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June 15, 1998


HCL Infosystems

            Muchhad Paanwala spits out a URL!: Business is unusual for the Web's only paan shop as it begins slap URLs on T-shirts and tissues.

Priya Ganapati in Bombay

Email this story to a friend. Business is unusual for the Web's only paan shop as it begins to slap URLs on T-shirts and tissues.

If you know Bombay well, you may have come across one of its enduring institutions, the Muchhad paan shop.

It can be found at the mouth of Warden Road, one of the more posh residential localities of the megapolis. The place now boasts one more address.

That makes it the only paan shop on the Web. And the best thing about it is that while you place your order for the pulse quickening kalkatta ek sau bees via your outbox, you can help clean the city of paan stains by playing the Muchhad game in a browser by the side.

How did this miracle come about?

For that, we go back to the time when Jaishankar Tiwari, the rustic patriarch from Tiwaripur, Uttar Pradesh, the proprietor of the Muchhad Panwala Shop, met Vivek Bhargava, the cyber yuppie, who did the nuts-and bolts-job on the Web site.

Bhargava, the 25-year-old connoisseur of meetha muchhad runs a Web hosting business called Ultimedia for a living. Over two months ago, when Tiwari began quizzing his favourite customer about his line of business, the discussion turned into an engrossing crash-course on the possibilities of the World Wide Web.

At first Bhargava shrugged off Tiwari's enthusiasm as the zeal of the convert. But when the lowly paanwala persisted with "Humko aap Internet par pehla paanwala bana do na," [Translate] Bhargava began to see what this "radically different" concept could do for his business too.

Tiwari's excitement was contagious. And a neat and crisp pioneering Web site was born.

Besides being an electronic shop front where you can order paans via email, the Web site traces the history of the Moghul delicacy, explains the kinds of paans that experts are familiar with and the exotic ingredients that go into preparing them.

Then there is a section that teaches you to make your own paan. And if you think you can get good enough at it and make do without Muchhad, you should know that paan-making is a fine art, handed down from generation to generation. No laboratory recipe works here.

Jewella Miranda

Kripasagar Tiwari, brother of Jaishankar, practices his art
When Rediff sent over this reporter to the Muchhad shop to check out the enterprise first hand, Tiwari Sr, respected for his proud moustache which runs thick from ear to ear, was not there. He was away in Tiwaripur for a wedding in the clan.

Ram Shankar Tiwari, his son, held fort. Tiwari Jr is missing the fierce trademark moustache. When challenged, he apologised: "Hum to abhi jawaan hain. Aaage dekha jayega." [Translate]

"My grandfather started this shop decades ago when he came down to the big city in search for his fortune. My father followed him and took over the business in 1977. In recent times, our popularity has soared beyond expectations and people drive tens of kilometres to taste our skills. After dinnertime, dozens of cars queue up to the petrol pump down the road. The media discovered us two to three years ago and since then scores of journalists like you come asking questions. However, you are the first one interested in the Web site idea of my father," informs Tiwari Jr.

Though younger and armed with an education in Sanskrit up to the eighth standard, he is surprisingly less enthusiastic about the Web site that his unschooled father has built.

But that does not make him less upbeat about the plan to print URLs on tissues and T-shirts for the boys who deliver the paans to the cars parked for it.

Tiwari Jr concedes that they have only received a few small orders via email. But Bhargava points out that the Web site has been up for just about 20 days. "The final version was uploaded only 5-6 days ago. I'll be in a better position to talk about the orders and the revenue that comes from it in about a month. You have to give time to people to get familiarised with the site," he pleads.

He has reasons for his optimism. "Already, I have received at least seven to eight mails from the US, requesting me to deliver paans. But I am just not ready to begin exporting paans yet," he laughs. And then adds, more seriously, that if the demand is really strong and Tiwari is willing, they would consider some arrangement for the US of A.

Bhargava says that right now they are only looking at bulk orders for wedding dinners and other ceremonies. He laughs away the idea of delivering just one paan unless "you are ready to pay Rs 100 for it".

Unlike most corporate pages, this virtual paan shop will not remain static, Bhargava assures. He will soon update the site with a research paper that demonstrates the medicinal properties of each ingredient in a paan recipe. "One of the doctors has solid research to back the claim that paan is a disinfectant and does not cultivate any germs. You can never fall sick by having a paan."

Modern India has come to detest paan eaters because the uncouth among them chew and then spit out the red betel juice, staining walls, window grills and pavements. Bhargava has designed a game to persuade paan eaters from dirtying their surroundings. It is the most exciting addition to the site.

"My vision is that on the Internet this (the virtual paan shop) is just the beginning. I hope that small traders and businessmen will approach me to do similar sites for them. There is always a possibility. However, I am not planning to set up a paanwala network," he laughs.

Tiwari Jr may not be so sure about the Web himself but he talks of a nephew, back in good old Allahabad, who surfs a lot. He has given the Web site an excellent rating and predicts good business coming from it.

Unfortunately, that branch of the Tiwari tree would rather be an engineer.

So for now, our only paan shop on the Web is safe in the hands of Jaishankar Tiwari, the pioneer, who has survived times when sweets were distributed in the neighbourhood on the connection of a telephone line.

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