Live the Spittoon!
The man is lanky, ash-grey in colour. Clad only in a tattered
loincloth, he walks down a cobbled city street sounding a
pair of clappers with his right hand like a leper ringing
a bell on entering a medieval European town. In his other
hand he holds a small earthen pot. As schools of fry diverge
in haste on a shark's approach, so do pedestrians and loiterers
on the road, hearing the nearing claps. Clearly, he does not
belong to the scene, nor is he a stranger. He is a Chandala,
baser than the basest, below the lowest rung of the four-tier
Aryan society some 300 years after Jesus.
scene was not unique in a Gupta town, though was seldom seen.
Untouchables like Chandalas, Kaibartas and Doms, though serving
the Aryans in the most menial and dirtiest tasks, were completely
excluded from their social order. They were not allowed to
live in the towns and villages where the Aryan castes dwelled.
In one of the history's earliest apartheid, the aboriginal
peoples turned into pariahs were confined to special quarters
outside even the fringes of their conquerors' habitats.
necessity or emergency forced any of these Australoid men
to go to a settlement of their fair-skinned masters, he could
do so only by observing certain diktats. One of those required
him to strike wooden clappers while entering the place and
to keep on clapping until his departure. The ordinance was
meant to alert the locals of an outcaste's presence, so that
they could take precaution to avoid any 'defiling' contact
[not with his body, which was unthinkable, but for example]
with his shadow or any other thing befouled by his 'impure'
obligation was to carry a pot, a spittoon, to spit in. For,
he was prohibited to spit anywhere else. Does the custom seem
cruel or unjust to you? It probably does, but would not if
you looked at it from a different angle. What was for the
Chandalas a racist humiliation could, on the other hand, be
a reasonable disease prevention measure to safeguard the conquering
race. They might have learned through bitter experiences that
physical contact with the more primitive peoples often resulted
in new diseases finding way into their breed. Diseases they
never knew previously. So, the apparent apartheid might have
been a permanent quarantine necessitated by the realities.
Whatever the case might have been in the past, the spittoon
and the clappers have not lost their appeal, as the realities
too have not changed to me over this nearly two millennia.
A majority of the population of this land still seems to be
comprised of Chandalas, their descendants and inheritors,
if not by blood, of course by virtue of uncouth culture and
behaviour. Consider the following incidents and facts.
day, I boarded a bus and sat by a window near the door. After
a few minutes, the conductor spat through that door and wind
blew some globs of viscous mucous right on my face. I felt
like what anyone would feel in such a case. In a deliberately
cold voice, I told the tough-looking young fellow to take
care when and where he spits. But he did not seem to be perturbed
at all or to give a damn and continued to spit away every
few minutes throughout the ride.
here really take it to be a sort of right -- a holy right
to spit, and in public too. Once upon a time, I had to share
my workplace with a colleague, who was very protective of
this right and a true spitting activist. After suffering his
activism for a while, I lost my patience and protested, demanding
an end to exercising his right in our common space. In response,
he seemed outraged, turned violet in rage, and then doubled
up the frequency of spitting, with an expression of righteous
anger on his monkey-like face. (Sorry for the derogatory comparison,
I cannot help it.) I took the issue to our the then boss,
and he made this diplomatic statement, "Yes, I understand
your disgust. I sympathise. But, what can you do? Everyone
afternoon in the near past, my wife returned home from the
kitchen market she frequents in a truly dark mood, with a
six-inch-radius blood-red smear on her shirtfront. According
to her flaming narration (delivered in a way that made me
feel like the target rather than the audience of her venom),
on her way back in a rickshaw, a man going the opposite way
in another rickshaw spat that smudge of betel juice, most
probably intentionally, accurately aiming at her chest. The
pân-chewing punk might have thought he was really doing
a favour to the woman by adding some red to the dull green
of her shirt to match our national flag. She might have been
victim of an accident, too. In either case, it definitely
was a civic nuisance.
nuisance is perpetuated by a majority of people in this land.
Leave alone spitting, hawking, urinating and defecating --
all sorts of physical excretion -- are frequently done in
public and on public ground. I have seen a good many villages
that are nothing but extended latrines, with nauseating stench
pervading the air. The situation in the cities is not any
better. It is impossible to keep the soles of one's shoes
unspoiled by human excreta and walk more than a hundred metres
on many of the footpaths even in the capital. Here roads,
walkways, footpaths, carriages, buildings all are being continuously
bombarded by compulsive spitters. The vice peaks to a mass
frenzy in the month of Ramadan. Almost all Bangladeshi Muslims,
who fast, spit incessantly and, what is most amazing, consider
it to be an act of holiness. Frankly, I have rarely seen a
more unholy holiness.
Here is the punch line: Comparing the past with the present,
I realise that habits of some people of this land are obstinate
enough to remain unchanged for 2000 years, and probably to
never change. So, I propose we reinstate the ancient Aryan
ways and go for a legislation making it obligatory for spitting
right activists to carry a spittoon, and perhaps a bell or
a badge to identify their (un)holiness, when they are out
of their homes. For, what they do at home -- spit or shit
-- is none of our business. But, in public let them have their
old pots back to spit in at will.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004