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Saturday, 30 June 2007

FOOD/SHOP GUIDE - Paan - oh! -Tales

Fancy owning an MF Husain painting and that too free of cost! Shiv Narayan Pandey proudly flaunts his photograph with the famous painter's work gifted to him by Husain himself. Well, who is SN Pandey?

The 85-year-old man is a paanwala, the owner of SN Pandey & Sons, one of the oldest paan shops in Connaught Place. Bang opposite the Shivaji Stadium MCDonald's, this little paan shop tucked away in a corner overflows with anecdotes.

Peer in the shop and you will find yourself staring into an array of black and white photographs lining the wall.

There are photos of all the political stalwarts of the country from the old timers like Dr Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi to president APJ Abdul Kalam.

While some are posing with a young SN Pandey, the others are busy taking paan from him.

So, how does MF Husain's painting come here? "Husain always comes here for paan whenever he is in Delhi. I had once asked him for a painting of his and many years later he brought it and gave me saying I haven't forgotten my promise," says Pandey.

The young boy sitting along with the old man then offers me the speciality of the shop, a saada paan. "We have lots of variety like the banarasi paan, Madhuri and many more. There is no gutka in any of our paan, everything is pure," the enthusiastic chap tells me.

The paan legacy

Prod him a little and out come the old tales from the aging man's mouth. I feel as though i'm turning the chapters of an old book.

"In 1943, I bought six readymade paan for six paisa from Chawri Bazaar and sold them in this corner for double the cost. I continued this everyday till I collected Rs five. With this money, I slowly set up this shop.

I was very poor at that time and I started this business with the minimum money my father had given me," recounts Pandey.

Today, apart from the shop at CP's outer circle, SN Pandey has another paan shop in North Avenue which his elder son runs.

While the main shop is also run by his younger son, SN Pandey insists on coming to the shop for two to three hours a day.

"I come to the shop every day in the evening after eight. I feel happy to check if everything is going fine. I always teach my people to keep good original stuff."

SN Pandey's paan shop has its own share of historical moments. "Dr Rajendra Prasad was from Bihar so he used to like my paan very much.

Dr Zakir Hussain invited me for a Holi sammelan at Rashtrapati Bhavan where people were invited from all over the world.

Even foreigners got to taste our paan. Pandit Nehru always used to take paan from us when he would go to visit Liaquat Ali Khan in Pakistan," the old man recounts.

Just then another grey haired man pops up suddenly from somewhere and says, "I used to come to this shop as a little boy with my father when the paan used to cost 20 paisa. I am the third generation customer of this shop," Pavan Chadha told me gleefully chewing the paan.

"My office is nearby and even today I come here everyday for at least half an hour just to relax," says Chadha wiping his paan stained lips.

While all the first citizens have digged into Pandey's paan in Raisina Hills, our Bollywood stars too have some paan-oh!-tales with this shop.

"Our paan was served at Vyjayanthimala's wedding. Madhuri Dixit has been coming to our shop since she was a little girl. In fact Syed Jaffri has also sat here and made paan himself," Pandey tells me ecstatically showing off all the photographs.

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