grab the opponent was by catching his ears during the initial huddle. One of the first tasks after enrolling a wannabe wrestler in the ‘Akhaada’ was to break the bone/muscle in the ears. They would place a supari in his ears and then punch it hard causing the small muscle to crack, thereby making the ears flexible and difficult to hold on to.

There was a difference in eating a paan on your own and being offered one as a mark of respect. At the Kothas (Mujra houses and not brothels), prior to the commencement of the dance performance, the prettiest of the girls would serve Paan to her beloved customer, actually feed it to him rather than serving it.  If the Tawaaif herself prepared the paan and fed it to her customer, it was considered as an act of showing respect and also as a romantic gesture. There are many folk songs, Lavanis, film songs written on this act. Now managers bowing down and shaking your hand at ladies/dance bars have replaced the Paan culture and twaaifs.

In 19th century people used to eat twenty paans and smoke one kattal (bundle) of 20 Bidis per day. In Girgaon Khetwadi Galli no 2 there was a 250 years old paan bazaar. Recently it was shifted to Chuna Bhatti. Majority of the Paan wholesale dealers in Mumbai were Jains and Brahmins and all retailers were Vaishya-vanis. They maintained complete secrecy while deciding rates of paan by covering their fingers under a handkerchief and making hand gestures that only the dealers from their network could decipher. These wholesalers sourced raw green Nagvel paan from Mandva, Kelve, Mahim and Janjira. Raw paans are used in religious functions to offer Vida Dakshina to Brahmins. After removing the ripe parts, small pieces of paans were sold as Kapta paan to poor people at cheap rate. In 1850 there were 350 paan gaddis (Paan Shops) in Bombay. Every small lane had a paan shop at its entrance. Paan vendors used to sit on a small mattress (Gaddi) and prepare paans for their customers. Hence their shops were known as Paanachi Gaddi. They had respect in the society. In British regime they worked like secret informers for police also helped newcomers in finding out their addresses. This however has not changed. Despite GPS technology and cellular phones the local paan shop still remains the best place to seek directions.

From 1850 Pune was the main supplier of ripe yellow paans to Bombay. These paans became popularly known as Puna Masala or Puna Peela. There was variety of Supari; White (Paandhari supari from Shrivardhan), Red (Tambadi Supari from Vasai) Fulbardi, Chikni etc. These Vaishyavani vendors would skillfully break supari into pieces like sugar cubes, slice it like thin onion flakes, cut it like saffron sticks.

In last century every household had brass paan container known as dabba or Tabak. Rich families had silver tabak. During festivals even women and children were allowed to chew paans. Senior citizens would keep small Khalbatta with them to crush and soften the paan. Majority of people were Tobacco (Tambakhu) paan eaters.  To spit the Tambakhu juice and remains of paans, people used spittoons, which were called Tasta or brass pickdani. When outside home, these people like rest of India used all open spaces as toilets. These paan eaters used every possible nook and corner on the roads, staircases and electric poles to spit on. Unfortunately this habit has not died till now. The red paan stains are the default interior color of most buildings around the country.

The Portuguese brought Tobacco to Bombay, but it got popular during British Regime. To sale tobacco and snus one was required to procure a license from government. In 1860 the Government earned revenue of Rs. Two-Lakh from taxes imposed on sale of tobacco. Bhadoch, Surat, Dharwad, Nipaani, Miraj and Paandharpur were the main suppliers of Tobacco. There was variety of tobacco available on paan gadi – like thick roti, saffron, rope, dark black etc. At the end of 19th century in small paper pouches Gaichhap, Kuberchhap branded tobacco was introduced in the market. It was known as Jarda. Paandharpuri tobacco because of its strong taste remained as the local favorite. Pune, Sinnar (Nashik) and Solapur were the main suppliers of Bidis to Bombay market. Shivaji, Sambhaji, Ghoda Chhap, Hatti Chhap, Ganesh, Bijban, Kala Dhaga Tokdi Bidi were the popular brands among laborers, Gujaratis, Marwaris and Muslims. During those times hand made aagpetya (Match boxes) were available. While lighting a matchstick there were chances of burning your fingers since the matches were not carburized. WIMCO Matchbox Compaany from Ambarnath was the first to introduce carburized matches in the market.

