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The Spit Artists of Bangalore

He takes a long deep breath, hocks back the phlegm with truly earth shattering sound effects and then, head turning ever so slightly to the left, puckers his mouth and lets go, in a neat, smooth arc, a projectile missile of saliva.

He does this every ten minutes during the six kilometer drive.

How it doesn’t land on me seated behind him or the person nervously riding pillion on a rickety scooter that sputters past us or the side of a BMTC bus trundling beside us on the Inner Ring Road is a mystery.

This autorickshaw driver is, of course, the supreme practitioner of the art of spitting. His prowess at it, the parabola of the saliva missile, the ability to ensure his spittle does not harm passersby makes him the Nadia Comaneci of spit artists in Bangalore. A perfect 10 in every respect.

Others don’t fare so well. For the sake of ease, I’ve classified them below, providing grades for each (0 being the lowest, 10 being the highest for each parameter):

The Morningstar

He is a slave to tobacco in all its forms. His five pack a day habit and gutka addiction shows up each morning. He’s not necessarily stationery. He’ll be riding in his car, on his bike or just standing outside his house, vigorously scratching his crotch.

Those of us unlucky enough to deal with The Morningstar as we run to catch the morning buses or company conveyance have to execute Rudolph Nureyev-style leaps to avoid the generous saliva bombs emitted by this early morning fixture on the city roads and residential neighborhoods.

There’s a Morningstar in every neighborhood in Bangalore. If, like me, you’re unlucky enough to live in a place with more than one, the constant need to keep a firm lookout for the Morningstars ensures that your body gets a thorough workout. In executing maneuvers to avoid the spittle, you do several trunk twists, windmill your arms to ensure your bag is saved and of course, leap high in the air, exercising the calf, quads and hamstrings in the process. The leap, performed several times, ensures your own respiratory health and lessening the possibility of you becoming a Morningstar yourself.

Below are The Morningstar’s grades:

Technique: A not-bad 8
Volume: Pretty average 5
Consideration for Passersby: An intolerable 0
Overall grade: 4.3

The Loafer

Unlike The Morningstar The Loafer doesn’t have a fixed time in which he pursues his passion for spitting. He’s also a lech par excellence, so usually can be found loafing on pavements (or the ruins of these as is common in this city) when housewives do the mid-morning market run, schools close for the day in the afternoon and when the tired and harried workers of the world return home in the evenings.

The Loafer can again be subdivided into two kinds – the aforementioned lech who gazes and lusts after comely specimens of humanity and the gossip, constantly chattering with anyone who will give him the time of day.

While the lech is considerate in his spitting (after all, he doesn’t want to rain on the parade of beauties passing him by), the same cannot be said about the gossip. Any juicy bit of gossip has to be punctuated by regular spitting, done without consideration for others or where he stands.

I’ve seen the Gossiping Loafer spit, in the height of rumor-mongering excitement, on passing children, dogs, cows, unlucky bike riders and legs of passersby. Said passersby don’t usually realize they’ve been spat upon until they reach home to find something sticky on their pant-leg or salwar-cuff. Or in the case of the truly wretched of God’s creatures, on the ends of expensive silk saris.

Grading The Loafer as a monolith is, therefore, difficult. I’ve split it into two and averaged out the results to arrive at an overall grade:

The Lecherous Loafer
Technique: A laconic 5
Volume: A moderate 5, sometimes increasing with lecherous excitement to 7
Consideration for Passersby: 8
Average: 6.3

The Gossiping Loafer:
Technique: A shambolic 1
Volume: Constant gossiping leading to an 8
Consideration for Passersby: 0
Average: 3

Grading for The Loafer as a whole: 4.65

The Bus Rider

A confession: I was once, on a long-ago bus ride through Idduki, The Bus Rider for a grand total of one minute. Admittedly, I was only three years old and just discovering the joys of spit-bubbles, but even to this day the episode fills me with shame. Being a novice Bus Rider, I attempted to spit through the bars of the KSRTC bus in which I was sitting. The globule of spit was no arrow or dew that flew suicidal into the red-eye cauldron of morning. Rather, it dripped pathetically on the bars of the window. Since my mother didn’t have her eagle eye on me at the time, I attempted to spit again. This time, it flew out of the bars and onto the lush bunch of bananas on a cart. Terrified that the woman selling the fruit would have seen it, I shrank back and sat in my seat, cured forever of my desire to be The Bus Rider spit artist.

