Friday, September 26, 2008

The spitting game

In Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, a favourite pastime of a group of old men is a game called hit-the-spittoon. Idling outside the paan shop, chewing tobacco, these old fogies amuse themselves by seeing who among them can direct the jet of red juice into the brass spittoon.

A variation of the game seems to be played here every morning by old and young, men and women. But without tobacco, paan or spittoon.

It's a mystifying game, and I'm yet to figure out the rules.

I think it's called 'This Is The Way We Brush Our Teeth', but I can't be sure.

From what I gather, it's played like this: toothpaste is applied onto a toothbrush, and then the players hit the road brushing their teeth.

My first experience of the game was when the milk boy arrived one morning with foam all over his mouth and the brush inside.

But I've seen people wander up and down the lane for no reason at all, the brush clenched between their teeth like a cigar. I've seen a man taking his buffaloes to graze and doing it. People stroll about on the beach or visit the little provision store, all the while vigorously brushing. Women do it while getting water from the well and while cleaning the courtyard.

And every now and then, they turn to one side and go pthoo! pthoo! all over the place.

The remarkable thing is how they manage to hold a conversation without allowing all that foamy toothpaste to fall out.

Maybe that's the point of the game.

Or to see who can spit in more places every morning.

Maybe they just get bored brushing their teeth in one place.

Or they do it because toothpaste is good for the trees.

But I suspect it's a status thing. To tell the neighbours, and whoever else might care, that they don't use black tooth powder or a stick of neem. Oh no. Look at me: I brush my teeth with Colgate toothpaste! Pthoo!


jayram said...

i don't know if you have noticed another thing- the kaftan nightgown has become the national dress in many parts of the country especially among the younger village women

jayram said...

you know what, these people are doing the same thing with the toothbrush that they do with the neem twig - they chewe it as they go about their morning chores- so maybe colgate can invent a chewable toothbrush for the villages-