City Life – Spit Please, This is Delhi

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City Life – Spit Please, This is Delhi

The capital has a rich spitting culture.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The forcible ejection of saliva from one’s mouth can hardly stir a city like Delhi. People do it all the time. Delhi Metro has a fine of Rs 200 for it. College campuses have lecturers who spray, not speak.

However, on November 6, 2008, all hell broke loose in Delhi University when a young man spat on the face of Professor SAR Geelani, a lecturer at Zakir Hussain College. Mr Geelani was attending a seminar while the spitter was part of the troupe led by Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) president Ms Nupur Sharma, who was protesting against Mr Geelani’s presence. (Mr Geelani was an accused in the terrorist attack on Parliament, since acquitted.)

“This derogatory act was all the more shocking, for it was led by a girl,” says Mr Nikhil Verma, a third-year student in Sri Ram College of Commerce. “One doesn’t expect such aggression from a woman.”

Is spitting, not just on somebody’s face, only a man’s play?

“Not really,” says Ms Rashi Singhal, a final-year student in Lady Sri Ram College. “While men spit more frequently, women are equally capable of it.” She complains that the habit is all too common in her college. “The girls spit all over the place, not realising that they are harming their society.”

Author Mr Farookh Dhondy is more explicit concerning the ‘harm’. “You might have infectious diseases and you could transfer them to the person you are spitting on,” he warns. “Even kissing is dangerous.”

Mr Dhondy’s advice to those who are hell-bent on using face-spitting as a political statement: “Carry a personal hygiene certificate from an MBBS doctor.”

“Please consider the not-so-minor matter of human dignity,” pleads Mr Mujibur Rehman, member of the faculty in Jamia Millia Islamia. “There are people whom I don’t appreciate due to social or political reasons, but I would never spit on them.”

What about those who can’t help spitting on your face? Remember the teacher in Shah Rukh Khan’s film Main Hoon Naa? Most of us know or have known friends who would rain saliva on the listener’s face during an animated conversation. “A few of my friends spit while talking,” says Mr Nikhil Verma. “I request them not to, but the fault lies in their speaking style.”

However, a few say that the fault lies with… well, Delhiites. “This city is a walking spittoon,” observes Ms Sumati Ghosh, a social counsellor. “Delhi has too many people who want to be contrary to what the social norms are.”

“We Europeans, on the other hand, don’t spit on each other’s face unless we are having a fight with our spouse,” confesses a diplomat who lives in a Malcha Marg bungalow. He requested anonymity since he is not authorised by his embassy to comment on India’s domestic affairs. “In Delhi, I’ve seen both men and women spitting all over the place, which doesn’t add to the sex appeal of either.”

Sex appeal, maybe not, but can it boost the spitter’s political appeal?

“No way,” says Ms Priyanka Chakravarty, a first-year postgrad student of political science in JNU. “Such uncivilised people don’t deserve to be in the political domain.”

DUSU’s Ms Nupur Sharma agrees. “It [the Geelani incident] didn’t happen in front of me,” she says. “I would be the last person to even spit on the street.”

“The spit fell not on me but on Indian culture,” says Mr Geelani, the man who bore the brunt. “In any case, the saliva fell not on my face but on my glasses.”

The Geelani Incident (this picture is by Sushil Kumar)

City Life – Spit Please, This is Delhi

A way of life

City Life – Spit Please, This is Delhi