|Paddy and paan on the Shaplapur Road.|
|Tending paddy below, paan barouj above.|
|A tea shop in Gorakghata|
But wait… Abu Taher’s beaten us to it. At the first tea shop bench in from the street he’s already chewing. The 40-year-old truck driver from Chittagong carts cement to Moheshkhali, six-hours each way, up and down every day. When work is done, he knows to savour an island paan before climbing back into his rig.
|A map of Moheshkhali Island.|
|Paan / Betel leaf, ready for sale.|
|Betel vines growing in a barouj.|
Ek dinelai rakhi tare, Housher pirit shikhaitam… sings Shefali. “I will keep him for a day. I will teach him sweet love.” And for Shefali’s one day of Moheshkhali paan fostered love, Aktar’s husband and one of her two sons attend to the barouj daily. They only hire outside help at peak times.
|Paddy and paan, leading up a valley.|
|Paan for sale in Notun Bazar, Big Moheshkhali.|
And while he’s at the market he might meet Mohammed Zakaria, 35, just as easily as we’ve met him on the second bench from the street, back in Jamal’s tea shop. He’s chewing paan while Shefali takes rest for a short instrumental break.
|It's a busy scene at Notun Bazar paan market on Tues, Fri.|
|Negotiations underway at Notun Bazar.|
|Areca nut / Shupari. The best comes from Teknaf.|
|Paan growing at the foot of Adinath Hill in Little Moheshkhali.|
|Paan is one of the main crops on Moheshkhali.|
|Paan, sold by the birra.|
It really does taste sweeter. I tried one before I'd even heard of Moheshkhali paan and I thought "Wow! That was a tasty paan."
|Moheshkhali paan. Immortalised in folk song.|
|A paan barouj in Moheshkhali will often be located in a valley or on a hillside.|
An abridged version is published in The Daily Star, here: Lovers of Moheshkhali Betel
An aside: after visiting the paan market one hot morning in Big Moheshkhali, it was time for breakfast. I found a local hotel and before long two local paan traders joined me at the table. Of course we got to talking and they said they'd just sold - their pockets were full of cash. Partly from feeling flush and partly from general hospitality, when I finished (before them) they insisted on paying for my breakfast too. Knowing there was no way to get around that I agreed and walked to the front counter where, talking to the manager, I secretly paid theirs instead! The manager was so impressed he gave a discount. Meanwhile those two just understood what I'd done as I left... too late to stop me!