During this period along with paan supari other household items such as matchboxes, Candles, soap bars, Post cards, telegram forms, and medicines like Aspro, Anacin, limlet candies, toffees, and biscuits were available in these paan shops. Their biggest clients were laborers, mill workers, dockworkers, Mathadis, safai kamgaars and hawkers. First work shift of the erstwhile mill workers started at 7.00 am. Every morning vendors from Vasai would come with vegetables and milk, newspapers at their designated business streets. Religious people would visit temples in early morning. To cater to this early morning clientele these paan shops started opening their shops early in the morning at 5-5.30 AM

In the beginning of 20th century cigarette companies setup their business in Mumbai. The popular brands being Pivala Hatti, Charminar, Barkley, Scissor, Panama, capstan, Cavender, Passing Show etc. Filter cigarettes came in very late. Rich fashionable people used to carry fancy cigarette cases containing 20 cigarettes. Some people would buy imported loose tobacco and cigarette paper and would roll their own cigarettes. Film artiste like Motilal, Pyarelal Santoshi would fill tobacco in Rs. 100 note and smoke. Western cultured people would smoke pipe or Chirut (cigar). Film artiste particularly villains like Ashok Kumar, Pran, Ajit made cigarette smoking popular among youngsters. In 1937 a film called Passing Show was released to promote Passing Show cigarette. These were the early signs of covert advertising/branding. Today people talk about branding alcoholic drinks/cigarette’s name with a bottle of soda or mineral water or music albums, but this practice was first implemented way back in 1937.  In his school days my father saw Dev Anand’s film Hum Dono. He was so impressed by his grace and style of smoking cigarette; he enacted his smoking style in front of a mirror. He was caught red handed and what followed were 5 rounds of freestyle wrestling type thrashing from my grand father. In olden day’s only ladies from labor class used to eat tobacco and smoke bidis. Around 1950 onwards people saw vamp or club dancers from Hindi films smoking cigarettes. Nadira, Shakeela, Helen were stylish cigarette smokers. Today’s mod generation ladies regularly carry packs of Marlboro lights in their purses. Even today the orthodox attitude prevails. It’s common for females to hop into a rickshaw, buy two cigarettes and make the rickshaw drive around in circles while they finish smoking them.

Time and society has changed in last twenty-five years. Textile mills closed down, Thousands of textile workers became jobless, wholesale markets were shifted to Navi Mumbai, people realized the importance of education, and youngsters felt smoking bidis and eating paan supari was below their dignity or social status. Subsequently they changed their habits and switched over to cigarette, lighter and paanpatti from bidi, matchbox and desi paan. Due to increase smuggling many foreign brands of cigarettes and lighters were now available in Mumbai. Mangalori and Keralites entered in this new business and built stalls all over Mumbai. People from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar started Paanpatti Thelas (shops) at every nook and corner. These 250 years old paan gaddi vendors started loosing business and they had no option but to close down their ancestral business. Some of them converted their paan gaddis to general stores. Few gaddis survived only in laborer predominant areas like Parel, Lalbaug, Byculla and dock areas. ‘Paan gaddi,’ one of the oldest businesses dominated by 100% Marathi vendors almost came to a standstill by the end of 21st century; but even today out of ten days of Ganesh Utsav, Lalbaugcha Raja Ganesh Utsav Mandal reserves one day only for Paan Supari program.

Paan Patti was like a younger fashionable sister of desi paan. Please note that Paan-Patti was the term used for the modern paan and not the paan shop. Paan patti simply means paan that is folded neatly after stuffing it with all the possible ingredients.  The British East India Company closed down their business in Surat and Bombay became the main trade center. With the industrial growth of Mumbai, Marwadis, Baniyas, Gujarathis and Muslims came to Bombay and settled near Fort area. They were the great paan lovers.

