Spitting Image

5 Dec

For several years I had tried to understand why a paan-chewer would save up all that ochre juice in his aching mouth long enough to navigate hectares of open area, get into your building, skip the elevator, climb your staircase laboriously and deliver the stuff in the landing, precisely in the corner which is unguarded    by pictures of deities of several religions.  The vitrified tile industry is happy with the status quo since they make a regular buck churning out divine glazed tiles to defeat this attempt, knowing fully well that the religious-minded spitter would simply find his space a safe distance away to avoid the wrath of gods.

I wonder what homing instinct brings the rogue spitter to the stairway again and again to mark territory so unfailingly, and to colour the image of India in the eyes of the tourists of the world.  Faking bored interest, I asked everybody this question.  I asked my friends, I asked my neighbours, I asked my mirror and  I asked a roadside dog . Somebody sagely observed that the tourists generally take the elevator, avoiding the stairs.

In my eyes there were several military solutions to this simple problem: ban sales of paan, nuke the paan shops,  arrest paan chewers making it a non-bailable offence, and so on. But I have observed that India is not interested in a quick solution to a basically cultural thing.  If you have to spit, you spit.  Big deal.

We are immune to signboards saying, ‘Do not spit here’. We get angry with any sentence beginning Do not and it evokes the reaction How dare you instruct me and we will go out of our way to teach these instruction-givers a lesson. Saying ‘Spit Here’ with a bucket placed there angers us even more.

In spite of my years of relentless Sherlock Holmesian investigation, I had never been able to catch anyone in the act of spitting of paan in the stairways.  Then one day, I saw it happen.  It was the bai, sweeping the stairs in the morning. She came in with cheeks bulging with chewed paan, and squirted the juice into the corner of the stairs casually, before I could react.  I mustered restraint and asked her why she couldn’t spit outside the building. She said it was difficult to walk out of the building every two minutes, just for spitting.  Mystery solved.

She had a point, I thought.  What have we done for the welfare of the bai, the servant maid who comes to clean the common areas? Her only sustenance and motivation is the paan,; and where is she supposed to spit out the damn thing in the course of her work as she works stair by stair on the third or fourth floor levels? Can we provide spittoons at all stairway landings?

In the old days, in public places, there were fire buckets, filled with sand. They were there for fire safety but everybody used them as spittoons.  It focused the spitting effort into one place. With the gradual disappearance of fire buckets, the world is their spittoon.

Apart from the bai, there are many others whose motivation to spit in the stairways have not been analysed, since they seem adept at not getting caught. I request regular spitters to come forward, or even anonymously email their point of view, and explain why they do it, and what can be done to halt their routine. A general amnesty may be given to these practitioners who confess and express remorse.

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