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June 23, 1998

Chew this one over: paanwala sets up shop on the internet
BANGALORE: Here's a trade flash: Jaishankar Tiwari's paan store on Warden Road, Mumbai, has started its branch on the information highway.

With that, Muchhad -- as Tiwari is popularly known -- has an electronic gaddi now; as he sits strewing pistachio powder on a meetha paan when he's not stroking his twirled-handlebar moustache.

It's just over a week since the friendly-neighbourhood paanwala set up shop on the Internet at

At the site, you have a brief history of the paan-chewing habit (a tradition said to have been started by Mughal queen Noorjehan), tips on making your paan, a Muchhad game which helps you clean Mumbai of betel-juice stains and a facility for ordering paan through e-mail.

``The response has been tremendous. We have received 250 e-mail orders for paan from India and abroad in the last five days. A couple of them have sent me their credit card number (though the RBI doesn't allow the use of credit cards on the net). We are, however, still finalising how to take orders and deliver them out of India. Right now our target market is paans for marriages,'' says Tiwari's digital consultant, the 25-year-old Vivek Bhargava, who set up the website.

Muchhad, from Tiwaripur village in Uttar Pradesh, came to Mumbai in 1977 to attend to the family business started by his father. His four brothers help out too at the drive-in shop, but Tiwari's sons are excited about publicising their new Internet address.

It all happened with computer pro Bhargava, a ``connoisseur'' of paan himself, and his friends discussing their vocation with the senior Tiwari. ``He was fascinated with the concept of the Internet, and when we showed him his photograph on a digital camera, he was hooked. Humka Internet par pehla paanwala bana do, he urged. His enthusiasm was contagious,'' says Bhargava, who was also keen on promoting his web-hosting enterprise called Ultimedia.

And so they got cracking. ``It took us two weeks to collect all the information. Then we had about four photo sessions, discussions with Tiwariji about four or five times. And another two weeks to build the website,'' informs Bhargava.

Srinivasa Rao Udupa of Louisiana State University, a visitor at the site, marvels at the concept: ``It's excellent because it's not just a play with graphics but it also has e-commerce principles.''

Bhargava believes most companies ``do not effectively utilise the latest technologies''. ``If they do they could reduce costs, improve efficiency and most of all, market their products better,'' he adds.

He has other projects on hand: a multimedia CD-ROM on Indian musical instruments, a website for a quality virtual college and one for paragliding.

At present, though, he's still working on how to send saada meethas from Muchhad's shop across the seas. There are no such problems for Indians. But make sure you bulk order your asli banarsi paan and zafrani paati. If you want a single leaf, you'll have to shell out a hundred-rupee bill.