New Delhi: What is common between Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and Barack Obama, apart from the fact that they are/were significant political personalities? The answer is 95-year-old Narayan Pandey.
Pandey who? You might ask. Well, he is the owner of the famous Paandey’s Paan shop at President’s Estate in South Block, Delhi. He holds the unique distinction of treating all former presidents, prime ministers and state guests with his delicious paan.
The official supplier to the President House is all set to serve President Obama special sweet paan at the presidential banquet to be hosted in honour of the visiting US President, who is also the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26.
Hari Om, the grandson of Narayan Pandey, told Firstpost that they are the official suppliers of paan to the President’s House. He proudly claims that they have served special paan to Obama and former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.
“We have been involved in this business for three generations. We have a long list of presidents, prime ministers, state guests and other celebrities whom we have served paan. Obama, Bush and Clinton have also had our paan,” he said, adding that the current US President was served paans in “chocolate and butter-scotch flavours”.
The daily consumption of Pandey’s paans at Rashtrapati Bhavan stands at around 10-12 but on special occasions, the demand rises. “We send at 10-12 paans – both meetha and saada – everyday to Rashtrapati Bhavan. On special occasions, the demand increases to around 500,” says Hari Om.
Leaving a lucrative job of a company secretary, Hari Oam (41) is helping his father Devi Prasad (70), himself is an arts graduate, by managing the accounts and social media of the shop. Hari Om’s younger brother is a lawyer in Delhi High Court.
The shop was established in 1943 at Connaught Place. Since the exotic paan shop was frequented by prime ministers and presidents, the then President VV Giri allotted Narayan Pandey a space to open another branch at North Avenue in South Block in 1970.
“My father (Narayan Pandey) started the first shop at Connaught Place in 1943. We have been catering to political leaders from before Independence. President VV Giri allotted us this shop in North Avenue and since then we have been supplying paan to Rashtrapati Bhavan,” says Hari Om’s father Devi Prasad Pandey, who has been looking after the shop since 1972.
From Dr Rajendra Prasad to Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi, Pandey and sons are seen posing with presidents, prime ministers and other celebrities in photographs that adorn the walls.
Pointing towards a frame, Devi smilingly says, “APJ Abdul Kalam does not eat paan but even he tasted our meetha (sweet) paan.”
Well known Bollywood actors, including Vyjayanthimala, Madhuri Dixit and Shatrughan Sinha, have also visited Pandey’s Paan. Veteran actor Saeed Jaffrey, who played the role of a paanwalla in ‘Chashme Buddoor’ – a 1981 romantic comedy-buddy film – took the training of dealing with customers in distinct style of a paan seller for 15 days at Pandey’s.
The story began in 1942 when the patriarch of the Pandey family – Shiv Narayan Pandey – left Ayodhya and came to Delhi in search of a job. He set up a paan shop in 1943 at Block B in the outer circle of Connaught Place. “I still remember that I bought a meetha paan from a shop at old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar for six paise. I sold it on just double price at Connaught Place. At that time, I was 14-15-years old. Assuming that this is the most profitable business, I started selling paan on a footpath. In just one year, I got a permanent shop at Block B in outer circle,” he said.
A landmark now, this paan shop has seen history unfold, up close and personal. “I fed Dr Rajendra Prasad a meetha paan on the occasion of first Republic Day parade. Dr Prasad liked that paan so much that he started visiting this shop regularly,” Narayan Pandey, who still runs the shop himself at Connaught Place, claimed adding that “meetha paan is our most famous paan and it is also a favourite at Rashtrapati Bhavan. What makes it special is the ratio and quality of catechu and edible lime, which is the essence”.
Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru was also a regular customer of Pandey’s shop. He used to visit the shop often at night. “Nehru was a regular here. Whenever he had to meet Liaquat Ali Khan, he used to come to my shop to get some paans,” recalls Pandey.
“Indira Gandhi was also fond of our paans. The meetha paan with ilaichi (cardamom) was her favourite,” he said adding the he was offered a ticket to contest the elections in 1972 by the then prime minister but he refused by saying, “Hum paan men chuna laga sakte hain, rajniti men nahin (I am not suitable for the job as I can apply lime in paans, not in politics).”
The paan heaven offers 35 varieties of different flavoured paans, including few renditions of chocolate, at a price of Rs 30 to Rs 50 each. It ranges from Strawberry, Cranberry Sweet Paan, Brownie Walnut, Wild Blueberry, Custard Apple, Black forest Sweet Paan, Kiwi, Musk Melon, Sweet Paan with dried fruit, Fresh Fruit Paan honey with almond, roasted cashew, anjir, raisin, chilgoza, pista, pina colada to name a few.
There are some interesting nomenclatures as well: 4th Idiot Sweet Paan, Madhuri special paan (named after actor Madhuri Dixit visited the shop), Overtake Sweet Paan (less sweet and with sandal flavour), Pina Colada, Chiggy Wiggy Minty Sweet Paan and ‘Blaster 200′.
Try their Chiggy Whiggy sweet paan, Butterscotch paan, Madhuri Honey Sweet Paan and Blaster 200 (chocolate and mint) among others. The ‘Blaster 200’ melts in your mouth.
In the ‘Hello to Our Fitness Regime’ section of the shop, you will find diet paan, which is made with sucrose. The paans come wrapped in attractive packing with shiny coloured wrappers.
Pandeys claim that the specialty of any paan prepared in their shops is that it would not leave any red stain and it just melts in your mouth.
The most popular is ‘Madhuri Honey Sweet Paan’. Interestingly, the paan is named after Madhuri Dixit who visited the shop with the late t MF Husain in the 1990s. “Husain saheb was our regular customer. He asked me to make a special paan in Madhuri’s name,” says Devi Prasad, pointing towards a painting of Lord Hanuman adorning the shelf. “Husain saheb gifted this painting,” he reveals. The painting has Lord Hanuman carrying two beetle leaves on the mountain instead of sanjeevani booti as mentioned in Ramayana.
Although the Pandeys have not received an order for January 26, as it is usually placed a day before, they are all set to serve specially prepared delicious paan to the US President.