If you ask anyone what is required to live one would normally answer air, water and food. If you were to ask me I would add one more item, gossip. For many, gossip is even more important than the first three. Without gossip they would not be able to spend their time. The communication revolution has greatly contributed to the spread of gossip and has become a very important aspect of our lives. While most gossip is innocuous, some can cause lot of problem. Here is a real life example.
My friend Dr Ravi Rao, practiced dentistry for four decades and recently gave it up and went back to work for his first love, Moral rearmament movement [MRA]located at Panchgani. This incident narrated here involving Ravi occurred many years ago and as the main actors are dead and gone it is safe to tell the story.
There is a fairly large Syrian Orthodox Christian community settled in Bangalore. Originally from Kerala, they are now fairly prosperous residents of this city. They trace their origin to Thomas, one of the first disciples of Jesus. [For more info go to Google search].Their ancestry is not important to the story but the closeness of the members of the community is. They are concentrated in the east Bangalore where Ravi Rao’s practice was located [incidentally mine too]. They have their own church and this acts a centre point of all their activities and needless to say also to share information related to each other, in short gossip.
Mr Joseph George and Sophia were important members of this community. Joseph held an important position and was influential and Sophia was a social bird. They were my patients and needed my help frequently. Sophia was nearing sixty when this episode occurred. She came to see me with a pain and swelling near her upper lip and I found it to be due to a root abscess of one of her teeth. I called Ravi rao and fixed an appointment for her. She went and got her tooth extracted and then after a course of antibiotics she became normal. Just about this time when she was returning to her normal self, she noticed that her left eye lid was drooping and she was not able to raise it. Right eye was normal. This was investigated by a neurologist and a CT scan of the brain showed a tumor pressing on the nerve which had resulted in the drooping eye lid. She underwent successful surgery. But the droop did not completely go. This became a talking point in the community. The conversation began like this between Aleamma and Sosamma, two important women members of the community. Aleamma phones Sosamma, ‘You know Soosi, what happened to Sufeee?’ Sosamma knows all about Sophie’s surgery but feigns ignorance and says no.’ You know that dental doctor Ravi rao, ‘Yes, yes, I know’ replies Soosi. ‘Sufee went to him for tooth pain and you know what he did to her?’ Now properly excited, Soosi replies earnestly in the negative. ‘He pulled her tooth out and along with it he also damaged the nerve that keeps her eye open.’ This piece of anatomical knowledge of shared nerve supply between the tooth and the eye was avidly shared and Dr Ravi Rao was branded as someone who did great wrong to their dear Sophie. ‘That is not all, she continued, they had to go in and operate on her brain, all because of some simple tooth pain’ she stopped.
This conversation took many shapes and turns and went round the community and reached my ears by another patient of mine. Joti sees me once in three months for her diabetes and blood pressure and when she came this time she asked me if it is true that my friend Dr Ravi Rao did this to Sophie? Should she continue to see him for her teeth problem if one were to come up? I was taken aback by this stupid accusation. I had to tell her that the nerve to the tooth and eye are differently located and even if he had tried hard out of some hidden anger against Mrs Sophia Joseph he could not have done it. These two are different events which unfortunately got connected by the twine of gossip. I asked her where she heard it and she told the name of another Syrian Christian woman. I told her to do me a favor. I asked her to make calls to ten of her woman friends and tell them the real events as they occurred and thus start a reverse gossip to exonerate my friend.
Later, much later, I came to know that the culprit was Sophie herself. She would begin the conversation with her visitors with a, ’you know Dr Ravi Rao, the dentist, he took my tooth out and after three days I got this trouble’ and proceeded with her other details. The listener would put two and two together and tell her own version to another friend.
Of course, such stories do little damage to professionally competent doctors and Ravi Rao’s practice did not suffer in the long run but when the rumor was on it did cause considerable embarrassment to me as I was the one who referred the patient to Dr Ravi Rao!