Socially responsible spitting?

Ok – a difficult (and perhaps contentious) post. My observations to date would suggest that public spitting in Mumbai is constrained in all manner of ways that many people would simply not (or would prefer not ?) to recognise and that this constraint will often be with a nod towards social responsibility and against simple, indiscriminate and uncaring behaviour. I would also argue that a form of socially responsible spitting is supported by what I have found in Malyasia/Kuala Lumpur (as will be revealed in the next post). Ironically (perhaps) socially responsible spitting is more easily visible among those that chew paan (or sirih as it is called in Kuala Lumpur) and it is also the case that paan/sirih spitting probably represents the least form of socially responsible spitting for the same reason.

So, although some spitting appears at first sight to be relatively indiscriminate e.g. a spitter buys paan, chews for a few minutes and then turns and spits near the vendor’s booth it is not as simple as that. As I have shown this is often into drains, gutters and/or common paan spitting areas. There is a genuine attempt to not simply spit on the pavement or up certain spaces. In a different forum, it will be more obvious to many that paan use at ceremonial (weddings, parties etc.) gatherings in India and consequent spitting (either into wash basins in hotel toilets, outside in an appropriate space if at a host’s other location, not in front of specific elders/those of authority etc.) has clear informal controls attached to it. Some spitters in the street are exercising a semblance of public conscience whilst others do so sometimes, rarely or never. Paan juice being what it is – a red staining fluid – we have evidence of both forms of behaviour. The more socially responsible and irresponsible.

In my last post I discussed the different forms of (spittle/phlegm) spitting of my taxi drivers and suggested that the first two, both of whom spat in a comparatively discreet fashion, might score lower on an index or scale of disgust/offensiveness than the other two who spat more noisily and aggressively. Further reflection has suggested to me that whilst this might be true for some contexts it is not necessarily the case for all. It may be the case that in a context where hocking/hawking is more prevalent and accepted (if barely noticed) then the index of offensiveness would have to be altered downwards, and in a context where all spitting is considered unacceptable, upwards.
Because spittle/phlegm often disappears quite quickly without leaving much by way of evidence that it existed it could be argued, in comparison to paan (or even chewing/bubble-gum) it is a less socially offensive form (unless accompanied by a ‘hock/hawk’? Even here however as we shall see this can be so totally accepted that it also becomes invisible. If it is invisible – or rather unnoticed – it is neither socially responsible nor irresponsible, it just ‘is’. More on this as the countries and the variations and examples mount.

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