Obviously the Bus Rider spit artists seen (usually in the back seats) in the BMTC buses plying through this fine city are not the cowards that I am. They are fine craftsmen, taking time to form their spittle and usually letting go of it during blocks at traffic signals. This ensures that their spittle usually lands on the top of vehicles of stumpier stature. There are inconsiderate Bus Riders as well, ones who spit while the vehicle is on the move. These are the uncivilized variety, whose ejaculates land on windscreens, heads and helmet visors of passersby. They obviously get a big, fat 0 as a grade.

For the civilized Bus Rider, I’ve arrived at the following grade:

Technique: A masterly 9
Volume: An average 5 on mild days, an inspiring 7 on hot ones
Consideration for Passersby: A public-spirited 10
Average grade: 8.3

The Red Baron

When I first visited Bangalore as a whelp, it was to attend the Karnataka Entrance Exam counseling session. On the day we arrived, the city was mostly deserted. And pristine. On the second day, however, day of the counseling session proper, we found that hoards of enthusiastic paan chewers had descended on the streets of the city. Monuments that were previously virginal white (or as white as an object can be in such a place) were rendered an eyesore-ish orange.

The Red Baron chews paan through every waking hour. Some, I’ve heard, even masticate during their sleep, dribbling red streams onto their bed linen. The Red Baron is also canine-like in nature. While the other Spit Artists don’t leave much of a trace once the evaporation process has taken place (yes, that rain that fell on your head yesterday was once a Spit Artist’s saliva), The Red Baron likes to mark his territory. Usually on territory that’s already been claimed by hundreds and thousands of Red Barons before him. The Red Baron usually likes nooks and crannies to spit on – witness the red bases of pillars in railway stations for evidence. He’s also partial to decorating monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The ASI, I suspect, do have a special Anti-Red Baron squad, armed with bottles of Clorox and scrubbers.

The Red Baron is also the most temperamental among the Spit Artists of Bangalore. To argue with The Red Baron is to risk the cleanliness of one’s body and clothes. As my dry-cleaning bill often proves.

So here’s my grade for The Red Baron

Technique: A just-above-average 6
Volume: A ponderous 10
Consideration for Passersby: A not-at-all civic minded 2
Average grade: 6

The Born Again Yogi

The Born Again Yogi led a dissipated life involving endless packets of beedis, cigarettes, gutka and paan before experiencing an epiphany following the diagnosis of emphysema in his 40th year. Since then, he has a better relationship with his Neti Pot than leaf tobacco.

And like most Born Again specimens of any persuasion, he’s an insufferable bore. He considers his spittle to be above the rest of humanity’s. It is virtuous and blessed. His attitude towards those demanding he stop his loud hocking is to give a supercilious stare and continue with his morning rituals of bringing up generous volumes of phlegm.

The Born Again Yogi spit artist usually populates the parks in the mornings where he piously does the rounds and spits at every turn.

Technique: A laughable 2
Volume: A shocking 8
Consideration for Passersby: A grudging 7
Average grade: 5.6

The Constant Hocker

The Constant Hocker has watched that scene from Titanic one too many times. Until Leo taught Kate the joys of hocking back noisily before letting rip, the Constant Hocker was a shy practitioner of the art. He did it surreptitiously, out of sight of adults and shyly thooing into grass verges and gutters on the side of roads.

Leo’s ability to hock back and let his spittle become the salivatory equivalent of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County proved to be the same inspiration to The Constant Hocker that Marie-Therese Walter became to Picasso. It took The Constant Hocker to hitherto unmatched levels of artistry, heights and parabolic range.

The Constant Hocker on my street takes up his position for around half an hour each day outside the broiler chicken shop. There, he practices his art every five minutes. First there’s that huge throat clearing, then the loud gurgle and rasp, the bubbling sound of collecting enough phlegm from the nasal passages to mingle with the saliva, a final rush around the mouth and then, a carefully considered emitting of this huge glob of spittle. When it usually lands next to a cowpat, it’s hard not to wonder at the sheer dimensions of it. That one human can do such a thing leaves one in awe at the power of nature and the creative ability of providence.

Grading for The Constant Hocker:

Technique: A jaw-dropping, reciprocal spit inspiring 10
Volume: Eye-watering 10
Consideration for Passersby: An average 5
Average Grade: 8.3