Social media in Indian cyberspace had to contend with a sticky issue of US president Barack Obama chewing gum at the Republic Day parade, where he was the chief guest. Opinions were split between the perceived impropriety of a head of state in public glare and an act defining him as no different from Tom, Dick and Harry. However, the US president is no stranger to angry reactions from netizens. The Chinese chewed the fat for a while after Obama did the same at a summit in Beijing last year. But, as the American media has pointed out, he has been a long-time user of nicotine gum in his efforts to stub the butt, relying on gum to keep away from cigarette which one may arguably feel a compelling need for while dealing with chewy geopolitical issues with heads of state.
Indians would have been familiar with the sight of cricketers, most inimitably Viv Richards, chewing gum with purpose on the playing field or rebellious youngsters in general chomping away in defiance. In defence of gum chewers, including Obama, one could simply cite science. A study by researchers in the Netherlands suggests 10 minutes of chewing gum can remove 100 million bacteria from one’s mouth, which is as good as flossing. Previous research has shown that using a new toothbrush without toothpaste could clean up around 100 million colony-forming units per brush. In another flossing experiment, researchers found “the mechanical action of floss wire removes a comparable number of bacteria from the oral cavity than does chewing of a single piece of gum”.
As against chewing gum, flossing or using toothbrush isn’t entirely practicable at the Republic Day parade. Evidently, the health benefits outweigh moral questions of chewing gum. As a Twitter user rightly observed, Obama was only chewing in public, and “not spitting like us Indians” which is likely to invite a new sense of outrage in an aspiring “Swachh Bharat”.