Harbinger of good luck
(This is only a feeble translation of "Bohoni", a story by Munshi Premchand)
The other day when the shop selling betel leaves on the other side of my house opened, I was elated beyond words. There wasn't any other shop within 200 metres of my house which sold betel leaves. The shop was situated at the crossroads, and there was always a crowd of customers. Sometimes, I had to wait for a few minutes before my turn came. I found this wait very exasperating.
I do not remember when and how I became addicted to betel leaves. But if someone were to keep folding betel leaves into neat triangles and passing them on to me, I would, perhaps, never refuse. If not a large part of my income, at least a small portion of it was definitely spent in satisfying my craving for betel leaves.
Many times had I resolved to buy a "paandaan (box for holding betel leaves)". But purchasing a "paandaan" is no child's play; for me it was akin to buying an elephant. Even suppose, after grave risk to myself, I did buy a "paandaan", it wasn't going to prove to be a fairy's bag where I could dip my hands and draw out a tidy triangular ball at will. I would still have to buy betel leaves from the market, wash them, separate and throw away the rotten leaves, fold the good ones into triangles five times a day; not an easy task by any means! I have seen women, belonging to rich families, always engaged in the sole activity of maintenance and management of "paandaans". Had I been capable of bearing such hardships, I too might have been someone in life!
Supposing I do overcome these hardships, but who will slice the areca nuts? The very sight of the scissors makes me shiver. In case it is necessary and unavoidable to undertake such work, I would rather use a mortar and pestle to grind the nuts. But don't ever ask me to use a scissor; I will never touch that thing! Whenever I see somebody using a scissor-cutter to slice the nuts, it fills me with wonder - to me this sight is much more awesome than someone dancing on the sharp-edged blade of a sword.
Now, suppose, if even this matter is somehow resolved, but who will complete the final intimidating task of mixing lime and catechu? Is mixing lime and catechu an easy task? At least I do not know the method. I have seen experts failing in this task; so, how can I, a novice, expect to attain perfection?
If the paan-seller adds more lime by mistake, one can always reprimand him and take a little more catechu to compensate. The real problem occurs when you visit a friend's house and the "paan" comes from the women's quarters within. One has to chew and swallow the stuff although it is like swallowing a fly or gulping poison. You cannot complain; civility acts as a constraint. Sometimes when you pop the "paan" into your mouth, it feels as if the tongue is on fire - as though someone has forced hot mercury into your throat. It is beyond my comprehension as to how mistakes of this kind can occur - I admit I am a greenhorn, but even I do not apply so much lime. I think these are not mistakes but deliberate acts; it is an expression of their wrath! When you roll your sleeves and raise hell just because breakfast has been delayed, the only recourse the women have to take revenge is to add more salt to the curry or apply more lime to the "paan"!