Friday, July 03, 2020

In spitting distance of flammable

The meaning of spit changes with context. Literature is full of spitters and the spat upon, from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan to Raj Rao’s Kanthapura. In all of the above texts, a powerful person or dominant community spits or threatens to spit upon the vulnerable, as a way of demonstrating that they can. I was also reminded of Ha Jin’s War Trash, set in the Korean War of the early 1950s. Towards the end, Chinese prisoners of war are given a choice between repatriation to the Communist controlled mainland and going to Taiwan. China was persuading them to return to the mainland. One member of the group that did not want to return suggested spitting at “the Reds” as a way of pre-empting any veiled threats and making their opposition public.

The gesture is always underpinned by anger. In Hindi, we have a saying, ‘gussa thook do’ (spit out your anger) which is a request to calm down or let bygones be. There are other proverbs such as ‘thook ke chaatna’ (licking your own spit), equivalent to eating your words, and ‘aasmaan pe thookna’ (spitting at the sky), which indicates your insignificance relative to the object of your criticism. A person may also be described as ‘thookne laayaq’ (worth spitting at) or not worth even that. Some people spit or say ‘thoo-thoo’ aloud as a superstitious gesture, intending to ward off evil. However, saying the word ‘thoo’ universally signifies disgust, and was recently deployed on Twitter as a hashtag[ii] aimed at journalists[iii] who were accused of fanning Islamophobia during the pandemic.

Read the full post at the CUP blog: 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This gives a great new perspective. Thanks!

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