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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/16/15 8:20 AM

Feature: So, What`s the Goss?

       Don`t tell anyone, okay?

Like it or not, gossip makes the world go round. The savvy thing here would be to stay on top of the rumour mills. A few lessons on managing the eternally thrumming grapevine.

Ask me all about gossip. I know. I was living and working in the capital of the country at a time when our version of the paparazzi was making its far-from-shy debut. When Page Three was exploding, when PR managers managed celebs’ lives (they did, I promise you!), when you were nobody if you weren’t talking or being talked about.Senior journalists on the political desk would open the conversation with: What’s the goss? Junior bureaucrats would ask the same.

Supplement editors would ask, and immediately lose interest if you couldn’t give a befitting answer to that ubiquitous q.  As for fashion designers, they asked that question with such wide-eyed eagerness, it made you want to make up something on the spot to keep them happy, the poor dears.

Woe betide those who would condemn gossip as something scurrilous and deign to maintain a dignified silence. Because those people were, and are, naïve. It may not be the best of lasting trends, but gossip is used as a currency everywhere – in the higher, middle and lower echelons – and if you can’t trade in that currency, you are a loser, a nonentity.


Have tongue, will wag

Think about it. This is the day of the superficial, and so naturally, gossip must and does thrive. If you have a tongue, it must wag. It has, indeed, become a sort of networking activity. Those in the media, never mind if they cover the activities of the bourse and nothing else, are asked all manner of questions – from the possible outcome of the upcoming elections to the more scandalous tidbits of politicians/corporate bigwigs/leading names of the art world.

Celebrities now, they are on another plane altogether. Those who are actors on the big screen and the small, gain importance by the very weight of the news they have to barter. And make no mistake about this: It’s an exchange. A hears something and stores it away to dine on it for days to come, then dutifully holds up his/her end of the bargain, and tells B something heard on the eternally thrumming grapevine. B moves it on and in that manner, the snowball becomes a small avalanche that just may or may not bury the individual under discussion.

Everyone gossips, from the top-work maid to visiting physiotherapists, beauticians to the person manning the coffee counter at your regular java haunt. Why, I know groups of women who gossip avidly about just about everyone they know…including the friend who just got up to visit the loo!

What exactly is this manner of beast? Gossip is defined as casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.

The twist in this tale is that mostly, gossip is treated as the gospel truth, or at the very least, as a confirmation that there cannot be smoke without a fire lurking somewhere.Sometimes gossip is only a telling of the latest buzz, duly embroidered and embellished, in order to raise eyebrows and generate immediate amusement. In a weird way, it is all about bonding, sharing news, even acting as a caution: You hear the tidbit and think, “Phew. There but for the grace of god goes me.”

And so we hear and sometimes we tell, about people behaving badly, about
people breaking taboos, about people pushing societal barriers. And if there is a teeny-weeny hint of envy in our telling of the tale, we ignore it, trying to tell
ourselves that, of course, we don’t want to be like them now, do we?

The good, bad and ugly
But is all gossip bad, toxic? Not really, not when it is recognised, acknowledged, as an admittedly facile way of marking your spot in your world. If you have heard
gossip, it means you are connected. You are part of the network and not left out of the loop, in the ignorant cold as it were. Workplace gossip has a useful role in spreading news about posts falling vacant, pointing out ideal mentors, making clear the organisation’s manner of working, highlighting the boss’ Achilles heel, and suchlike.

More importantly, most of those who gossip have a clear idea about its relative value. Given that gossip is almost always unkind, they gossip, they laugh, they jeer, and then they move on to the more serious business at hand. Nothing is blown out of proportion, nothing is taken too seriously and nothing is spoken with an actually intent to wound.

A 2012 study by the University of California Berkeley actually reports on the upside of gossip. It says gossip can be therapeutic; it helps prevent exploitation and lowers stress. It is some kind of constant commentary on our lives, on our society, on our conforming sections and our lawbreaking sections.

And in a society that is constantly in flux, there will, of course, be a ‘but’. If gossip is spread with the intent of maligning somebody for personal or professional purposes, then it crosses the thin line. It becomes badmouthing, defaming, with dependent damage done. That then, is not gossip, it is slander. Recognise its poisonous content for what it is, leave it alone. Trifling talk is one thing, vicious trolling is something else.

So, gossip is faceted. It has its funny side; it has its toxic side. It can be merely catty, it can be calumnious. It can disparage and it can also denigrate. Those who know how to manage gossip touch lightly on the former part and leave the latter part well alone.

Equally important, recognise gossip as distinct and apart from a shared intimate confidence. Never ever repeat the latter information; if you do so, you are abusing the trust someone has reposed in you.

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 16 May 2015.



Deccan HeraldFeatureFeaturesgossipmen and women

Sheila Kumar • May 16, 2015

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