Monthly Archives: February 2014
A couple of definitions are in order.
First, “paan” is a concoction made with betel leaf and areca nuts that is consumed quite heavily in India and surrounding countries. Like chewing tobacco, it appears to have addictive properties. Paan is often served after a meal as a palate cleanser but there are many who chew it throughout the day.
Second, “thook” is the Hindi word for “spit”. Yes, it’s as disgusting as it sounds. Just as you would spit out tobacco that has been chewed, so too the paan chewers spit out their paan after they are done. What’s more disgusting is that due to the resulting color of chewing paan, the combination of the two, i.e. “paan thook” is an ugly orange-red.
It is common to see people on streets in India spitting out their paan, usually aiming for a nearby wall or structure. If not, just right there on the sidewalk is quite alright with them. Yep, again, it’s as disgusting as it sounds. Every now and then, you can spot signs like this one, which are virtually always ignored:
A feature article in the New York Times even talked about the menace that paan thook has become in one of the Indian-heavy neighborhoods in Queens, New York. Way to go, Indians, for spreading our “culture”!
So, given that prelude, here’s what I encountered on my recent trip to India.
First, my travel woes started with the winter storm that prevented any travel out of my usual hub of Atlanta, taking me North then East over the Atlantic into British territory for a quick stop, before getting to Mumbai on an airlines I had not traveled in over two decades – Air India. I knew there were good reasons for not traveling Air India for many, many years but that’s a story for another day.
The midway stop between the US and India was Heathrow Airport in London. Busy but well maintained except for a few rude Brits that I encountered, this stop, like Air India, was only a distant memory to me. Terminal 4 where Air India operates is an older terminal but looked like it had been upgraded recently. It was quite swanky actually.
Air India has its lounge in an area off by itself and secluded from other lounges. It has an elevator that appears reserved just for the guests of that lounge. I made my way over there for a couple of hours of rest before the remainder of my journey. There, they told me that I would be flying one of the new Dreamliners that Air India had recently acquired from Boeing. Neat, I thought. This is not so bad after all.
There were hardly any other passengers in the lounge and when they announced boarding for my flight, I made my way out of the lounge to the elevator. It is when I got inside and happened to glance down that, to my utter amazement, I saw one corner covered by, what else but “paan thook“. Amazement and dismay!
I wish I had taken a picture of this revolting sight (just in case you don’t believe me) but my hands were full and my brain must have been otherwise occupied. But if there’s any Indian in you, of course you believe me! Sadly, even Heathrow Airport is scarred now with this ugly mess. 😦
Paan Ingredients: By Eraheem (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Paan Leaves: By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A couple of weeks ago, two incidents juxtaposed themselves in the oddest ways, showcasing once again the major dichotomies that India the country deals with day after day after day.
Other countries deal with extremes too but somehow India seems to go for the jugular when it comes to dichotomy. Or maybe it’s just my focus on my native country that makes it appear more severe than it is? Nah.
The first instance was the selection of Indian-born executive Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, arguably one of the top global technology companies of our lifetimes. He immediately went from one of many relatively unknown executives to one of the most prominent Indians in the US and the global corporate world.
The second instance was the 3 member Indian team that went to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Stripped of the Indian flag due to a charge of millions of dollars of corruption of an Indian Olympic Association(IOA) official and the subsequent suspension of the entire IOA, their presence was humbling indeed.
While Indian Olympic participation has never been stellar, this resulted in the humiliating experience of the Indian team not being able to represent their country with its flag! [This could have been avoided if they had taken steps to do what IOC required in redrafting its constitution and holding new elections before the games, but no…].
It may seem odd to pluck two totally unrelated items and try to relate them but one happening on the heels of the other, they struck me as especially paradoxical – more so than normal in that yin and yang country where happenings, perceptions and reactions seem to swing between the entire pendulum of extremes all the time. No half measures there!
Dichotomy, did I say? What an understatement.