Among the dastardly exercises to mark the end of 2009 was one about the cricketer of the decade. Comparisons of this sort are anyway superfluous, and more so in a situation when many of the contenders finished two other motorists digging their nose. Any idea why? Or why at the stop light?”
Foul: Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere looks away as Andrei Arshavin (left) does his bit. Jonathan Ross / Wikimedia Commons
There were many sympathetic responses on three separate threads on eCharcha. One said that the nose was the only convenient hole left for motorists at a stop light. This, as we know, is not true. Men dig at multiple holes at stop lights and everywhere else. “Sutradhar”, the site’s administrator, confessed, “To be honest, many times, when I pull out a really complex booger which is part dry and part semi-dry, it gives great pleasure to pull it out and notice the change in air flow through the nose.” I can (how to say this without revealing too much) relate to Sutradhar’s pleasures. “Saverewaligadi” had a more nuanced problem: how to stop a senior manager from digging his nose at a meeting. Responses ranged from “offer your own finger”, to putting chilli powder on the offensive finger as it made tracks towards the nostril.
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“Laal-langot” said nose-digging was about male bonding, like being gym buddies. One male fired up the left nostril, and the other up the right. Each goaded the other. An annoyed “Smelly Finger” retorted, “Meri ungli, meri naak, mera shembud, meri marji. Aap kyon pareshaan??” he asked. Roughly translated, this means, “My finger, my nose, my snot, my wish. What’s your problem?”
Frankly, I hadn’t noticed nose-diggers until a reader named Sonali Kapoor brought them to my attention. Kapoor suggested that I write a “much needed article on nose-digging that is rampant and especially noticed in males with pot bellies aboard all domestic flights…so they think about how disgusting they are to behold”. I emailed her back with my condition. “Tell me about yourself and give me permission to use your name and you’ll have the article.” Turns out that Kapoor is a 48-year-old single mother who creates block-printed textile garments for Good Earth in Bangalore. Nose-digging just happens to be her pet peeve. “It’s one thing to look at chauffeurs and auto drivers doing it all the time, but another to see the suited and booted doing the same. What if we women started?” she asked.
I had news for her. Some women picked their noses, just not in public. For the record, nose-picking (called rhinotillexomania when compulsive) is a common habit. As is mucophagy, which is the act of eating your booger. Most cultures think it is disgusting but studies have shown that over 90% of humans pick their noses. One faction, including a lung specialist in Innsbruck, claims that eating your own snot has immune benefits, akin to drinking your own urine.
People have died from nose-digging. “Man dies from picking his nose,” said a 2008 headline in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, about a man who died from the resulting nosebleed. Nose-picking is as old as the Pharaohs. King Tutankhamun had a personal nose-picker, in life and afterlife. Nose-digging, like masturbation, peaks during adolescence. Chittaranjan Andrade and B.S. Srihari of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) in Bangalore won the 2001 Ig Nobel prize for “their probing medical discovery that nose-picking is a common activity among adolescents”, which they published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Dr Andrade, a mountaineer who has scaled six Himalayan peaks, states in the paper that “almost the entire sample” of 200 adolescent males admitted to nose-picking with a “median frequency” ranging from four times a day to 20 times a day. Here lies the answer to the harassed parental question: “Arjun (or equivalent), just what do you do in your room all day?”
There are two types of nose-digging: controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled is when you do it with the intent to clean, in the privacy of your bathroom. Uncontrolled nose-picking happens anywhere, but staring at a PC seems to engender it. For some reason, picking your nose seems to promote thoughts or perhaps it is the opposite: You pick when you are preoccupied. What to do with the booger is an issue that people solve differently. Some flick it away, other stick it under a colleague’s desk. The mucophagics, of course, eat it.
The air quality of a particular city affects the quality of the booger. Polluted cities such as Delhi, Cairo and Los Angeles impart a black hue to the clump inside your nostril. Living in polluted cities is better for nose-diggers because they create bigger chunks of snot that can be removed in one shot. Clean European cities are the worst because they create just enough snot within the nostril to be annoying, but when you actually dig, you get very little booger for the bucking finger. Dry climates promote hard boogers: a favourite for mucophagics because of the chew factor. Humid places such as Chennai cause sticky goop that involves multiple digs to get out properly. The thumb and forefinger are the most often used digits for nose-digging. The forefinger has the advantage because it allows rotation within the nostril, thus covering maximum surface area and attendant eviction of goop.
In deference to Kapoor, I have to say that I think nose-picking is absolutely disgusting, especially when the picker is pot-bellied. As she says, we have world-class airlines and, sadly, world-class nose-diggers. The simplest way to stop this abhorrent habit is to practise neti or ayurvedic nasal irrigation. Simple affirmations work: “Day by day in every way my nose is getting cleaner and cleaner,” is one option. Visualizing snot-free nostrils and placing notes on your computer screen with the instruction, “Do not pick,” may also help kick the habit.
Shoba Narayan wonders whether covering one nostril with Band-Aid will stop nose-digging. Write to her at email@example.com