Death by spitting [archives]

[This piece was originally hosted on my now-defunct MA course blog.]

The last few weeks have flown by, and it is now time for me to return to London. However, there was a story I read in the papers the day I landed in Bombay that I want to tell you about.

For those who are unfamiliar with us Indians, you should know that we abhor clean surfaces, vertical or horizontal. And so, we do our very best to spoil these clean surfaces in a variety of artistic ways. The most common method, picked up in school, involves dropping whatever waste we have onto the streets as we walk. This includes candy wrappers, chips packets, peanut cones and leaflets handed out to us outside malls.

However, for those pesky vertical surfaces, mere littering isn’t enough – Gravity plays spoilsport. Here’s where the subject of this post comes in – spitting! Spitting in public is a form of art in India, with skilled artisans peppering our walls and streets with red, paan-based projectiles, whilst avoiding the millions of people who live on, adjacent to and under the streets of the city.

One such skilled spitter recently lost his life when he spat out of the window of his home, illegally constructed too close to the overhead electricity cables. His red-coloured saliva made contact with the cables and the electricity pulled him out of the window, electrocuting him. He was declared dead on admission, when taken to a nearby hospital.

Some people I spoke to expressed shock at his death, pointing to the dangers that these brave artists face each day in defacing and polluting the city we all call home. Others vowed to continue his brave work, with many deciding to take up paan-chewing, often described as a disgusting habit.

Some ardent fans of the man’s work have rightly blamed the companies who installed the high-tension cables for providing electricity to the city, claiming that it was an elaborate plan by the elite to stamp out all alternative forms of artistic expression.

Alas, if the elite succeeds, our bare, ugly surfaces will become commonplace, and we will be forced to view the original layer of paint on them. Alas, given the number of artists in the city, this looks very unlikely.

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