The betel leaf has been in use for at least 2,000 years in India. But it took Jeevanlal Dewangan (57) of Gariyaband town, 120 km from Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur, to elevate the folding of the leaf to an art form.
Dewangan today has 400 of his paan designs under copyright and the Limca Book of Records acknowledges his talent. The designs are of objects or animals — there are birds, guns, flowers, pots, utensils, fish and even sport items in his repertoire. Whatever the shape, he promises his paan is wholesome and will “satiate your taste buds”.
It all started when Dewangan couldn’t study beyond class 11 due to poverty. He started a paan shop. He wouldn’t have imagined that one day it would give him wings to fly all over the country and beyond. And that each visit to a social function such as a wedding would fetch him a profit of Rs 20,000.
Dewangan has been to the US, West Asia and Mauritius. He travels most of the time on invitations. Due to his increasing popularity overseas, he has recently started a website called famousbetelmagic.com. Many high-profile people have chewed on his paan. “I had the honour of serving eminent people like Manmohan Singh, Bill Clinton, Shankar Dayal Sharma and I.K. Gujral,” he says. The website also mentions the nutritional contents of his paan.
The secret behind his success is simple: “When there could be so many varieties of food products in the market, why not paan be served in different designs without compromising on taste and quality?” His wife and two sons help him out. “The way paan is folded and wrapped may differ from state to state but I have 400 different designs under copyright,” says Dewangan. He has, however, stopped selling in his hometown — it was never really known for paan chewing.