2.4 - The Art of Spitting (A PhD Thesis Proposal)

Bhavin Jankharia

Background: This was posted in August 1999, as a satire, replicating a scientific research protocol. Originally, I had selected this article for publication in Sulekha Select, but the Sulekha editors thought that “Black, White and Various Shades of Brown” (1.2) was more apt.

A friend of mine showed me this PhD thesis proposal.

Spitting is an act of expulsion of the contents of one's mouth into one's surroundings. It is an act which allows the person indulging in it, to get rid of unwanted fluid, food particles, phlegm, sputum or extraneous material such as "paan-juice". The uniqueness of the act of spitting lies in the fact that unlike belching, farting, micturition and defecation it is almost completely voluntary, done at will and usually with complete control.

Spitting in India is a universal phenomenon. In virtually every locality, at almost every corner, someone is spitting at any given time. There are very few public places, where evidence of spittle, especially red "paan-juice" is absent. It would therefore be safe enough to say that this one act of volition, which the majority of Indians participate in most of the times, has elevated spitting to the level of a national sport or past-time. It is important therefore to study the concept of spitting in detail.

We have already done a preliminary survey of 1000 people to understand the act of spitting, which we will describe in the sections to follow.

Objectives of the study:
1. To understand the anatomy and physiology of spitting.
2. To understand the pyschology behind the act of spitting
3. To study the various methods of spitting, the differences between them and the reasons for these differences.

Materials & Methods:
We will undertake a large survey with a lengthy questionnaire, to try and meet the various objectives. This questionnaire will be handed over by various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to over 100,000 individuals, randomly picked, to avoid bias related to gender, socio-economic status or religion.

Our preliminary studies have found that there are no hard and fast criteria for the type of people who spit. People of all socio-economic strata spit, whether it the rich, Mercedes-driving individuals or the mathadi workers pulling a cart. Males appeared to outnumber women, 1.4:1, but we believe this is a bias related to the fact that more men than women are found outdoors. Young children spit less, but after the age of 15, there is no difference. All religions spit equally. All castes spit without bias. The only difference is that the more socially upscale a person, the more careful that person is not to spit on someone else and to wipe his/her mouth with a clean handkerchief after the act.

If the person is a "spitter" (preliminary results show that only 1% of individuals, spit only in their homes or in washrooms, and thus do not qualify"), then the questioner will try to understand when and how the spitter spits. Our initial survey has shown the following methods: saliva spitting, "paan-juice" spitting, phlegm spitting and spitting of food particles. These can be spitted out in the form of a drool, straight down, straight direct, with mouth open or through pursed lips, gently or with a considerable ejectile force. All these will be evaluated in detail to assess for specific associations with gender, religion, socio-economic status and the like.

The next question will deal with the emotional state before and after the act of spitting. Our early results have shown that there is an element of agitation before spitting, especially if a cough has brought up phlegm or if a person is chewing paan. The act of spitting leads to emotional satisfaction and in some instances a post-orgasmic state of relief. As a result of this, only women will question women and men, men.

The economic background will also be studied in detail. It is believed that the reason many people spit so much is because of the high level of unemployment. Having nothing much to do during the day, and no money or access to most sports activities, spitting helps spitters keep active and in an alert state of mind (avoiding hitting passers-by, aiming correctly, etc). Since this act seems to help alleviate the angst of unemployment, it needs detailed study.

One part of the study will deal with the question of why "paan-chewers" insist on spitting their red spittle on the whitest and cleanest surfaces, especially in buildings and public places. One study done in the past has postulated that this act allows them to bring to the fore their anti-social feelings and to get rid of them - if so the act of spitting actually may help in relieving individuals of their angst and may be a cathartic solution for psychological problems. Something similar to graffiti in public places.

Eventual Aim:
All this data will then be processed to understand the psychology and methodology of spitting. This data may then be sold to companies to help them identify target populations for their products, such as special handerchiefs for wiping after the act, special portable "spittoons", spitting contests and the like.

It is probable that with over 90% of the population spitting constantly, the possibility of turning out a world-champion is high. Therefore, since we lack sportsmen of calibre in other sports, this data can be used to institute proper training camps and to convert this national past-time into a full-time sport. The only competition apparently that we will have to worry about from is from Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and maybe Mexicans (from Clint Eastwood's curry westerns).

The proposal was accepted. When it was sent for grants, the grants commission saw so much potential, that the proposal was sent to the World Bank, which immediately decided to fund it as a third-world project. Now, there are four NGOs involved with two full-time MBAs drawing seven figure salaries running the project. Not to be outdone, the state and central governments have made special budgetary provisions and deputed a minister of state to oversee the activities. It has also been made clear to various policing agencies that people who try to stop the act of spitting in public places (apparently there was some campaign called "say 'chee' to spitters") should immediately be booked for obstruction of individual rights. Efforts will also be instituted to brainwash such anti-social "non-spitters" into becoming spitters.

Addendum: This piece also belongs in the section “We Are Like That Only”. Nothing has changed or will change in the foreseeable future. We are spitting country and we will continue to do so till kingdom come.

There was some reduction in the amount of spitting during the Covid-19 pandemic, but as of 2023, it is back to normal.

Man From Matunga Chronicles