Traveling by two-wheeler in India has its own risks. Besides the risk of injury, there is also the chance of adding insult!!! Passing vehicles, such as buses and even Mercedes or Bentley cars, are full of passengers, who are waiting to share their bodily juices via the medium of spitting. So ubiquitous, impartial and democratic is the vulgar habit of spitting by my countrymen (and women) that every conceivable public surface, vertical and horizontal is visibly and invisibly involved. This includes railings, lifts, wheels of vehicles, benches, ornamental plants, gates and what –have-you. Perhaps, this says it best!!
There was a young man from Darjeeling,
Who got on a bus bound for Ealing.
It said at the door:
“Don’t spit on the floor.”
So he carefully spat on the ceiling.
One is always aware that a trailing dupatta, low sari-hem, soles of shoes, a handbag touching a wall or heavy bag tentatively placed on the ground are all in danger of picking up foreign matter including germs.
ORIGIN OF THE HABIT What makes the matter worse is the Paan chewing that accompanies, precedes and indeed, stimulates it. A socially accepted five thousand year-old custom in India, it is considered a digestive or mouth-freshening tactic. This was refined by the Empress NoorJehan, who found a way to redden her lips by adding lime and betelnut to the mix.Fans of this habit are reddening the surface of their mother-land ever since.
Spitting, however, has a more global origin. As far back as the early part of the last century, Western countries considered spitting in public acceptable, even beneficial, as swallowing of saliva was considered unhealthy. For example, spitting during meals was allowed provided one “spat under the table and not across it”.
The understanding of the spread of influenza and tuberculosis and heavy casualties during epidemics, changed the approach and laws regarding spitting resulting in fines and imprisonment for offenders.
HEALTH HAZARDSputum contains the germs that are being harboured in the respiratory tract such as those causing Pnuemonia (staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Klebsiella pneumonia, mycoplasma ) and tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). In recent years, the deadly H1N1 virus has joined this Hall of Deadly Names .
At a time when tuberculosis is once again rampant, the need to stop spitting is even more urgent. The mycobacterium responsible for tuberculosis is present in the sputum of open (infective ) cases in large numbers. Only a few of these are needed for a person to be infected. According to the W.H.O
-Someone in the world is newly infected with TB bacilli every second.
-.Overall, one third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB.
– 5% to 10% of people who are infected with TB become actively sick.
In India, Tuberculosis of the MDR (multi-drug resistant) variety with a high mortality of 60%, has raised the stakes considerably. Nearly 90,00 people are infected each year and the mortality rate of this infection is as high as 60%. A vital chink in our armour in the battle against this disease is the Great Indian Tradition of spitting.
WHY DO PEOPLE CONTINUE TO SPIT???-The lack of punishments, repercussions and accountability are responsible. Certain councils in the U.K., China, Holland, the U.S.A. are considering severe punishment for offenders. Recently, Tiger Woods was fined for spitting during the Dubai desert Classic.
Singapore with high fines (300 dollars) is perhaps the most successful in this regard. So much so, that it is not uncommon for Indian tourists arriving home to start spitting at the international airport itself, just to demonstrate their “free spirit”.
FOOD(er…spit) FOR THOUGHT-From The Medical and Surgical Reporter, a Philadelphia medical journal, comes this quote:
A law against spitting must not aim higher than the average sentiment of the policeman, the police court judge, the janitor, conductor or care-taker, upon whom its enforcement must depend. It must not too much curtail the highly prized “personal liberty” of the two-legged swine, against whom it is directed…
In other words, those who would enforce the law were already guilty of breaking it and would have no intention of mending their ways.
Incidentally, this was an observation made in the early nineteenth century!! Sadly, it is still true in India.
All this anti-spitting rhetoric has inspired yours truly to write a limerick.
A young serial spitter from Kanpore
Went on a holiday to Singapore,
He ignored the no-spitting signs;
So paid some hefty fines
And returned much wiser, but very poor!!!!
Hefty fines that really hurt the pocket, some jail-time and a portable spittoon are what come to mind!!!