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The Ugly Indian Spit

The Ugly Indian Spit

Sentinel Digital Desk

Indrani Medhi

As I was treading my way on the grey asphalt road of our university premise, amidst the greens, through the tall green trees, I spat out, although it was never my habit. Suddenly the huge and tremendous figured trainer of the department of physical education of our university appeared in front of me from nowhere and gave me a thump straight on my cheek. I woke up from my bed with a sudden jolt and realised it was a nightmare. After a contemplation of over a week, I then decided to write about the most indecent and nasty habit of Indian people -- the habit of spitting out.

Spitting is an obnoxious and filthy habit. It's not just an eyesore but an embarrassing scenario in a country like India. Some people make quite an art of it and for some, spitting is more than just a way of life. There are people whose spitting is revved up through three noisy stages - a deep and loud drawing in of breath, a ferocious growling which actually is the clearing and collecting together of the spittle, and as the resources of the body prepares itself for a great climactic event, a final meteor-like 'aakhhthooo!!!' flungs the spit to wherever it is directed. The most dangerous are those unguided missiles of phlegm that are shot out of the windows of passing vehicles on the streets without any warning. But what gives people the right to spit on the road? Nothing, except the feeling that the road belongs to them! So why not assert ownership by generously bestowing the salivary waste on the world? But it's not just on the roadside, spitting happens just anywhere in India which infact ruins the aesthetic of the place.

Believe it or not, in Europe in the Middle Ages, it was considered impolite to draw saliva in, to stop oneself from spitting. According to a survey, the three most significant spitting nations are India, South Korea and China. It is claimed that spitting in India is linked to chewing 'paan' and betel nut, in South Korea to smoking and in China to the distaste for swallowing. But we know that in India spitting also happens for no reason, just 'simply'. And as long as that continues, pavements, walls, roads and unsuspicious passers-by's clothes will continue to be the recipients of such stainful bounty.

Roads, walls, stairways, corridors, cinema halls, railway stations, government offices, historical monuments and other public places are proudly and liberally smeared with surrealist art of crimson and red. Excavating archaeologists centuries later coming across these might well deduce them to be motifs of a spontaneous folk art, like the cave paintings of the stone aged man, and they infact wouldn't be far wrong.

Unfortunately, I often come across such pathetic spit-stupors riding or driving parallel to me on the road. Taking no time, one spits a mouthful missile on the road out from the vehicle and I get spared at inches everytime from the sprinkle of the unholy spit. You can't help looking where it went because you don't want to step on it but it is something you can't unsee for the rest of the day. I have observed that some people have an incessant need to spit every five minutes for no reason at all, who kept spitting a thick, wet, dollop of mucus on the road as his favourite pastime. If one observes, many Indians do not have this habit of swallowing one's own saliva which is the habit they should actually inculcate. They spit when they are bored, they spit when they are happy, they spit when they are tired, they spit when they are angry or they spit 'just like that'. We might even blame the illiteracy of this country just because they don't know any better. But what about those fancy suit-wearing 'educated' people who eject their saliva out from their expensive vehicles without any hesitation anywhere on the road?

At the core of this national aesthetic are the paradoxes of Indian notions of health, hygiene and purity. Dire medical warnings, complex religious taboos and humiliating threats of public shaming have failed to dissuade the average Indian from using the nation's public spaces for the discharge of such bodily emissions. This is, indeed, a blissful disregard to all the sad and dirty price that we need to pay. Most municipal laws across India already prohibit spitting and prescribe penalties. If you are caught spitting on or dirtying Pune streets today, you will be fined, challaned, and even asked to clean up!

Living in India, most of us are used to the scenario of public places being marred by the stubborn stains of spit but the problem is now spreading across the world. The newest city abroad to be struggling with the horror of untidy Indians is Leicester in United Kingdom. Leicester has a growing Indian population and along with it, a growing sanitation problem as it seems several Indians have taken to spitting out paan expectorate in public places in the UK. Spitting paan has become so rampant there that the authorities had to put up signboards for the careless Indian NRIs warning that they will be fined if they spit out red paan juice on the pavements and sidewalks. With most public places in India already painted red, would UK be the next?

Though the Indian government is waking up from its slumber in terms of hygiene and sanitation with its Swacch Bharat mission, there has been no change in the number of people who spit in public around the country. "Indians are probably the world's greatest spitters. If the collective sputum ejected every year in our cities and villages were collected and channelled it would make for a river of rheum which would put the holy Ganga to shame", says prominent Indian journalist and author Jug Suraiya in one of his writings.

What comes to our mind when we think of India? A lot of people would probably think of food, culture, traditions, dresses and diversity. All of these things pretty much capture the essence of India. But the most remarkable thing that encapsulates all of these characteristics and define India perfectly is 'paan'! Yes, paan, khaini, supari, tobacco are the nucleus of every Indian identity making 'spitting' the ineradicable birth right of all Indians. In India, paan and tobacco constitutes one of the biggest, ugliest and the most pathetic threats to public sanitation and hygiene of public spaces as well as a health menace.

Spitting in public is as bad as vandalism. It is actually a social taboo in many parts of the world. Perhaps social media campaigns like #SpitNoMore can be a solution to this potential problem. At the same time, public awareness campaigns should also be created about keeping our surroundings clean to prevent infectious diseases. The sale of ghutka, paan, khaini, tobacco should be banned. Thanks to the Assam government, that has already banned these. There should be stricter laws with punishment and fines to tackle this menace. There is also the need to find the basic urge or requirement which force you to spit out. If it is due to a deficiency or a medical reason, it's high time you need to consult a doctor. Perhaps the most effective solution to this incessant civic nuisance is a smack or a slap by the officials (of the concerned authority) to those who dare to spit on the road, even though it is just for nothing.

Feedback: indranimedhi.medhi@gmail.com

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