Illustration: J.A. Premkumar
So, here’s the alternative truth about that utterly-butterly, delicious-malicious tittle-tattle that we claim we have no time for, and yet occupies a special niche in our lives.
There’s a lot of loose talk going around about gossip. The moral brigade says it injects venom into society’s bloodstream, wrecks marriages, rips families asunder, turns bosom pals into back-stabbers, sinks careers and sends reputations into a death spiral… In fact, it’s every evil-doer’s dream, a non-violent weapon of mass destruction! True, all true. But as profound thinkers like Donald Trump have said, truth is many-sided.
The rise of social media has made gossip simpler to transmit than ever before. You don’t need to trudge down to the village choupal as our forefathers were wont to doing, or walk to the water cooler as office executives do. Technology has made it possible for us to e-gossip while slouching on the couch. But that doesn’t mean crafting the story has got any easier. In fact, when folks say gossip is idle talk, they do the art of news trafficking an injustice. It is anything but idle.
The good gossiper has to be on his toes 24×7. He knows the tales he is carrying have a life expectancy shorter than that of a Saudi dissident. Once an event becomes public knowledge, it stops being ‘gossipable’. Also, you need to know what to chat about, and when. Some subjects are clearly off the charts. Nobody gossips about mass murder, big ticket crime or tragedies. What gets tongues wagging, ears twitching and lips smacking are those embarrassing eccentricities, the nuggets that he/she would prefer to keep under the carpet.
By myself, I don’t have a hope in hell of making a striking impression on members of the elite groups I admire. But give me good tattle — fun facts about people (never mind if it turns out to be more of ‘fun’ and less of ‘fact’), and before you can say ‘Suhel Seth’, I will have everybody’s ear. That’s how most of us are wired, folks.
There is one downside to all this, of course. Whatever our motives, if you talk about others, you can bet others will talk about you. Take it easy. Nobody gossips about a nobody. When your private affairs become fodder for hushed but animated discussions, it’s a signal that you are either on your way or have already attained the big league. Welcome aboard!
Suppose you set the ball rolling with ‘Pssst, have you heard …?’ and lean into the huddle to reveal that ‘Raju does a lot of charity for the Road Safety Patrol’, or that ‘Purshottam gives free tuitions for the poor’, am afraid you are going to see a precipitous drop in listenership. Speaking and hearing no evil may be a fad with the Mahatma’s monkeys, but it’s unlikely to keep lesser mortals engrossed.
In an ideal world, I suppose such bonding ought to be happening while we talk about the graces and virtues of those not in present company. But I doubt if such chat will gain much traction.
The nattering classes have so much going for them