Has Guwahati Become A Spit-City?
Anxious and cautious—I tread Guwahati streets and footpaths as if performing breakdance—but fail to avoid landmines of grey grease, purple phlegm, and many-splendoured spit. I salute the artistes from the “Salivadorian School”—who paint the city in myriad hues and shades with their spit and sputum.
Perhaps no other city has embraced spitting the way we have! Whether Guwahati has become a Spit-Hati, a Spit-City, a Spittoon? The contrast is incongruous—a city so beautiful, yet so filthy—a beauty rendered with an ugly underbelly.
Prime Minister Sri Modi mentioned this national pass-time in Mann Ki Baat. So rampant is the spitting obsession in Guwahati that the Chief Minister Sri Himanta Biswa Sarma, while inaugurating the new flyover, appealed to the citizens not to spoil it with spit. Some shameless people lost no time in creating ugly spit-patterns on the flyover and its artistic paintings.
Why blame? Besides pandering to our artistic cravings, spit comes in handy to manage the mundane—licking stamps, counting currency, and turning pages. Damn the hygiene, kill the aesthetics, murder the environment.
The poor spit while walking, the rich spit out from fancy cars. We are spot on when we spit, and spoilt for choices—pavements, parks, pillars, posts, or pits. Apathetic and immune, it is perfectly normal to spit and be spitted upon. Nonchalant, we take spit in our stride—literally and metaphorically—and carry it home. Hats off to our stoicism, we cope up with the outpourings from the sundry orifices with equanimity. We let out a peculiarly sheepish laugh to salute the free spirit of the fellow spitting on us from the bus window.
Why Spitting Must Stop
But it is no laughing matter. Public spitting is disgusting, dirty, and dangerous. It offends our senses, spoils our surroundings, and spreads disease. Spitting pollutes natural ecosystems of air, water, and land—degrading environment.
It affects aesthetics, turns off tourists, and shows state and its people in poor light. Spitting depletes the already scarce time, money, and medical resources. It is reported that Indian Railways spends Rs. 1,200 crores and oceanful of water every year to remove the spit stains from the tracks, platforms, and coaches.
Spitting is a huge health hazard. It spreads Covid. It also spreads TB, hepatitis, viral meningitis, cytomegalovirus, etc. Researchers say that the spit droplets containing Corona virus can spread to a radius up to 27 feet. The pathogens remain in the air as well as on surfaces for several hours.
We are a country of 140 crore people. Even if we take that 50% of the people spit in public—it is 70 crore people spreading dread and disease—daily. It’s mind boggling.
Psychology Of Spitting
Many people believe saliva is a harmful waste and they must throw it out as soon as the body produces it. People also spit out of sheer habit, even unconsciously. According to WHO advisory, chewing smokeless tobacco (khaini, zarda, gutka, paan and paan masala with tobacco) and areca nut (supari) increase saliva production and enhance the urge to spit repeatedly.
Spitting—especially on the face—is an extraordinary instrument for expressing disgust, disrespect, contempt, anger, and hatred. The spitters also use it to show their superiority, power, and masculinity.
Superstitions And Spoil Sports
Greeks practised ‘Ritual Spitting’ and ‘Spitting Thrice’ to ward off evil spirits. The Masai tribals of Kenya spit in their hands before shaking hands with others to show respect. Till recent past, the kings, the queens, the rich, and the famous in India, Europe, and US—used exquisite spittoons to deposit their royal spit. Westerners are quite sporting about spitting, and engage in spitting competitions such as ‘cherry pit spitting’ in Michigan, ‘cricket spitting’ at Purdue University in Indiana, and ‘olive pit spitting’ in Israel.
In India, many mothers spray spit on children uttering ‘thoo thoo’ to protect them from ‘buri nazar’ (evil spirits). The rural folks spit on minor wounds for healing. People in the Hindi heartland use many imaginative idioms and metaphors such as ‘thookta hun tum pe’ (I have nothing but contempt for you), ‘thook kar chatna’ (to go back on one’s words), and ‘thook bilona’ (to speak too much).
Covid came in handy for the government of India to enforce the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It made spitting in public places punishable with a fine or imprisonment or both. Spitting in public places is also an offence under the Guwahati Municipal Corporation Act, 1971. Guwahati Municipal Corporation(GMC) has recently announced a cash award for reporting public spitting, and requested citizen’s participation in keeping the city clean. It can do much more.
The Spit Free Street
Making laws is not enough. We need effective enforcement and monitoring. Installing CCTVs and deploying flying squads will help in catching the culprits. Government must be strict in imposing ban on sale and consumption of gutka, paan masala, tobacco, etc.
Curbing spitting habit requires change in public attitudes, behavior, and choices. Persuasive tactics, rather than coercion and control through stringent laws and blanket bans, will yield better results. Spitting can be tackled if a mass awareness campaign—akin to a crusade—is launched and sustained till it is wiped out. This must become the city and state priority.
Covid has given an opportunity to put this problem on radar, and to bring an end to it. It is now or never. Speaking only about masks, hand wash, and maintaining distance—and not cautioning about spitting—is like closing three windows but leaving the fourth open for the evil to enter.
We can teach spitting etiquettes through grassroot campaigns and participation of citizens. “No Spitting” signposts will warn people. Advertisements on auto-rickshaws, taxis, and buses will create a buzz. Social media campaigns will have a wide reach and awaken netizens. When ‘Swatch Bharat Mission’ was launched, children taught the elders to not to litter—these kids can do wonders in the war against spitting.
People listen to religious, community, and political leaders for right or wrong reasons—their words will have the required impact. Artists, sports persons, film stars, teachers, press, and the medical fraternity can lend tremendous support.
The awareness campaigns have to target both—those who spit, and those who don’t. Involving non-spitters is the most effective ant-spit strategy. Imagine 70 crore non-spitters persuading 70 crore spitters—each one stopping one.
Our City Our Character
I write this because I love my city, and wonder—can we ever hope to remove the perpetual spots which stain our life, time, and place? And I write with screaming sarcasm, hoping to awaken citizens from their stupor. Can we all spit on spit—so we don’t have to exclaim ‘Oh shit, spit’—at every step.
We can continue to split over spit, or be in splits over it; drown in spituphoria, or rise in spitcstacy. But think—people’s habits define a city’s character, and what is a city—if not its people.
I recently visited my hometown Guwahati. The rampant spitting was so much in face, I had to spit out my disgust, ‘dos’, and ‘don’ts’. “G Plus” carried my sentiments in the published article below: