While glistening malls and showrooms are reserved for few; the paanipuri wala managing to stand outside such magnanimous buildings in a cramped corner serve as honeypots attracting a motley group of people.
The crowd around the golgappa comprises of not only girls and women, but it has made fans to boys and our uncles too.
I am such a haunter of this place. Many times a month I get a call from the crispy, light balls and its spicy and tangy accompaniments and I sincerely attend to it. The excitement that holds standing in front of the “Bhaiya”; waiting for him to drop that little morceau of joy in your bowl; is akin to that of watching the examiner in examination hall walking towards you with the question paper: only the latter does not promise a happy ending as the former.
Once the golgappa goes into the mouth, it bursts out sending all the tastebuds into Zumba. And this sequence continues until the “bhaiya” interrupts by informing, “That was all for Rs.10..”
I have tried this Indian fast food in different cities and have my favorites in each of them. In Patna, I once decided to take my friend along to such a frequented corner . The Paanipooriwala looked at me and immediately remarked, “You came a day before yesterday also. Isn’t it?
The recognition summarized my loyalty for the “phuchkas” and sent me to an immediate feeling of self-pride which I quietly absorbed giving out a broad smile.
I never forget this Indian fast food in happiness, in routine, in health and even in uneasiness of occasional acidity. I proudly mentioned to my mother once that how everytime I feel acidic I munch on golgappas which eventually makes me feel better. To this, my mother reminded that “paani” of the puri is one of the healthiest things which we have forgotten. It is a digestive made of cumin, black salt, tamarind, coriander, and mint. The concoction is something if consumed after a meal during summers would cool down the digestive system. A few days later after this revelation by my mother, I watched a video of a dietician stressing upon benefits of this “jaljeera water.” My love for this fast food matured into respect as like most other Indian food items it is humble, gratifying and comes with health benefits.
I admire the hard work by the panipuri walas. They stand whole day to sell out the food item, and I often calculate to find that it is for much less profit. They cater to different moods and preferences of people quickly making desired changes in the masala and the water as per the likings: making it a little sweet or spicy ; serving it on a plate, some want without water, some want it slow and all this while keeping the count of the golgappa he is serving.…Some of the sellers do not own the standees and work on commission. On looking closely, one would find that they don’t seem thrilled while making others so and a little compliment here and there would do no harm in making them as happy to sell as we are to eat.
A few years back while I lived in Bhopal; there was a time when the craze for mineral water was at its peak, and every other person took pride in mentioning the popular water purifier they had bought. This frenzy made people skeptical about the street food and yes the water they used. Water being the soul of the golgappas was targeted the most.
In new Bhopal, I soon found this snack was made out of mineral water, stored in jars.
The seller would fill each crispy ball with a small outlet from the jars and neatly placed them on the plate. On seeing paanipuri facing the threat of extinction, my heart revolted; I felt like standing on a podium and reprimand them for fiddling with the basics of paanipuri! “Have they forgotten their roots? what has happened to this generation?” I wondered! Paani puri has to be served with hands, dipping every single piece in the earthen pot filled with the tangy, digestive water. With bhaiyas wearing plastic gloves take care of the hygienic part and there is nothing one should think beyond!
Apart from the taste, I look at it with pride for being healthy, and as I mentioned in the beginning; welcoming people from different walks of life. In a way, the Paanipuri corners are serving the cause of the constiution: welcoming all with no differentiation. You would never find people circling the golgappa wala in a lousy mood or indulging in any sort of argument.
In Bangalore, I have my favorite place just down my apartment .Once, while waiting with a bowl to receive my share of golgappa I looked up at a banner of a political party hung on the electric pole trying to divide voters by language and started an internal monologue against them when my spell was broken: “Chennagide?”, asked the panipuriwala from North in impeccable Kannada to his customer. “Achcha, bohot achcha” replied the man with a smile.
I once again felt pride for my country coexisting with diverse language and culture and felt assured that as long as we keep our sanity and love for this street food intact: nobody can divide us . This cramped corner will keep bringing people together.
Our country definitely needs more paanipuriwala than politicians!
Picture Courtesy : Youtube.com and quickmagindia blog