Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gossip an art form

We Goans have raised gossip to an art form. Put a group of Goans together and eavesdrop. First they complain about various issues, the ineptitude of the government of course and sooner or later they will start gossiping about mutual friends, relatives and also people they don’t know.

I would blame the balcao for this. Not for nothing did Goan houses have a mandatory porch or verandah for watching the world go by. It came in handy for hailing an acquaintance passing by and sharing a cool drink and hot gossip.

Just the other day I was sitting in a public place and had the pleasure of listening to a group of six or seven middle-aged men and women. Some would say eavesdropping is as bad a habit as gossiping. I would disagree. Putting a listening device into someone’s room and listening is a no-no, but when six people are sitting near you in a public place and insist on discussing the private lives of others in loud carrying tones, you would be an ass not to listen. The only downside is that you cannot butt into the conversation and give them your take on the situation.

As it happened at the aforementioned public place I found myself in this week. The raconteur, a nondescript woman in her early sixties, with curly hair and spectacles, was holding forth to her spellbound party of six other middle-aged nondescript men and women. As I entered she was talking loudly, about how some female they all knew borrowed money from her and seemed to have no intention of returning the loan. There were many oohs and aahs and a chorus of “Did you not ask her for it?” She said she did buttonhole the borrower, who then got all dramatic and said she forgot and she would surely, surely write a cheque.

I wanted to tell her that in my experience you lend money only when you know you can give it away. When you lend, presume you will never get it back, is what I say. But someone else at their table pointed out triumphantly, “It says in the Bible: ‘Never a borrower or lender be!’

The raconteur was not done. She went on smoothly to talk about how the borrower used to break her toys when she was a child. Then without pausing for breath, she went on to the marital problems of a couple they all knew. She used their names. She spoke of how bitterly the couple fought and how the child of the couple had to grow up with that. She spoke of someone else who was entrusted with keeping a relative’s gold and how that worthy used the gold as security against a loan for herself. She spoke of how she begged a couple to go for marriage counseling and a few of her listeners agreed earnestly with her that both should go for counseling not just one spouse. And then she told her audience that one should always be humble and accept that one is not perfect. That is the first step, she said.

I wanted to ask her if her personal imperfection was her loose wagging tongue, but felt that it may be taken in the spirit it was offered. She grew tired of talking eventually and they all rose to leave and made plans to return in the evening.

I love listening and exchanging juicy tidbits which makes me a gossip too. In my book talking polite nothings is a total waste of time. But I avoid being sanctimonious when I gossip, because given their circs and temperament, I would do the exact same thing. I sat in the peaceful silence following their departure, mulling over our love for gossip.

And I thought if we could take our Goan love for gossip and turn it to our advantage we could be the most advanced people on the planet. Instead of writing reports in newspapers which most people don’t read anyway, we should use the art of gossip to get vital information out. Take something as simple as garbage disposal. Spread the gossip of how certain high-in-the-instep aristocrats (names must be used here) were actually pigs because they generated so much garbage, when all they had to do was reduce, reuse, recycle and this was how smart people did it.

I’m currently toying with the idea of starting a new movement called SPREAD (Society of People Ready for Education and Awareness Distribution). It could work like the old Pyramid system of investment. One person spreads the information to five other people, who each spreads it to five other people and so on. Information will spread to every corner of the state like wildfire. It will cut across, caste, creed, generation and language divides. You can talk to your neighbour, your boss, your auto driver, your maid, your child. And the best of all? It will cost nothing.

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