Almost every household has those steel “paan ka dabba” which is only accessible to the shining wrinkled hands of grandmom or granddad. This paan ka dabba is tiny but holds a special memory for kids who hang around and play with granny to get sweets, to get away from parents yelling about homework and to have just a little bit of betel leaf from that steel box.
My grandmother’s betel box travelled quite a lot and it holds a memory which brings back to life a story from Bangladesh to India. It holds a memoir of Bangladeshi culture and those big farmhouses she had once lived in, and of Kolkata’s narrow streets and a new house with a different Bengali accent and food culture. Everything was left behind in one foreign country divided by a single wire but that steel betel box was packed in her handbag. From crossing a country, becoming a refugee and then settling down in a proper mannered Bengali middle-class family, that betel box saw everything.
After having a grand luncheon, what a happiness it was to see granny opening the dabba, making a role of that leaf with meethi supaari (sweet betel nut) and cherry and then slowly munching it. This scene used to bring a glimmer to my eyes. Till the age of 10, no one was to use that box except for granny. After that, I started to grow up and so did my naughty brain. I used to play doctor-doctor with my brother, and to make medicines, those betel leaves came to work, since they have a bitter taste. I used to tip-toe to my granny’s room and steal one leaf from that box. But of course, this would come to an end when I’d get caught and get a good beating from my mother. One day, my brother ate that leaf and started vomiting. Well, after that my doctor-doctor game came to an end forever.
By the time I entered adulthood, the betel box was placed in my hand and I was given the responsibility of handing it over to granny after the grand luncheon. I enjoyed that phase because after a hectic schedule, seeing a paan made by granny and receiving a small pep talk from her became a habit for me.
Whenever I sit with my close friends and start talking about granny, the betel box always comes up in conversation and refreshes those memories with mixed emotions. Every person in our life leaves an impression in our mind and leaves behind some token of love, which in my grandmother’s case, was her betel box.