Paan and Orphanages


I throw my head out the window of our clickity-clank white Land Rover and spit up what looked like a florescent orange liquid concoction of leaves and rose scented incense sticks. I’m chewing paan. I’ve copied the idea from my favorite memoir- Shantaram, as the protagonist of this story is introduced to paan just as he arrives in Bombay. Picture a flat leaf from a tree and in the middle of this leaf is tobacco, some sort of maroon paste and what I can only guess are incense sticks because that is exactly what it tastes like. You’re supposed to feel a small buzz. I feel wasted. I was told to put the folded two leaves in my mouth and wait until I salivate so much so that I’ll want to spit it out. Do not swallow, is the message I receive.

“If you swallow these beautiful perfumes in this newly purchased of all cars, you will feel a very bad thing and have a very big mess, and I do not want a very big mess in my favorite of all cars. Now chew quickly and be very happy. You will be a most extreme high very soon,” our driver Shedu instructs, smiling with his large eyes, smirking and yelling at oncoming traffic and honking his horn manically.

When in Rome right? I had to try it. I’m trying to escape the underlying stress of opening orphanage No. 2. The sponsor who funds orphanage No. 1 is providing most of the funds to open the second, but after arriving in India and taking a look at Alice in Wonderland (No. 1) and seeing how absolutely magnificent it is, It has become very clear that the children need another floor added to the orphanage and not a whole new operation.

I know this will all work out somehow, because it always does. I’ve learned to go with the flow in regards to the orphanage business because things change daily and problems that seem monumental change sometimes in a minute.

I feel sick. I’m most definitely going to be sick. Oh no. I hate this feeling. I swear I’ll never chew paan again for the rest of my life. It’s just tobacco! Tobacco and incense sticks can make me feel this sick?

Well, when in India.


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