To spit or not to spit: Can COVID-19 change our habits?

We all agree that India is a unique country. It showcases unity in diversity; multiple languages, cultures, cuisine, religions, colours, diversity of terrain and thought

Peruvemba RK May 27, 2020

We all agree that India is a unique country. It showcases unity in diversity; multiple languages, cultures, cuisine, religions, colours, diversity of terrain and thought. It thrives, resonates, is chaotic, fun, noisy, polluted, developing and finally things get done with jugaad (a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way) and ‘adjust madi’ as they say in Kannada! We eat on banana leaves with hands, we squat and use water after answering nature, we stare and ogle at anything which moves and are ever ready with unsolicited advice.

Spit and polish - one truly endearing habit which a large number of Indians instinctively adopt and proud of due to its exclusivity and originality, and which we proclaim as our USP is spitting! We are masters at it; if ever a PhD is awarded for it we will have a billion doctors. We spit anything and everything, solids, liquids, mixtures, phlegm, tobacco, in varied colours, composition, volumes, digested, undigested; you name it, we spit it. Mainly we spit paan with or without tobacco. Nobody is surprised when a true artist asks the paanwaala for ‘gimme red or maroon’ or ‘20 footer dena’ signifying the colour of extract or distance one can fire based on viscosity, volume and calibre of artist. Well, we even use spit to polish (including shoes) which gave rise to the popular saying in the Army of ‘spit and polish’! Does it mean we consider our nation as a spittoon, I guess so, except at our homes. Homes are a strict no no, but wait, it’s only the spitters' home, anybody else’s is a great target and opportunity, we pride ourselves in creating art on all available walls, posters, roads, malls, cinema halls everywhere.

Nothing and nobody is sacrosanct! Did I say nobody meaning humans; yes I did, because the art of spitting requires one to generally spit without looking with gusto and noise from anywhere. The higher the platform like a rooftop, bus, car, hilltop the better the distance, spread, spray of spit with its multi-coloured multi-layered contents which by the way are permanent. They can’t be washed away or dry cleaned. Humans are fair game, in fact the best game. Those of you who wonder why some of us move around outside our homes in raincapes and umbrellas even when it is not raining have got your answers.

'We outspit all'

We are also known as a secular and tolerant country, but we have slowly started spitting venom! Do not worry, we are not snakes but love to spit venomous gossip. Thank God we are pretty upfront when it comes to spitting, blatant and in your face with a wide grin and finesse. Wonder why the Indian Olympic Association does not demand its inclusion in the Olympics. It will not be accepted as we are universally accepted as world-beaters. Nobody can touch us with spit, ‘we outspit all’. How can they compete as it's banned in all countries and people generally follow rules, traditions and customs whether they are under scrutiny or not. Maybe we can make a start with inter-state championships and draw world attention. Start with paan and then move onto more potent, colourful and esoteric substances. We can have two categories, one with and one without tobacco. After all, we need to encourage the non-tobacco user.  Initially folks from Benaras (now Varanasi) may have an edge, if the local legend of its class is true. But soon the Hyderabadi, Uttarakhandi or Bihari (do not get offended if your state is not specifically mentioned; I include all) will fine tune their product and compete with gusto. The average accuracy, consistency and distance achieved of spitting is anyway legendary. Localities can boast of their heroes spitting into a thimble from 20 feet without any diffusion or spray. The spray spitting competition will be equally colourful and the radius and perimeter covered enormous; maybe in time to come a tennis court or even a football ground- who knows with time!

Law-abiding overseas Indians : 

However, there is one strange phenomenon, a departure from our profligate spitting ways; we only spit in India! We literally swallow our spit and pride everywhere outside India and remain 'spitless'. Even a spotless white wall, shirt, human is left alone. We swallow and move on.

Will COVID-19 initially restrict and slowly erase our collective memory of spitting, or will it actually increase our intent and capabilities due to social distancing (we need to gain more distance and accuracy to hit our objective) and apprehension of ingesting the dreaded virus? Only time will tell.

Major thrust to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Our hobby and specialisation needs to be contained in tune with the national calling of Mera Bharat Mahaan and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission. So citizens, let’s spitfire on those who eye our territorial integrity and prosperity, and no spitting venom - and other expectorate - in India or on each other.

(The writer of this article can be reached at


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