Till 1860 there was no paan patti shop in Mumbai. This paan patti business started flourishing since 1870 from areas like Bhuleshwar, Cotton Exchange, Pydhonie, CP Tank and Kalbadevi. During this period Bombay was getting ripe pila paans only from Puna. When main cities of India were connected by railway, paans from Banaras, Gorakhpur and Calcutta were brought in to Bombay. Slowly Kashmiri Kimam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajastani Paan masala and scented chewing tobacco came to Bombay. Girgaon chowpatty became tourist center. People from Uttar Pradesh had foresight and the vision, they built stalls near the seashore in the sand itself and started Paan patti and Bhel puri business. Subsequently they have encroached Mumbai city, now along with the beach you can find them in every nook and corner of the city. The Paanwaala and bhelwala bhaiyya have now become part of the routine Mumbai life.  

There was a saying that “Paan Khaana amir aiyyash rangeele logon ka shauk hai”. The rich people of Mumbai had huge ancestral properties. Their day would start in the evening. They would wear Lukhnavi kurta/Sherwani, tie gajra around the wrist, chew maghai paan and with a gang of servants set out for their evenings at mujra houses. In those days congress house (back then below pavan pool, today’s Kennedy bridge) or Bachhchubhai ki wadi at Foraas road were some of the famous mujra destinations. Filmy songwriter Shailendra has described these paan lovers in his song –

Paan khaye saiya hamaro,
Savli surtiya hoth lal lal,
hai hai ye malmal ka  kurta,
malmal ke kurte par chhinte laal laal.

There are many filmy songs based on paan eating, right from Shailendra’s classic to Amitabh’s Khaike paan Banaras wala and its new adaptation in a Farhan Akhtar film -Don.

Making a good paan is a skilled job. In paan shop you can always hear the radio playing, the customera pressurizing the paanwaala to take their order first, some customers while sitting in cars place orders, but this paan vendor works like a yogi with full concentration on his job. He cannot afford to make even a petty mistake, because the success of any paan shop depends on the consistency of quality of paan that he serves. Ingredients are same, process of making paan is almost the same, and even then its taste differs from shop to shop. This is the reason why a real paan lover will not purchase paan from unknown vendor. There are people who will visit heir regular Paanwaala first thing in the morning and stock for the day rather than risk buying a paan from an unknown vendor. It’s interesting whether this can be termed as brand loyalty? There is no brand at work but the paan making skills of an individual. In Mumbai there is an unwritten rule that items like Paan and Bhel are to be prepared under your personal supervision, as per your taste if the vendor is unknown to you.  Your regular Paanwaala would know your taste. He just needs to know whose paan he has to prepare, that’s all, he will prepare exactly the same. The taste of the paan is vital. Paan lover’s mood totally depends on its taste.

For a hardcore paan lover the people who make/bring his paan are always fixed. They will not assign this job to any new person. These people have a tendency of getting angry if the paan is not prepared as per their taste.  While chewing paan they will not like to talk with anybody unless it is very important. The usual routine is, to bite the bottom tip of the paan spit it out, put the paan in their mouth, chew it for a minute, enjoy the flavor, close their eyes for a second, savor the taste and then be available to speak.

Normally Gujaratis, Marwadis are considered to be very conservative at spending money but for paan they are liberal. They are capable of traveling all the way from Malad to Bandra; spending Rs. 100 on petrol just to eat a paan worth Rs 10. One of the India’s biggest industrialists died and his funeral procession was heading towards Chandan Waadi crematorium. Press reporters and media people were present for the coverage. There was one person who could not control his emotions, was crying very loudly. People thought he must be a very old loyal servant or some relative from his native place. Reporters were curious to know who he was. They inquired and found out that he was industrialist’s regular Paanwaala. The industrialist was fond of paan and in his memory entire family had decided to give up paan for the period of one year. This Paanwaala had lost the business of nearly 25,000/- per month. While there were famous Paanwaalas serving the usual 120/300 and maghai jodi there were some others serving cocaine paan for members of the mafia and the rich spoilt brats. Such cocaine paans were sold for a sum as high as Rs. 4000/Paan. Some of them still continue the business in areas like Pydhonie, Malabar Hill, Bandra and Juhu. The four oldest Paanwaalas in Mumbai are ‘Babu’ from Bhuleshwar Cotton Exchange Gate, ‘Kanu’ from Madhav Bagh Mandir, C.P. tank area, ‘Govind’ from Kalbadevi opposite Dr. Vigas Street and ‘Shani Maharaj’ from Girgaon Chowpaty, who have minted money out of this business. Every day they used to export paans worth thousands to Dubai, Singapore and Middle East by air and still continue to do so.

