Mumbai Days 3 and 4: Back in the field – red-light district, train and bus stations and back in the seminar room

On day 3 Vivek and his assistant Abinash from the university and Abidali, our intrepid almost ever present taxi driver, took me to other parts of the city. To get to Kamathipura, the red-light district however, we drove through various neighbourhoods and in one particular market area, Khardanda (largely populated by migrant workers from Northern India where poverty is greater) we decided to count the paan shops. In just one street covering only a third of a kilometre we counted 62 paan outlets on either side of the road! On route to Kamathipura, I also witnessed, in the space of 30 seconds, a young woman (mid-20s) and a very old woman, both well dressed and presented, casually spitting out onto the street. This was spit not paan. In another area on route, one that was Catholic dominated there were few paan shops.

The red-light district is one of Asia’s largest, it is a poor area and paan selling, chewing and spitting is all around. Shukhalaji Street (see image) is the famous street/hub in this area. Cigarettes, comprising local palm leaf and tobacco are sold individually or in packets – we purchased 4 for 2 Rupees (less than 2p) and a pack of 25 of these ‘Beedies’ is just 12 Rupees (less than 10p).

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Examples of daily, consistent/routine paan spitting that stains the walls in particular can be found in and around the bus and train stations. Travelling via Mumbai Central Rail station; Dadar fish market and Dadar vegetable market and the Worli slum we reached the Kurla local railway station which is close to the City Bus Terminal at Nehru Nagar Kurla. At the train station paan (fresh and old) was spat all over, even inside the ticket collection area, but most commonly on specific uprights, walls and areas that had naturally become a convenient place to spit out (see images). In some places the level of paan spitting over many years had corroded metalwork.

Vivek is standing next to a paan covered pillar at the train station as we had to pretend we were taking a picture of him not the walls. We had just been moved on by an official at the bus station where the wall behind the waiting area was covered with paan (picture on right)

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The sheer numbers of people and thus chewers that walk past these spots every day but particularly on their way to/from work makes them hot-spots for the public paan experience. At the train station paan also lines the platform, in part from waiting passengers but also, very commonly, from passengers already on a train who take an opportunity to spit when the train is still (people do spit from moving trains but the risks are obviously added!). If you look carefully in this video there is a clear example.

On day 4 I delivered my third presentation to an interdisciplinary group of academics resulting in good humoured and reflective discussion particularly around the notion of socially responsible spitting which I am developing and which I will post an entry on later today, and the extent to which anti-spitting campaigns can either work or the extent to which they are even appropriate.

On the way back to the hotel my auto-rickshaw driver spat constantly whenever we stopped for a few seconds. I counted over twenty and then gave up. They were relatively discrete spits as can be seen by this clip.

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