The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Apr 12, 2009


In the days of my youth, the unsporty-but-spotty amongst us found fulfillment in the world of quizzing. General knowledge - or trivial pursuit, as it came to be known a little later - was the way forward for those of us that ate fish in generous quantities. There were quizzes at every conceivable level. We competed against the other half of the class in desk-thumping exercises when we had substitute teachers too lazy to cover course material. We competed against other sections in our year. We fought close battles in inter-house championships. And we bloodied our brains in sanguinary struggles at meets against other schools.

The apex of the school-kid quizzing world was the Bournvita Quiz Contest hosted by the urbane Ameen Sayani. For those of us that never qualified to that level, there was recompense: if we sent in several carton covers of the eponymous malt drink (which we drank in large quantities) and a self-addressed envelope, we would soon receive a handsomely bound volume of the best questions asked that year in the contest. I, myself, accumulated four volumes and gained quite a prodigious milk moustache in the effort.

A problem with a peripatetic childhood is that one sometimes veers from a quizzing nation to a non-quizzing nation just when one is beginning to get rather good at the game. By the time I returned to India for higher studies, I had been cut off so long from the quizzing mainstream that I had little hope of joining the elite squad at college. Still, it was fun enough to enter the preliminary rounds that would eliminate all the dross. I recall that I qualified up to the third of four rounds, where I faced questions such as "What are Madonna's fans called?" and "If you take off in a modern passenger jet at sea-level and land in a city at an altitude of 5000 feet, what pressure difference will you encounter when you exit the aircraft?" I knew the answer to the one but not the other, and I suspect I lost out on account of that.

Of course, quizzing was not restricted to general knowledge. There were math quizzes that I nailed ("What is common to cusps, folds, swallowtails and butterflies?"), and science quizzes ("When these were first discovered, they were named LGM. What are they?") that I lost, and music quizzes ("Identify this piece."), and visual quizzes ("What is this?") that found me foundering. At the inter-college level, I rarely qualified to the finals.

The good thing about quizzes in India is that if the participants can't answer a question, it is posed to the audience, and anyone who guesses correctly wins a little prize. At the cheap quizzes, it could be a 10 paise piece of sugar candy. At the slightly more hep quizzes, the budget would extend to 25 paise Cadbury Eclairs. At the top end, there would be 1 rupee bars of milk chocolate. Yum-my.

You know how sportsmen claim that they are in the zone sometimes? When that happens, there's no way you can lose? No matter how obscure the question, or how sure you are that you don't know the answer, you do manage to answer correctly? Well, I was in the zone once. It was at a mid-level affair organised by the Karnataka Quiz Association. Question after question that stumped the others came my way and I nailed them. Boy, how I nailed them. Hitchcock's supposed single-take shots in Rope? I knew how they were done. A manuscript map of ocean currents? It was all to do with Polynesian migrations. A photo of the backs of the heads of two silver-haired folks? It was obvious they were Krishnamurthi and Indira Gandhi. A mysterious music piece that was attached to a controversial film? Peter Gabriel's compositions for The Last Temptation of Christ. By the end of the quiz, I had amassed more points than anyone else.

My friends were impressed and bought me 25-paise cups of coffee. The quizmaster was staggered, and thumped my back. I say, he said to me, shaking his head. I can't believe you didn't qualify for the finals. I grinned. I had entered the zone at the exact moment the finals started.

Good thing, though: my lap was heaped with Cadbury Eclairs.

PS: Feel free to attempt any of the unanswered questions in this post.

PPS: Bonus question: "Connect the Gateway Arch to the Galata Tower via 33 hours and 30 minutes, a book, a tunnel, and Heather Angel."


V Ramesh said...

nice portrayal ...
I was reminded some high school quizzing I participated in ...
didnt know answers to the quiz, r u planning on posting the answers

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