Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Chewing of the ......

My first memory related to chewing gum, has to do with someone in my third grade class being caught chewing, and being asked to leave the room and stand outside, by the class teacher, with a tape across the lips. Not just chewing gum, but one simply did not chew anything in class.

We did have certain people in class who liked to act defiant, and some chewed gum to look fashionable.

Ours was an English medium school, at a time (a few years after Independence), when , in the milieu that I came from, sending your children there was considered akin to being a traitor. The overall social ethos in these schools was different, and those of us innocent types who thought school was for studies , often secretly looked on wide eyed at these defiant, gum chewing, fearless types, many of whom never did homework, told fibs, read comics (then banned), and could sing Elvis Presley songs, with the required shaking and stuff.

Gum chewing is actually more than chewing chemicals or saps and resins of trees. It is an attitude.

In my childhood, wandering into a group of people , say in your living room, or class, or meeting, chewing gum, was considered totally bad manners. You also didn't wander around drinking tea, or eating other stuff. Other folks were also offered the stuff, and you kind of slid effortlessly into the milieu. As children you did a lot of surreptitious raiding of cupboards and eating, but that was different. Even then, suddenly wandering into a roomful of guests, popping stuff into your mouth from the depths of your pocket , earned you a reprimand. And you were deemed a bad mannered spolied child.

Of course, that made chewing gum, and its taste , something glamorous, and you enjoyed the two pieces occasionally when out shopping with your parents and so on. (It then came in green and yellow packs of 4 pieces).

When I first went to the US for grad school in 1970, one of the biggest things I found different was you could eat whatever anywhere, without concern for whoever sat next to you. And I don't mean sitting on the lawn.

For example, I was shocked at some students eating lunch in class, right under the professor's nose. The professor himself often came in with a mug of coffee in his hand. And no one even thought of offering to share whatever they were eating. That was considered normal.

We teaching assistants (TAs) sat in a huge office room, and one of the senior profs came in to see someone who was assisting him. To my complete shock, the TA continued to sit and eat and converse with the prof, who was standing by his desk. Amazingly , when this happened with me ( I wasn't eating), I promptly stood up as if by reflex action, at my seat to converse with the prof, who then wondered why I was up, and urged me to sit down, while he stood. I couldn't. And everyone had a good laugh about it.

The US was actually chewing gum heaven, and everyone was constantly chewing gum in my office room. The students would be chewing. The bus drivers would be chewing. Folks in offices would be chewing. I too enjoyed gum once in a while, but never had an endless supply around like other folks.

And so chewing gum, per se, stopped being a digestive activity , and became a culture.

Gum chewing, has now gone, far beyond, popular folks in school showing attitude, or what is called in India a "time-pass" . Globalization (the dreaded G word again), and fast communications of the written and the visual type , offer you various scenarios in which chewing gum is an integral part of someones mental makeup.

It shows nonchalance, defiance, superiority, and a possible connection between the jaw movements and thinking.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian Cricket test Captain, is not a favorite of mine. Particularly , when he is fielding, say at second slip , chewing away , wads of chewey stuff in his pocket, glaring at the batsman, speaking out of the side of his mouth to first slip , and he will suddenly spit the stuff out on to his palm, and start off with another set of gum pieces. I don't know what he does with the stuff he spits, but it always looks like he is thinking in detail about how to be nasty to the opposition.

Closer to home, I was watching the opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi a few days ago, and the highlight was supposed to be when some highly medalled Indian athletes would run in a relay with the Queen's baton, and the last person would hand it over to Prince Charles, representing the Commonwealth head, the Queen Elizabeth.

And so there was the last athlete, world wrestling champion Susheel Kumar, jogging in measured steps, chewing away to glory, baton in hand, smiling for the TV and other cameras and he lands up next to the Prince, Camilla, the Indian President, and several world dignitaries, shakes their hand (chew, chew), and smiles (chew, chew), turns around and jogs away somewhere, doubtlessly chewing some more.

To me, it took away something from the occasion. I mean here were some graceful other baton carriers, doing the stuff in a way that enhanced the occasion, and then this guy looks like he was out for a casual run, chewing, and decided to help with the baton at the last lap.

Young people here chew gum today, all the time. Ads on TV even highlight benefits for teeth, highlighting the power of the "glow".

It bothers me when you talk to someone and then answer back in between chewing gum chews. Its worse when you talk to older folks while nonchalantly chewing this way and that. I've been known to glare.

