• Mohana Prabhakar

See you at the water cooler

A gentleman I met used a brilliant phrase to describe something we are all familiar with. ‘Totally unqualified footnoting’ is what he called what you and I would more unimaginatively call spreading rumours. The reason this activity has always had prime status and thrived unconditionally is because people believed that in this town everyone knew everyone or at least someone who knew everyone and everything. Though Muscat has grown exponentially, so has the use of WhatsApp. That possibly makes us feel that we know even more than we used to.

Footnoting is a useful tool in research documents/books: 'Its presence in a document is to further qualify a statement or premise made, to enhance it by offering additional information'. Obviously its value in a social setting lies more in enhancing than qualifying something.

One, if you are footnoting, it is presumably because you have more information/knowledge than the others around and that gets you into the centre of things. Two, not footnoting may mean you have no idea about what’s happening in town, and we can’t have that, can we? And finally, who cares whether you are really in the know or not – a good storyteller always has a listener, authenticity be damned.

If one recorded and printed conversations around water-coolers, at coffee bars, sheesha evenings or dinner parties there would surely be more in the footnotes than the actual subject being qualified. People talk about the media feeding off bad news with ghoulish glee but come on – think about it. If you have two groups around you, one talking about the new project which is progressing smoothly and another discussing a project that was called off and who could be responsible for it – which group would you gravitate to?

I may have no interest per se in the subject in that it doesn’t affect me in the slightest, but listening to five people wildly speculating because they know someone ‘who knows’ – of course, that’s always more fun.

A question that many of us don’t get asked too often and one we should really think about for our own sanity, is who do we really know? Gonu II was a perfect example – my maid had it on best authority it was happening and wanted to know whether she could have her weekly day off changed so as to not forfeit it when the storm struck. Milk, water, candles and who knows what else flew off the shelves at Lulu in anticipation. And the authority with which people spoke - they all had a hotline, not to poor old Zeus, but to some person in ‘the know’.

A man is fired or quits his job and all it takes is for someone to connect it to some other person who quit around the same time, and everyone is talking about the company’s new hiring policy or that things are going terribly wrong within. Forget about when layoffs are actually happening. How many of those ‘footnoters’ are actually basing it on fact?

We all have opinions – we would certainly be boring otherwise. But unqualified footnoting can sometimes get in the way of something real, something good. And then it’s not amusing anymore.

Water cooler gossip

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