The old energetic youngsters (senior citizens as we might think) used to go to the pedhis even without carrying walking sticks. Fifty years back at Girgaon chowpatty paan lovers used to get ‘Palangtod Paan ’ (literal meaning - Bed breaking) for just Rs. 20/-. I still do not know which ingredients they use in these paans, what was the effect after having it? Whether palangtod is to break the bed or the waist? Now people talk about Viagra but substance like Viagra was available at our paan shops 60 years ago. In Girgaon area radios were used at paan shops earlier than their entry in households.  Bua’s paan shop at the corner of Anand Bhavan lane was the public place for all youngsters for hearing cricket commentary. At that time Radio reception was not clear and one needed to seriously concentrate on the sound. Today people watch cricket match on big screens in hotels/multiplexes, but hearing commentary from Vijay Merchant on radio at paan shop had its own fun.  During cricket season ‘Kya score hua?’ during Election period ‘Kaun jeeta?’ “Bhai saahab Anand Bhuvan kidhar hai?” Only the paanwaala could provide correct answers to such questions. During festivals like Kojagiri and Holi these paanwaalas would arrange bhaang for you. Till date the Paanwaala outside Mahalaxmi temple is famous for providing the most authentic bhang in Mumbai.

With Development of the city now paan shops are available at every nook and corner. Some are regular cigarette and Paan vendors while some have focused on creating a brand. Different marketing strategies have been implemented by these new age paanwaalas to promote themselves. The ghanta paanwaala at Borivali rings a bell (ghanta literally) every time a paan is delivered to a customer. ‘Muchchad Paanwaala’ is probably the most abused brand names, there’s one at Charni Road, Andheri , Bandra and Borivali. Each Muchchad Paanwaala boasts about his long moustache and how the other muchchads stole his creative idea. The one at Andheri is listed in Limca book of records for making most number of paans in one hour. 

Times have changed, paanachi gaddi was replaced by paan patti and now paan patti has been replaced by a retail outlet selling paans, cigarettes, condoms, mobile recharge vouchers and what not. The one thing that has not changed is the craving that one has to eat a paan after a round of drinks and a nice meal. We might have the sizzling brownies, chocolate mousse to eat after a delicious dinner, but nothing compares to the pleasure of eating a maghai jodi after a delicious meal. On this note I shall take the last sip of my drink and head to the muchchad Paanwaala at Bandra to have a maghai jodi

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Independence Rock -- The Story so far

The year was 1994, the year when I became a teenager. Just like others; I too was restless, full of energy, a rebel without a cause ready to conquer the world with his stupid beliefs. It was always my habit to hangout with guys older than me. They were more like idols to a stupid teenager trying to act cool. To gain their trust I had been through the usual drill of being their orderly, fetching cigarettes for them, being the messenger pigeon between them and their girlfriends and the occasional scapegoat for their practical jokes. I had earned my place in the gang. One day these guys were planning to visit the ‘Independence Rock’ concert. I was told that it is the annual pilgrimage that one must attend to keep their faith in rock music intact; it’s the mecca of rock music. Those days it was a two-day event, usually held on 14th and 15th august. I requested to join and they willingly accepted. After a bus ride to the station and train journey we reached Marine lines station. We started walking towards the venue. The guys took a quick pit stop at an Irani cafĂ©, quickly gulping down some old monk and thums up. After a brisk 15 minutes walk we finally reached Rang Bhavan, the ultimate venue for a rock show that ever existed in India.

