Why I like Proshantoda’s paan!

One of the simple pleasures of my life, whenever I happen to visit Kolkata, is to leisurely arrive at a street corner paan shop not far away from my parent’s house. Proshanto has been around since the time I remember the street. We sort of saw each other advance in years. A gentle nod and slow blink communicates the order for a simple ‘mishti paan’. Much is communicated by those innocuous gestures.

Proshanto is in no hurry to give me the paan. For he knows that I am going to spend some time shooting the breeze with him, catching up with what’s been happening in the locality and life in general. As he tends to others, he  remarks that I have not been around for a while. Before I can mumble a reply he enquires about my mothers health. It is a genuine enquiry. Proshanto makes it his business to keep himself informed about people in his locality. It is the beginning of a lengthy exchange about the neighborhood. The conversation invariably veers to the congestion in the area, the lack of citizens involvement and the poor municipal upkeep. I subconsciously brace myself. This is familiar territory. We are going to discuss local governance and the politics of it.

Within a few minutes I fill up all the gaps in local news that media overlooks. As the conversation gets more involved I almost automatically stretch my right arm for the paan. Proshanto has this amazing ability to predict when the arm would be outstretched and is ready to respond with a delectable conversation enhancer, the paan.

Tucking away a paan in the deep recess of the mouth is an art. It has to be placed with accuracy. Masticating the paan is instantly accompanied by copious flow from the salivary glands. It has a hormonal effect on the conversation.

A couple of known faces appear out of nowhere and its time for networking. Proshanto is the ‘portal’ which allows me to remain networked with my neighbors and friends.

It has always been a mystery why time accelerates as soon as these conversations begins. An accidental glance at the large clock behind Proshanto’s deck suddenly reminds me of other things that await my attention. By that time a through review of current affairs of the state and life in my neighborhood has given me enough to chew on along with the slowly disappearing paan in my mouth.

It was time well spent and  I walk away with a sublime feeling of satiation. Proshanto and paan are inseparable. He is in a category of one!

That’s an interesting truth. Proshantoda creates a unique context for the paan. The paan is almost a subliminal trigger for reconnecting with one of my local networks. The importance of having paan at Proshantoda‘s is related to the importance that I place on connecting with people in the neighborhood and the ‘adda’ on issues that can only be discussed while having paan.

So Proshantoda is the context which qualifies the paan.

Last week I went to check out the Volkswagen Polo and the Ford Figo with some of my friends. The same owner has  adjoining showrooms so it was convenient. Polo was the first choice. Both showroom had showcars. No test drive cars had arrived. As we were checking out the Polo I heard the phrase ‘German Engineering’ half a dozen times. It was as if an invisible genie was telling us what to look for! The thud of the door closing, the robust and accurate fit and finish. The paint job and the near flawless body lines and panel gaps. We were affirming our belief that when it came to cars, Germans were a class apart. Not for once did we pay any attention to the fact that the engines are under-powered for a car of that weight and size, or enquire about the ownership costs. While the price quoted was competitive, we were all trying to justify rather than question it. I found the space inside the car quite disappointing, given its exterior size. The Hyundai i20 in comparison has much more space and is probably equally well built. Who cares? Volkswagen owns the context of German Engineering, which in our mind is the best that you can get.

We walked over to the Ford outlet. The Green Figo looked decidedly apologetic. Made worse by the presence of a background of colorful balloons. None of us really knew what we were looking for. The sales person did not help matters. He started parroting some spiel about Ford’s Kinetic Design. He lost us instantly. I guess, it is human nature to critique in the absence of any contextual guidance. Instead of appreciating the good aspects of the car, and I am sure there would be many, we started looking for flaws. The fact that the dynamics of the car and the excellent spread of power from both the petrol and diesel engines should have been a talking point was completely lost. It was not the space that we were looking at, but the quality of fit and finish of components in that space. So we missed the point completely.

Wearing the designer hat comes easy to most. We did not like the reddish coloured dashboard. The sales person was making some vague reference to Ferrari red. That helped us switch him off completely. Instead we pointed at the shiny aluminum trim on the center console and how cheap it looked against that red.

We left the Ford showroom with a cynical mind, failing to appreciate anything about the car. The Ford Figo has no context. Except Ford and the price. It dropped from our list of cars we may want to buy in future.

Next time I visit Proshantoda, his paan will be a conscious reminder of the importance of creating a relevant context in brand marketing.


About Subhabrata 'SG' Ghosh

Untrapping business from the tyranny of similarity. Engineering new context for business and brands.


7 thoughts on “Why I like Proshantoda’s paan!

  1. Hi Lamb,
    Enjoyed reading this blog.Could connect the Paan effect. The Volkswagen Polo was anyways your preferred choice even before you saw the Ford Figo at the showroom. The German technology was presold to you. The Paan offered made it sweeter. Even if the Figo salesman had offered you ‘Mishti Paan’ you would have not found it as sweet.

    Posted by Bhaskar Chakravorti | March 15, 2010, 7:42 am
  2. Hi SG,

    Good stuff – look forward to many more ! The context differential between V & F seems to have been so strong that you could have had the same reponse if you hadn’t visited the outlets !

    Posted by Balu Nayar | March 15, 2010, 8:17 pm
  3. very intresting article ,thourghly enjoyed it sg

    Posted by shyam | March 23, 2010, 12:48 pm
  4. Enjoyed reading your article. I guess there is also a nostalgic factor when there is a rare link to our past and the paan makes it even more tastier. Take this for instance, Bangalore I knew is all but gone, except for a few old hang outs which includes Brindavan Hotel on MG Road are getting exceedingly rare….

    Posted by Venkatram | March 24, 2010, 3:54 am
  5. Hi SG

    Totally believe in the overall thought of context engineering. The story telling with the Paan wala makes a very good example.

    All the very best

    PS: I am a big time fan of paans btw 🙂

    Posted by Manish Singhal | March 24, 2010, 4:32 am
  6. SG,

    True. Brands that leverage or own contexts embed themselves better in the consumer’s life. It would be interesting to hear your views on how a brand can differentiate when there are more than one owning the same context. (two brands might have the same context -German Engineering, yet very different challenges) .

    Do write more.

    Posted by Ameen Haque | March 24, 2010, 4:48 am
    • So its a situation of choice. Say Audi and Volkswagen. What do people ‘worship’? Edge of the seat adventure or middle of the road conformity? Trick is perhaps to look deep into behavior, in life and behind the steering wheel. The intersection of the brand truth and the consumer truth is the key to ownership. Frequently we miss the intersection and therefore the opportunity to own a context uniquely.

      Posted by subhabrataghosh | March 24, 2010, 11:52 am

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