Mumbai Day 1: Paan spitting and scooters

Day one: despite, post flight, only getting to my hotel at 3am I was out and about in the PM of Monday. My research contact and collaborator Prof. PS Vivek of the University of Mumbai Sociology Department was good enough to take me ‘into the field’ to witness the making of paan and engage in paan chewing. Paan is a mixture of betel nut, lime paste, spices and other additives such as crushed menthol crystals and (but not always) tobacco all prepared and wrapped in a betel leaf for chewing and the juices are either swallowed (but usually) spat out. Paan is sold all over Mumbai (and indeed India), is cheap, a mild stimulant and implicated in a great deal of public spitting. It is chewed by all classes of people and paan stains line the walls and streets of the city. These pictures show how paan is prepared in various stages. Stronger tobacco is available for those that request it. You pop it in the mouth and to the uninitiated it is like getting a mouthful of sweet paste and twigs (that chew down to nothing) at the same time. The menthol leaves the mouth feeling fresher and the various spices with a mix of tastes.

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My first was too sweet for me, my second – this time with tobacco added – was less tasty (to me). Here is a video of paan being made by a street vendor plus at the end of the film a view of where (next to the paan vendor’s stall) some paan had been spat out.

Spitting of all kind is everywhere. On the way from the airport a well practised scooter rider with a passenger casually took off his full-face helmet, spat a large (probably paan juice) blob onto the road, replaced his helmet and carried on. He didn’t even slow down! Later that I saw this again and spitting from cars and auto-rickshaws is equally common.

Tomorrow I visit the University of Mumbai to do two presentations on spitting to academic staff and students – their views are eagerly anticipated.

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