Rang Bhavan is situated next to St. Xavier’s college near marine lines station. There were too many townie beauties around. For my adolescent mind it was nothing short of being in the playboy mansion, surrounded by Hugh Hefner's picks of the season. All the rock fans running screaming, singing in their traditional IROCK outfits, torn/faded/dirty jeans, mostly denim blue and with a black colored rock print Tee shirt on top. I wondered whether it was the official dress code for this event and whether I will be let in since I was wearing a normal Tee with jeans. Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, Metallica were at an all time high that season and invariably you could see a lot of Cobain and Metallica on the Tee shirts. The attitude level increases with the kind of music you listen to. The Cobain and Hettfield fans walked with the “so you are the new wannabe rocker – never mind’ look while the Sepultura fans eagerly searching for people they wanted to bash in the mosh pit. A guy wearing a Slayer tee would definitely look down on a guy wearing a Jim Morrison Tee. The girls were not far behind either, some of them in the traditional IRock attire and the rest in the Xavier’s uniform. By Xavier’s uniform I mean jeans, a kurta (khadi type), chappal, a jhola on the shoulders, big earrings as accessories and an accent which is patented as the townie accent these days. I was happy to realize that there are females whose taste in music scaled beyond boy bands. After years of exposure to this cult even I have developed the attitude of looking down on guys who would listen to rap and R &B music. I guess continued exposure to the rock/metal environment invariably transfers the attitude disease to you.

Like all other places in Mumbai you always have to stand in long queues for anything, whether for a movie ticket, or your railway ticket. It was a pleasant surprise to see a long queue for tickets, I said to myself goddamn; “I didn't know that these many guys lived this lifestyle”. Even before attending the show, just at the venue gates I had started believing that rock n roll is not a form of music but a lifestyle. Standing in the queue we could hear the bands playing inside and the crowd screaming and singing along. The sound of electric guitar was exhilarating, the sound of the drums making my heart pound faster and faster. It's difficult to describe the feeling, one has to actually visit and experience the feeling.

We stood in the queue and then my friend pulled out bottles of thums up from his pocket, and offered everyone a swig. Thums up never tasted that way and then I was told that it was thumsup + OLD MONK, god damn since that day thums up and old monk have become the official drink for all rock shows. No matter how much money we have and even if there's a hotel nearby, invariably we end up drinking on the road and that too OLD MONK. Standing in the queue there was only a 20 feet wall that stood between the venue and us, a wall that divided the ‘already insane’ inside, from the ‘wannabe insane’ standing outside.

Back in those days, thums up and Yamaha were the only companies that sponsored Independence Rock. We paid our dues for the favor by mixing old monk and thums up and continue to do so till date. Rang Bhavan is an open-air theater with a small stage at the far end and circular concrete seating. On entering Rang Bhawan we were welcomed with the best abuses that a crowd can shower on any band. Apparently the band had taken some time to do their sound check and the restless crowd had started chanting “Bhenchod, Madarchod start the fuckin music”. “Wow” I said, people on this side abuse in hindi too. The air was filled with smoke of all types. The smoke from cigarettes, the fogger machine and some really weird smelling smoke too, something that smelled like Mehendi being burnt. After years of attending the shows, the smell of burning Mehendi was what I craved to smell and to smoke. The toilets at the rear side are more of a make out zone. I had never imagined that just for Rs. 60 I will get to experience booze, live rock music and live porn, this was turning out to be the best event I had ever attended.

That show had featured some of the best bands like Agni, Brahma, Pentagram and Parikrama. The time demanded that every band plays the best covers. Bands were not ranked based on how good their original composition was but purely on how well they covered Metallica, Deep Purple etc. That day all the bands were amazing with their work. Songs like Alive, unforgiven, one, another brick, highway star, smoke on the water, paradise city, jump, even flow etc were covered by these bands. In those days Farhad sometimes sang a song or two. ‘Knocking on heavens door’ being his favorite. Lately due to sponsorship commitments he tends to read news from DNA newspaper and somehow tries to make it sound as music. Futile attempt farhad, its neither music nor entertainment, stop making a jackass out of yourself. At a rock show the brain starts defying logic and laws of nature, physics etc. Thanks to the atmosphere and negligible amount of blood in your alcohol and nicotine stream you are bound to believe that you can sing louder than the band. Yes I was screaming (please note: screaming not singing) all the songs. The general practice is to head bang if you like the song or if you are high then believe that you are a wrestler and enter the mosh pit.

End of the show, as usual Farhad Wadia made a promise that the next IROCK will be bigger and better, and I would say that he has kept his promise year after year. What followed after the show was a long walk back to Marine Lines, but this time with really tired legs, a dry throat, clothes drenched in sweat and most importantly a neck that had never felt heavier and this painful. I guess head banging does take its toll on the entire body. What seemed cool back then had now turned into endless pain.

16 years have passed since that day, times have changed but the enthusiasm has not. IROCK venue has shifted from Rang Bhawan to Chitrakoot grounds. The sponsors changed from Thums up to DNA, Network 18 and the wannabe types. The music has changed from melodious Rock/Metal to the less tolerable Death Metal, technical death metal etc. We are no longer teenagers; most of us are in the senior management in multinational companies. Everyone is busy and earning enough to afford a nice visit to expensive restaurants or even a 5 star hotel, but till date when it comes to IROCK

  • The same friends call up, doesn't matter if we haven't spoken for 6 months but 2 days prior to IROCK they will call.
  • We end up drinking old monk and thumsup, that too on the road no matter how much money we have.
  • The screaming, attempts at trying to sing louder than the band never end. End of the show we all end up with neck pain.
  • Back then we cursed the college principal for making us attend college. Nowadays we curse the bosses when we are pretending to work with a headache and hangover.
  • IROCK is followed by a jam session, where we pledge to form a band and perform at the next year’s concert; only to go back as spectators aged 30 but with the spirit of a 14-year-old, cant help but sing

You say you wanna go for a spin
The party's just begun, well let you in
You drive us wild, well drive you crazy
You keep on shouting, you keep on shouting
I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day…

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oh Bhaiyaa yeh hai Jharkhandva

Back in 2005 for a particular assignment I was transferred temporarily to Ranchi. For the geographically challenged, Ranchi is the state capital of Jharkhand; a state carved out of the erstwhile state of Bihar. The names Bihar and Ranchi were enough to send a chill down my spine. Rajat Sharma, Aaj tak and the likes had done enough damage to the state’s image and played their part of being the ghost telling the stories in “Tales from the Crypt”. I had no choice but to accept the transfer after all ‘Paapi pet ka sawaal tha’, you know all the emotions and adversities that are part of Manoj Kumar’s every flop movie. It was time to leave. My otherwise very mother had transformed into the ever melodramatic Rakhi. What followed was a series of instructions from mom; just like the safety announcement on planes. And I was all set to travel to Ranchi

I got off at Hatia station in Ranchi. It’s an interesting fact that the local hooch made by the adivasis is also called as Hatia. Could not help but wonder which suburban railway stations in Mumbai will be called as Taadi Maadi, Mosambi, Naarangi . That way we have Sandas Road (Sandhurst road station) and Byculla (called as Bai-Kulla meaning Lady Ass). There might be some history of country hooch trading which I am not aware of. For some strange reason I did not dig deep into that part of history, at the moment it still remains a mystery.

I got into a rickshaw; introduced myself to the driver and struck a conversation. It turned out that Mr. Laddoo Singh (yes it was his name) was in the business for the last 20 years or so. I couldn’t help but wonder why a man aged around 50, frail frame, white hair, 1 broken and the rest stained teeth, hair on ears like mangroves on a creek, and a giant unibrow that could put Anil Kapoor’s hairy back to shame; was called Laddoo Singh.

