I can’t remember much of what I learned in high school but bits of trivia that I read at that age are still fresh in my mind. Its useful for the odd dinner conversation but nothing more. However, it helped me out during my school days. My only claim to fame as a schoolboy was that I was a member of my school quiz team. Actually the “B” team. We had a good run, with both teams ranked 1 and 2 in the state and our A team won a National championship while my team came in 5th or so. Quizzing was getting popular in the 80s with Quiz Time on Doordarshan hosted by Siddharth Basu. We didn’t have a tv at home and I would religiously watch the program on Sunday nights at my neighbor’s house. It was a special thrill when I could answer a question that the big guns on tv could not. Incidentally, my cousin reached the West Zone finals and I basked in his reflected glory for some time.
The competitions were pretty efficiently organized by the Quiz Foundation and the Karnataka Quiz Association. We really did well in the quizzes at the inter-school level but struggled in the open quizzes that were open to all age groups. Jagdish Raja, Wing Commander Mulky and Deepak Murdeshwar are some of the quiz masters that come to mind. Jagdish Raja, in particular, was a suave gentleman, who if I recall correctly, was active in the theater scene and also did voice-overs for documentaries. My team was pretty happy-go-lucky. At the school level, we were the “B” team and at the Open quizzes, we went with the moniker of “Vitalstatistix”, an homage to the Asterix and Obelix comics that we loved. We would show up at quizzes to find the other schools mugging Bournvita Quiz books or other “general knowledge” books. We would miss some of the questions that showed up in the quiz books but we would get the ones that couldn’t be mugged. An example was the audio round where you could not conceivably listen to all genres of music for a quiz competition. My teammates handled the Carnatic and English music questions and the Hindi songs were left to me. Listening to the radio and the anecdotes that my parents shared with me helped me out with the audio rounds where I could usually answer questions related to Hindi songs. I remember a quiz at Chowdiah Memorial Hall where the quizmaster played “Tu mera chand, mein teri chandni”. He asked us to listen carefully and apologized when he asked us to identify the singers. He mentioned that it was well before our time and he could give us a hint if required. I replied that the singers were Suraiya and Shyam and the movie was “Dillagi”. He was a little stunned at the answer. I could have gone on to tell him that Shyam died from an injury he sustained while riding a horse. For a couple of extra points, I could have told him that he had been admitted to Breach Candy Hospital. Even today my dad narrates the tale of Shyam’s unfortunate accident and death whenever he listens to this song. I would also have the occasional screw up where I would have a couple of possible answers for a question, discuss them with my teammates, choose the wrong one and then watch the question answered by some other team.
As I had mentioned earlier, we did very well at the school level but found the going really hard at the Open level. Here we were competing against teams from IISc, IIM, St Josephs Arts and Science College and so on. The questions were esoteric and generally pretty tough for school kids. It so happened that an “Amateur” competition was organized at Canara Union. This was meant for teams that had never qualified for any of the Open quizzes. Due to some misunderstanding, I found myself neither in my school’s A or B team. I think I had not planned on attending the quiz but showed up at the last moment. I had resigned myself to watch the proceedings as a member of the audience but at the last minute, I met a team from BMS College of Engineering. They were a teammate short, I happened to know one of the guys in the team and he let me join them. We did pretty well in the qualifying round, I identified the Hemant Kumar song “Yeh raat, yeh chandni, phir kahan” as being from the movie “Jaal”. The finals were 6 rounds and at the end, we ended up tied for points with another team and the quiz went into a tiebreaker.
The first question – “What is a Mickey Finn?” was correctly answered by both teams. The second – “Which language is spoken by the Dutch settlers of South Africa?” was also answered by both teams. The third and final question was “Where does the Blue Nile join the White Nile?” A tough question under normal circumstances. With the exception of me, the two teams in question comprised either of engineering students or professionals. Obtuse? perhaps, but I was preparing for my ICSE exams. Geography was one of my favorite subjects and I had devoured the contents of Fat Farro. Fat Farro was the nickname for the textbook authored by Charles Farro, principal of Don Bosco High School in Bombay. He had written two textbooks – one more voluminous than the other and we just called them “Fat Farro” or “Thin Farro”. But I digress! “Khartoum” I wrote the answer down jubilantly and just like that we won the quiz! My share of the prize was a couple of bars of Amul chocolates. That would be the crowning moment of my quizzing career, never to be repeated again. I went off to college, we all went our separate ways and my quizzing days came to an end. Come to think of it, there is another piece of trivia associated with that answer. Shashi Kapoor, as a student at Don Bosco, considered Charles Farro to be his mentor. Perhaps this is a quiz question for some other day!