When I first went to Sri Lanka – by 2 boats from Rameswaram in the south of India – it was in the throes of a miserable socialism[1 ]. Mean politicians ruled a people unable to see past the struggle for their next meal. Even the land seemed dusty and intractable. But now, with the return of a market economy, the land is so lush it is startling.
One of the local crops is potatoes, and this man trades in potatoes. He was a decent man, gently spoken and well educated. Why would I mention this? Because under socialism the Sri Lankans I met were either the fat-witted privileged, or the hustling down-trodden.
Now this man is a shop-keeper of the old school. He sells ‘paan’, that stimulating, disgusting, somewhat lethal mixture of leaves, tobacco and spices that people on the subcontinent chew. I asked him if it was good for you. He told one of the men in the shop to show me his mouth – a straggle of black, rotted teeth. Did he use it? “Of course not”.
His is a simple paan. The ingredients pictured below I guess are betel leaf, betel nut, tobacco and lime stone powder paste[2 ]. Though if anyone has a sufficiently purple mouth to correct me, feel free.
1. Even the Trotskyites got a seat at the table. These were guys who never got invited anywhere.
2 He did tell me what they were but my brain ran out of room for new stuff 11 years ago.
3. Kindly note: there is nothing in this practical endorsement of market economies that suggests there aren’t some CEOs who ought to be stuffed into a cannon and shot off the planet. After getting an ‘atomic wedgie’.