Unlike in historical days, when stuff was chewed for health reasons and consisted of barks and saps and resins of medicinal trees, today, gum is completely manufactured from chemicals . A look at research done of chewing gum, and its correlation to human psychology, alertness, confidence, brain blood flow, and enhanced heart beats, reveals, that most of this research is sponsored and funded by the Wrigley company. Chewing gum supposedly improves memory . There are even reports on how young children can get lesser ear infections and swallow less antibiotics , if they chew gum. Gum chewing is supposed to improve concentration. Amazingly, 5 pieces of chewing gum chewed daily is supposed to bring back the bowel function of those undergoing gastrointestinal surgery.

I await the day, when chewing gum is proved beneficial for heart patients, stroke patients, and for healing of fractures, not to mention, learning maths, playing the violin, singing. You can add your own.

I guess those who must chew, chew. Each American supposedly chews 300 sticks (1.5 lbs) of chewing gum each year. I am sure we will shortly follow suit.

It doesn't matter what I think in my old age.

But I wish they would pay attention to someone, who has been chewing in style for ages, without any ear infections, concentration enhancement, dicey university research and increased heartbeats. The object here is to simply make things easier for your digestive system ,improve your teeth, and strengthen, what I think is an awesome jaw.

Enjoy :


  1. 'It bothers me when you talk to someone and then answer back in between chewing gum chews. Its worse when you talk to older folks while nonchalantly chewing this way and that. I've been known to glare.' - I couldn't agree more. For some reason, I can't understand how people can chew while talking to somebody.. And some chew because they think it is 'attitude' to behave like this :(

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  3. I do chew gum once a while. But definitely not in meetings, classrooms, when talking to elders or such situations where it might look out of place or disrespectful.

    I felt the same way when I saw Susheel Kumar jogging in (kind of awkwardly) with the Queen's baton, with gum in his mouth.

    Reminds you of cow chewing cud?

  4. Like this post. I do not like it when I see someone chewing gum in public. Being old fashion I find a lot of things that are done - bad manners.
    I have a dry mouth from an immune disordeer.
    Usually chew gum when I am driving my car :)
    I am alone ...

  5. Well, Suranga, I agree with your thoughts in this post. But not many would agree- or maybe would not say that they agreed out of fear of being thought conservative.

    Good manners are out-of-date, it seems. or maybe just the definition of good manners has changed? :)

  6. Yes, the casual approach is becoming too much to chew! Everywhere..

  7. There's only one time that I will chew gum. In an airplane, because it helps with the pressure. Otherwise, I think it's a nasty habit.

    My Mom loves to chew gum, when someone offers some to her, but she won't buy it herself. When offered a piece, she won't hesitate to take it. She won't just chew one piece at a time either, it's typically two pieces of gum.

    Gum is a "treat" from her childhood and she thoroughly enjoys it. But she'll get to a point where it makes a smacking sound and she'll pop bubbles (my Mom!) and that's when I kind of give a look.

    She knows... she giggles like a little girl and gets rid of the gum.

    For me, it's the sound that annoys me and it does.... well, it DOES appear rude.

  8. U just spoke my heart out, Suranga. I hate chewing gums, esp when its being chewed while talking, and like the person carrying the baton, while in the class...Oh, I feel it disgusting even more, when they blow the bubbles out of it and when it sticks all over the mouth...Oh...such a sick feeling for me.
    I hate Ricky for exactly that reason, and many more...
    Somehow, I never buy gums for my girls too...its only when we travel, they get indulged in such luxuries, if I may call that.

  9. I am not fond of chewing gum. I can quite understand why Singapore Govt. has banned the product. In school, we have had instances of cutting off a wad of hair whenever some gum got stuck to it.
    Chewing on gum and speaking is as bad as talking with your mouth full.

  10. oops sorry, it should read speaking with your mouth full....

  11. I was equally amazed that he chose to chew gum while handing over the torch to people out there.

    It was downright disgusting.

    Its long stopped being a food item. Its now an 'attitude definer' kinds ! Which is so sad !

  12. wordsndreamz You know, we have an obsession about aping the west. They chew, so we chew. Hmm.

    Monisha Mehta Kindly refrain from spamming. You've commented identically across so many blogs.

    RGB That's why I posyed the last video. The cow does it for specific digestive reasons, and in what style ! None of chewers reach close...

    One Woman's Journey Its the difference between thoughful chewing and thoughtless chewing...

    manju joglekar I think people have just become mindlessly shameless. Then manners dont enter into the picture.

    aativas We treat important stuff casually, and useless stuff with great importance sometimes. This is a great example....

    Aleta Yes, I have heard about chewing gum to avoid ear discomfort in planes on take off....That is fine...

    UmaS Ever saw Tendulkar chewing and spitting gum ? Probably never on the field...

    Radha Yikes. I remember all thet stuff about chewing gum in the hair.... terrible ..

    Kavi How come the ever alert Indian media didnt comment about that ? Or were they chewing away themselves ?