In Jaipur, Annu paan waala is trying to revive the paan chewing tradition by stuffing the betel leaves with the most unusual items

What’s the wackiest thing a paan waala could roll in a betel leaf — strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, chocolate fudge or ice? The answer to this rhetorical question: all of these, if one is talking about a paan shop in Jaipur’s Raja Park.

Annu’s mobile paan shop, which has stretched the idea of the humble, ubiquitous paan beyond its scope, features 111 different varieties of paan. If you are a paan purist who swears by his bangali patta or his no. 120, your first reaction to Annu showing off his ‘menu card’ would probably be to scoff at the fancy sounding paan varieties.

But try his ice paan. That should cool you down, literally. As the crushed ice laced with golden hued sweet chutney melts in your mouth, you experience that “get lost” feeling much advertised by the TV ad of a popular chocolate candy brand.

And then, perhaps, you would be open to try out the other flavours as well, including cappuccino, chocolate, mango, chandan and litchi, all extremely popular among Jaipur’s youth.

The new varieties have helped Annu add new customer groups for whom chewing the traditional paan was not cool. “We get a lot of female customers, besides several youngsters who otherwise thought that chewing paan spoils their style,” he says.

“The regular tobacco/zarda paan will always be around but these days we sell more of the new experimental varieties,” he adds.

What started out 12 years ago in the trunk of a van has now grown into a successful business. Annu plans to set up at least two more stores in Jaipur and another five outside Rajasthan, including Punjab and Kerala in future.

“Earlier when regular paan customers came, their wives and children would just sit in the car. Now the entire family has something to choose from. The children especially love the chocolate and ice paans,” he says, adding that with increasing government regulation against tobacco products, the traditional paan is on its way out.

The new recipes, he says, help keep the tradition of paan chewing alive. His menu card also features some medicinal varieties that apparently work wonders in cases of cough, cold and sore throat.

According to Annu, the new varieties are in great demand even in States where paan chewing is not very popular. “And they are very popular at elite weddings. Recently, we set up a stall at the wedding of Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor,” he says.

Before you leave, Annu makes sure you take a look at the photographs of all his celebrity customers, pasted on a huge board at his shop, featuring film stars, politicians and other celebrities.