The Professional Spitter
Hir had been meaning to visit this part of the blue planet for a long time, but this was not how hir had pictured meeting the first professional spitter of the world. The evening was soon approaching its close, and the woman clearly wanted to finish her business before it did. She had unfortunately started late in the afternoon, she explained to Hir, while her swift hands expertly worked the quadruped’s dark, shiny udders. It was so ruthless that it felt bizarre watching both the involved parties exhibiting complete mechanical indifference towards the process.
“I don’t like doing all this at my age, but one cannot stop. The rusting is imminent, but there is an honour in delaying it.”
She didn’t know her age, but she easily looked to be in her late 50s. Everybody approaches the retirement years differently on this planet.
“But you are the only living professional spitter of the world, probably the first too, why do you even work around farm animals?”
“Scarlet here thinks spitting pays the bills”, she ejaculated with the immediacy of hotly perceptible contempt, her back towards the audience while she faced her second son seated next to the cattle. He directed a sniggering laugh at hir lest the strange man miss the purport of his mother’s words.
“I was a professional spitter little man”, she continued after a while when hir played the insult with deft silence. Her voice had a tinge of nostalgia this time around. “Those were strange days, but they used to be glorious every once in a while. We had guests packing the tiny hall of my husband’s newly built house every day, once the word got out. I was quite a catch, you see. My father only agreed to the marriage once my husband’s family agreed to build us a room of our own. A professional spitter can’t live with everyone else; I needed my own room to continue my work.”
“And they all came with offers of a job?”
“Not all of course. Every job came with an entourage of five that we should need to make tea for. And there was the farm that needed to be taken care of. We did not have money for the cows back then. Mine had been spent on the wedding, and his on the house. It was a beginning.”
Hir was getting anxious to reach to the juicier parts. In an attempt to speed up the narrative hir enquired if she ever spit on somebody famous.
“I got a lot of offers to spit on the highest of people. They came for rallies, and gatherings at the city maidan a few miles away; all sorts of people; but one can’t spit on people one respects. I never did take up a job my imaan won’t agree to.”
Her voice had that quality which sometimes relays far more than words do. Imaan wasn’t soul, or faith, or even integrity as they usually mean in Hindi novels. Hir realized in hir bones that her imaan was a rare union of all of them. Them and perhaps, Hir suspected, a little bit of impulse.
“There was this film actress though. She had plagued the town with her indecent posters that showed her dressed in provoking, shiny clothes that the children stared at when they were not kept busy. I spit on her.” It wasn’t just pride that hir registered in her voice. It was the remembrance of a lost glory. It was the conviction of her faith in the moral right and the acknowledgement and celebration of her strength to stand up, by those that surrounded her or mattered to her.
For Hir it was a choice between fighting for hir own convictions, or getting some parts of the woman’s whole story without hazarding further filters. Hir never stood a chance.
“Did the actress ever talk to you, or respond to the insult?”
“We never cared. I gave a few interviews. Everybody wanted to know what I had to say. They published a full photo of me with my first cow. The job did give me a lot of money.”
“But you must have made so much money doing those jobs-you don’t live like it.”
“Money spends itself, lallu. And there is so much we did with it. We watched the movies, and bought new cows. We had a continuous supply of DDT those days while everyone watched their crops half marred by something or the other…we had more, so we sometimes shared it with cousins and nieces. I used to engage in spit competitions with the most youthful pahalwans of the village, and I still won a lot of times. They would shoot it five feet, and I trumped them with five quarter; and we would go back and practice to up the stakes each time we contested till we could go no farther and then one day I realized I hadn’t spit in a year. Things end strangely.”
“Yes, there are new ways of embarrassment being practised now.”
“It was that filthy Arab that started it. They throw shoes now. Shoes, and ink and what not. Artificial substances don’t hurt a person any. You can’t buy insults in the market.”
“Amma you just live in the past. The shoe hurts their bald heads aplenty” It was the son’s turn for the retort, it seemed.
“The spit is organic”. She was calm now, purposefully so, fully aware of the demands of the role she had appropriated as she began the sermon.
“The spit is meant to fall on the ground. When you spit on a person’s face, you are telling them they are no better than dust. You tell a well-dressed somebody surrounded by his whole coterie they are nothing, it is worse than a punch. It is an insult unmatched by any. Your generation doesn’t know this.”
“The shoe doesn’t show him I worship him Amma. You just don’t understand. The times changed the method is all. Nobody can spit past a security circle of twenty men.”
“What do you know of times youngling? I was once paraded on a donkey with a blackened face.”
Hir looked so surprised the son had to intervene.
“Amma won’t tell you she entered the wrong caste meeting. It had nothing to do with spitting.”
The woman had done milking. She did not seem intent on inviting an alien to her dinner table. Hir took hir leave. Perhaps her voice did tell a lot of things, perhaps hir had merely imagined them.