The same way ‘some’ people clean up their homes thoroughly but throw the trash out on the street, some people spit to clean their mouth but do not care for where they are spitting
“Hyack, thoo!” You skirt around the freshly expectorated gob of phlegm that has landed smack dab in front of you, and you shoot daggers at its owner. But spitting is so commonplace, you’re afraid that raising your voice against it could make you the social pariah.
If you are seeking a very revolting hobby, park yourself next to any busy road in the city and observe all the champion nose-blowers and expert throat-clearers whose concentration is not hampered one bit by the bustling crowd when engaged in such serious sport.
Notice how they manage to get every bit of liquid from their nasal and oral passages land exactly where they want it to and what little they get on themselves, they simply wipe on a nearby surface or even on their own clothes. Well, what were they supposed to do—swallow it? Or spend time looking for a more appropriate place like a bathroom sink or a trash-can while the spit lay stewing in their mouth?
The same way “some” people clean up their homes thoroughly but throw the trash out on the street, some people spit to clean their mouth but do not care for where they are spitting. If it really is a health concern to them, carrying a spittoon like in days of old could do the trick or at least, at least, finding a corner where people are less likely to step, and spitting as little as possible.
Because innocent bystanders can end up breathing in the mucous when it latches on to dust particles which, if there are bacteria and virus like TB and influenza still alive in it, can lead to infection. Fear of tuberculosis is what led Western countries in the early 1900’s to raising the hemline of women’s full-length dresses to prevent sputum from getting dragged into homes.
We all praised the government when the “MaPaSe” (drink-driving inspection) and “no-horn” rules were effectively applied in recent years. Many citizens were pleasantly surprised that regulations in favour of safety and decency could be enforced in this land, even if it were perhaps only the fines that engendered adherence. In Singapore, spitting is a heavily-fined prohibition and the ubiquitous warning signs are a constant reminder. Unlike in many other countries, it is also strictly enforced. So how about taking a leaf out of the fine city’s book?
There are also several other countries to take inspiration from.
A few cities in the US, which Charles Dickens is said to have tagged “a nation of spitters”, and in neighbouring Canada and in Australia, have also banned spitting.
And unless it is Messi doing it on the football pitch, spitting is illegal and fined in Barcelona. China usually bans it in major cities during international events, such as during the 2010 Asian Games. Betel nut consumption and spitting is banned in the UAE, though still a common sight there. At the beginning of this year, the Indian state of Maharashtra set spot fines for public nuisances including defecation and spitting.
Wouldn’t our recently-elected officials want to be the leader of a phlegm-free metropolitan à la defecation-free villages that many in Nepal now love to vaunt?
Banning products that especially induce spitting fits, like “pan masala” and cigarettes, could even strike down on filth, addiction and oral cancer all in one fell swoop.
As a matter of fact, our government’s Tobacco Product (Control and Regulatory) Act, 2011, which banned smoking and consuming tobacco products in public places, is technically still in effect even though, clearly, it is not being enforced. In the UK, even though there is no such ban, spitting betel nut juice on public spots is considered criminal damage, as it paints pavements with its awful red colour.
But since spitting is such an evanescent act, the police aren’t always able to catch people in the act. So, we shall also have to make this a matter of personal responsibility, using informal sanctions like calling people out. Scary prospect, I know. But necessary.
And how can the Nepali youth, raised on the internet, where mostly you see clean, mucous-free roads of the developed world in the background, not repeat what the older, more mucilaginous generations have been doing? It is time that social refinement caught up with urban development.
Education over enforcement, especially etiquettes taught in early childhood, should get priority as that leads to long-lasting change. Then bands of schoolchildren, first schooled in the fine art of consigning phlegm only to designated places, could roam the streets on certain days by rotation with polite exhortations on placards about how we project ourselves as civilised homo sapiens when we don’t spit everywhere.
And since the older generations are also beginning to embrace (or at least hold at arm’s length and squint at) technological imports from the Western world, we should be doing the same with imports of propriety. Why don’t we start bringing in public hygiene customs along with machines from the western world?
So, if education, schoolchildren with placards, adults with courage and civility, traditional media, social media, and the government all amalgamated into one massive social movement, it could bring spitting on roads to a complete stop. And so would our spitting nails about it.
Shivakoti is a graduate in psychology
A version of this article appears in print on November 06, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.