My ride through Dhoni’s Ranchi began. Most cities in India have some historical landmarks like gateway of India, Red Fort etc. Ranchi however has only Dhonimarks i.e. his house, college, ground where he played etc. We reached a petrol pump known as “Khukri petrol Pump”. The interesting fact is that 100% female staff manages this petrol pump. Right from the attendant to the money collector and the cleaners, all of them are women from the northeastern states; at least their Mongolian features and dialect suggested so. The only male at this petrol pump was a gigantic billboard of Dhoni with small text saying that Dhoni buys fuel at this petrol pump. It’s an unwritten law to compulsorily feature at least one article/feature or news on Dhoni; irrespective of quality or relevance. During my tenure I have read news of a particular road being blocked just because Dhoni was visiting a nearby barbershop. Needless to say the shop too features Dhoni’s poster and the tag line – Dhoni cuts his hair here.

I was handling Government contracts, and visiting government offices was a daily torture I had to endure. The moment you encounter people who look like Laloo variants i.e. white kurta, graying hair, mangroves growing out of ears, pan stains on the clothes you probably are in the secretariat area. The word Jharkhand actually means tree land. I wonder whether the name Jharkhand was inspired by the forest cover on the land or the forests on people’s ears.

The corridors of these govt offices are usually narrow with cupboards lined up on either side. There is usually a small gap between the rear side of the cupboard and the wall. This gap is effectively used by the staffers to try their talent in painting these walls by spitting on it with pan. The popularity of a minister can be judged by looking at the queue of people lined up outside his office. Ministers handling useless portfolios like Labour, Law, Animal Husbandry etc usually don’t get visitors. Their cabins are found at the far end of the corridor.

It was told to me that in Bihar the success or failure of a movie is judged by looking at the seats in a theater after the movie. The crowd expresses anguish by spitting on the seats, or sometimes standing on the seats and dancing on them while appreciating a song or a fight. I had heard weird stories of movie fans from southern India, but these north Indian rituals have taken it to another level.

Ranchi has places with some of the funniest names. One of the local markets is called “Bahu Bazaar”. It is situated near an area called as “Chutia”. I’m not kidding, it’s like a prominent area divided into two zones “Upper Chutia” and “lower Chutia”. Smack in the middle you have the biggest goof ups in history, 'Chutia Police Station'. We all believed that Biharis were capable of pulling off stunts, but naming an area Chutia and dedicating a police station in that name, takes their insanities to a higher level. If you don’t believe me a snapshot of Google maps is provided to the left as forensic evidence, admissible and acceptable to the thaanedar of Chutia Police Station.

Night travel and outings are rare in Ranchi. Even if you are out for dinner/party, its always better to start the return journey by 8-8:30 PM. It’s difficult to get an auto-rickshaw after 9 PM. Even if you get one, safe return is not assured. One night at around 10 PM; I caught an auto and asked him to drop me till Bariyatu. The guy agreed and asked me to wait for a minute. He went back to his gang, which was sitting below a tree, took a Chillum took quick puffs of what smelled like Charas, I was too shaken at this sight but considering that I did not have any other option, decided to hire the auto anyway. His skills in riding the rickshaw on the horrible roads of Ranchi would have even given James Bond an inferiority complex. I guess his blood red dopey eyes were not capable of looking down and locating the brake, which he hardly used while driving as fast as Schumacher on the Monaco circuit. Afraid that he might look back and get distracted, I didn’t have any courage to talk and ask him to slow down. That day I realized that in times like these you couldn't remember the Hanuman Chalisa, Ram Raksha and all the mantras. I just wished that I was drunk or stoned like him; at least in death I would have a stupid smile on my face. During the rest of my stay, I somehow got used to this ritual and it had become part of the daily routine. There was a simple rule, get drunk and then board a rickshaw.

There are very few hotels in Ranchi. The most busy area i.e. Main Road in Ranchi has around 2-3 good places where you can probably eat. Like the rest of India even Ranchi has a small eatery that has a board that says “Bombay type Food server here”. The CCD (I guess the only one in Ranchi) is a family place. Yes CCD’s are a place for families only, single guys sitting alone are considered as pimps and the girl prostitutes. This was told to me by a colleague, who was skeptical of going to a CCD for some coffee. The funniest fact is that throughout my stay I could not find a single Bhelwala/Chaat stall in Ranchi. I mean just think of it, almost 90% of the guys serving Bhel on Mumbai roads are from UP/Bihar and Ranchi didn’t have a single Bhelwala. Litti and aloo chokha is to Jharkhand what Vada Pav & Misal are for Mumbai—Staple diet of the common man.

