Outlook has a cover story on the importance of gossip in our lives. I have long been a fan of gossip. Often it is looked down upon and mostly underrated. Most of us do gossip consciously or unconsciously to gather information or to gain advantage in a situation. However we do not admit it.
One of teachers at film school used to speak highly of gossip. He said it sets your creative juices flowing. While I agree with the first part, for me gossip is more about gathering information (which is not available officially) or breaking into a group at a new workplace. Seasoned practitioners often use it to either to spread wrong information (!) or break set hierarchies.
Gossip started with school. Everyday when we returned back home I would be on the phone for hours on end discussing activities of my classmates to the minutest detail. Who did what? Who said what? What did the teacher’s pet do? This reached such a stage when I would even know what was happening in my brother’s class. My parents would often have to snatch away the phone from me.
When I joined a production house after many years in the freelancing wilderness, I was taken aback by the rigid hierarchies at work. No one spoke out of fear that he or she may be ridiculed or snubbed. The first week I sat alone at my desk with no one to talk to. I thought I would go mad. I realized that this had to be changed. I needed to help my colleagues loosen up.
I began with the office boy (who still remains my friend and calls me regularly) who was the repository of all that happened in the office. Slowly I worked my way up, creating new friendships, where conversations moved from the generic to gathering specific information about people at work.
At that time I was not aware of this process. Years later, I could observe myself with a distant eye when I joined another place. I would begin by meeting people alone. Of course gossip works best when done in groups but then you need to know the minds of everyone – what their motivations are and how much you should reveal your mind. When you are alone with someone, the conversation leads to more detail. But one must be willing to share information if one wants something that the other person has.
However the best practitioners of this are in Bombay. I realized people in that city had taken gossip to a new level. At the Lokhandwala Barista I saw one wannabe director move from one table to the other collecting information, adding his two bit and retelling the story. This process continued across three tables within the earshot of those who were talking to him a few minutes ago. No one bothered to correct him. In a business that thrives on gossip more of it was always welcome.