Chai Pe Charcha: In Defence of Gossip


Chai Pe Charcha: In Defence of Gossip

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

If small talk is an art perfected rarely by people during social situations, then gossip is social-interaction lube. Like rolling a first-class joint in under a minute, artful gossip can bring pleasure during conversations in a way few things can.

Sure, you can gush about Dan Brown’s Origin being your latest guilty pleasure with anyone you want, and chances are they’ll even nod in approval. But that joy will hardly match the high you’ll encounter when you forge a connection with a group of strangers at a random wedding, talking smack about that guy taking endless helpings. Or the bond you develop with colleagues after a deep, soul-satisfying conversation about an office affair. Believe it or not, gossip is the most evident and universal language of bonding that has the power to erase biases, differences, and distance.

I’ve been an advocate of gossiping for as long as I remember. A large part of meeting acquaintances at parties, catching up with friends over brunch, or even meet-cutes with Tinder dates involve me setting aside some time to disburse new information to my audience or playing an attentive listener when my friends are tattling their hearts out. For me, it’s the greatest ice-breaker possible – connecting with someone without knowing a thing about them except the fact they they match your appetite for disdain and curiosity. To borrow Clairee Belcher’s words of wisdom from Steel Magnolias, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”

I identify as a gossiper even though I am forced to spend all of my waking hours surviving seemingly good-natured warnings about its dangers (“Haw! Isn’t talking behind people’s backs so mean?”). Or being instructed in the urgent need to distance myself from it (“Don’t be the kind of person who never has something kind to say about anyone”). When I’m not surrounded by people who are convinced that gossiping contributes to global warming, I have to tread my way carefully on the internet so as to avoid being confronted by “holier-than-thou” self-help guides calling me out as a “gossip monger”. To the world, I might as well be a criminal out on frequent parole undeservingly, much like Sanjay Dutt.

What’s amusing is that even though everyone from our moms to Rachel on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. partake in it, gossip still conjures a mental image of a heavily made-up daayan-esque personality who exists solely to wreak havoc. Thanks to the Komolikas and Tapasyas that Ekta Kapoor has immortalised in our collective conscious, the art of gossiping is now the art of homewrecking. Naturally, anyone who indulges in gossip is promptly assumed to be a hair-twirling vamp who’s plotting away to glory.

Oscar Wilde once said, “If there is anything more annoying in the world than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one to talk about you.”

But that’s exactly what most of us have gotten wrong about the harmless, enthralling, and addictive pleasures of gossiping. What we forget while demonising gossip (mainly because it’s also considered a “feminine” pastime), is the fact that we often confuse it with mud-slinging and rumour-mongering, aided mostly by the utter dominance of celebrity gossip.

In the landscape of popular culture that we consume, the most common iteration of gossip are the blind items and celebrity rumours dotting newspapers. These are based on the foundation of deceit. It’s about giving fuel to rumours, often making up rumours to come up with a juicy tidbit, or exaggerating things to present a completely untrue but saleable point of view. In doing so, tabloids and reality TV quietly conspire against our fundamental right to gossip by making us believe that it is impossible to do without hurting someone.

But allow me to present a radical point here: The art of talking smack is nothing but just another way of communication. Take away its infamous reputation, and it’s just an exercise in sharing facts and opinions. Granted, a lot of gossip is speculative, but what it is not, is untrue or harmful. And, honestly, we’re undermining its salubrious effects.

For gossip forces you to confront what’s on your mind instead of suppressing it for the sake of nicety. It requires absolute honesty, and more often than not, it helps blow off some much-needed steam arguably better than even a porn sesh can. But, most importantly, it teaches you to think, and have opinions. If you’re scoffing at gossiping just because it is a form of communication you don’t “morally” identify with, it’s worth remembering that talking was to our ancestors, what WhatsApp forwards are to your misogynist uncle on the family group.

A large chunk of naysayers also argue that the setting of a gossip session occurring behind someone’s back is cue enough for them to be against it. I’ve realised that most people with this complaint don’t fear gossip as much as they fear the unchecked power of Chinese whispers that can arise out of it. It’s a fair hesitation to have, but not an impossible obstacle to cross. To counter my lack of control over the exciting nugget I may possess about someone’s relationship or my rant about someone’s body odour, I try and share it only with people I trust. People who I know, won’t go around town disseminating my words as gospel.

Besides, with our general misery of existing, mental health issues, abysmal paychecks, and dying dreams, don’t we deserve to let off steam a little, especially in a safe space? Don’t we deserve the instant gratification of a little venting in the manufactured private spaces of low whispers and sneakily shared looks? There are a million ways people choose to unwind. Some choose binge-watching Netflix, some have sports. A large chunk of people enjoy memes.

Others, like me take the easier, universally accessible, satisfying-like-chocolate route of good old gossip – the best unifier of all.

And as Oscar Wilde once said, “If there is anything more annoying in the world than having people talk about you, it is certainly having no one to talk about you.”