I met one of the most interesting characters at our guesthouse. The housemaid was one of the locals an Adivasi. She was nothing less than a terrorist or the leader of the mafia. It is every Adivasi/Maoist’s birthright to bunk work and participate in a morcha (protest march) at least twice a month. These people have a lot of pride associated with these strikes. Our maid used to come over and declare "Saheb aaj Jhanda hai to aaj main kaam pe nahi aaoongi". I wondered what the fuck is this Jhanda business. Later on i was told that it is customary for them to carry a red flag and march on the streets and protest against anything. Once our maid had participated in a strike organized by a local PSU called MECON. She was neither an employee nor a fellow sufferer, but there is nothing more joyous to these ignorant souls than to participate in a strike and get paid 10 bucks to buy a bottle of Hatia in the evening. There is a prominent junction on the main road in Ranchi a bit ahead of the Hanuman Mandir. Just like the locals; I have forgotten the actual name of that junction. Every week there is a protest march that ends at this junction. It is mandatory to first block the traffic, shout slogans and then burn the effigies of the leaders. Due to this routine and regular burning of effigies, the place is referred to as "Shamshaan ghaat" (Crematorium). Yes Ranchi has a crematorium smack in the middle of the road. Our maid's schedule was to reach as late as possible, then spend the next 30-45 minutes in having breakfast and tea. If she felt that the owners are looking hungry; sometimes out of goodwill she spared a loaf of bread and couple of eggs for us to consume. Emptying the fridge of all leftovers (cheese, jam and butter included) was a daily activity. Once I had left an unfinished bottle of Smirnoff on my desk. She promptly picked up the half full bottle to take it away. I suggested that the bottle is not empty, she replied “to kya hua? Mera pati daaru pee lega aur main bottle bhangaar waale ko bech doongi”. It was her right to pick up groceries, soaps etc from the cupboard and take them home. Now you tell me whether she qualifies as the mafia or not?

There are many lines which are only heard in Jharkhand. Since separation from Bihar, this state has been in a constant struggle to prove that Jharkhand is better than Bihar. When you try to bribe someone you are most likely to hear "yeh Bihar nahi hai, yeh Jharkhand hai. Yaha yeh sab nahi chalega". This is not a statement used to convey their pride or love for the state, it just means -- increase the bribe amount. The moment you do that, Jharkhand is back to being Bihar. Jharkhandis are not aware of the term shopping. Locally it is said 'hum marketing ke liye jaa rahe hai, kaunsa sabzi le aaye?". Shopping means marketing in Jharkhand.

I had the privilege of witnessing the Hanuman Jayanti celebrations. This festival draws big crowds (thousands of people) of people to Ranchi’s city center. Different mandals/akhada’s compete with each other. The competition is which Pandal brings the tallest or the biggest flag. Last time I saw a flag, which was almost like 40 feet by 20 feet. Most of the people are drunk; the place smells like a huge factory of Hatia; the local hooch. These drunken maniacs perform stunts with swords, lathis and all other lethal weapons. Lathis, swords flying from people’s hands are a common sight. Stories of passers by losing noses, ears, head injuries due to the flying weapons are quite common. if you are stuck in the procession; these morons are capable of jumping on the roof your car and perform a stunt. Serious advice; wear a full body armor in case you want to witness this event. After all unlike their American counterparts Indian insurance companies do not offer insurance for individual body parts.These morons forget the fact that Lord Hanuman is a God in the form of a monkey; you need not be monkeys to express your love towards him. Reaffirms my faith in the saying “Bandar ke haath mein talwaar”.

My stint finally came to an end; it was time to return back to the maximum city. My greatest achievement during this assignment was that I managed to keep my name intact; still managed to be Gaurav Puranik and not Gaurav Kumar.