Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Idiot

3 Idiots is probably one of the better films of the year. Or even the past few years. And it’s very rare to have engineers as protagonists. You usually have cops, robber, lawyers and businessmen. Doctors, sometimes. When you do have the odd engineer as a character, he’s usually building a bridge. Or, playing solitaire on his computer. Not seen a she yet.

But somehow the film didn’t quite click for me. 2 primary reasons for that were
  1. Stale jokes. Lots of lifts from e-mail forwards and so on.
  2. A keyhole view of life in an engineering college, that leaves out more than it reveals. This is a flaw it carries from Chetan Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’, which, despite all protestations to the contrary by the Hirani & Co, the movie is a not-so-loose adaptation of.
  3. Okay there’s no #3. At least not a big #3. Logical flaws in a comedy are chalta hai for me. Exam results are usually published in order of roll-no, making it easier to find your result. And why use Michael Jackson instead of Lata Mangeshkar in the subtitles? And if they were so eager to get hold of him, so as to get a plane to turn around, or rush out without pants; why didn’t the 2 idiots go to Simla to look for Rancho in the 10 years after graduation?? 4 years of sharing a room, and they didn’t know his hometown? No, because they were IDIOTS! Flaw cleared. And… ok, stopped.
Anyway, coming back to the other 2 gripes. The gags were funny, and had the audience in splits. But quite a lot of them were recycled jokes that have been floating around on the internet for over a decade. Some even more. And when you know the punch-line in advance, the laughs just don’t flow. To cite a few (Warning – Links do not contain spoilers, but do point to the source of some of the jokes. So maybe watch the movie 1st, if you were planning to? You’ll laugh more that way) - The NASA Space Pen which you can order for $25 or thereabouts, the tourist photographer, the student in the exam hall, and the old as an engine yarn on how to start an induction motor.  
Spoiler Alert. Whole story on the next link. Watch the movie (if you were planning to) before clicking this. This guy describes it way better than I have.
The other problem is something I also had with the novel. Engineering college is not just about cramming, boring lectures and exams (though all those do happen). They are probably less than 10% of what the 4 years were. Reading Five Point, I felt a bit sorry that the writer’s strongest memories were about exams and grades. There’s also arts fests, sports & games (They did show a ping-pong table in the movie. Admitted.), elections, bunking classes, movies – lots of them, hanging out, parties, treats, birthdays, labs, lab vivas (always a font for new & original jokes), projects, RGing….. As the 10 year old T-shirt that I continue to wear often, says on its back “The Best Daze of our Lives.”
One difference between the movie and the book (besides the obvious extension of story into Ladakh and chutney), is that Five Point was more about how, until then, bright overachieving students suddenly found themselves completely out of depth, and struggled to stay afloat. And then tried crazy things to survive. I could relate to that. Having stopped achieved anything of significance after KG, I did not have any adjustment problems. Was happy to just pass. But a lot of friends did manage to reach college, before realizing that they cannot be class topper forever. Or that even IITians flunk papers.
‘Idiots’ however went into preachy territory about flawed education systems. And suicides. And parental pressure. Without really giving any solutions to all this – other than a utopia close to the Chinese border. Heck, if we had tried ‘senti’ with our parents to let us follow our dreams, we would have got back a dosage 10 x stronger.
Overall, more than the second-hand jokes, I think I was more turned off by the misrepresentation of college life. Ali Haider said it better in 3 minutes than the movie in 3 hours. To me, 3 Idiots are to engineering colleges, what Slumdog Millionaire was to India. A glimpse of the worst 5% paraded as the whole of it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shift Happens

In 2006, Karl Fisch created a presentation for the teachers of Arapahoe High Schools titled 'Did You Know' on the theme of change. This has spread virally, and spawned a few follow-up versions as well.

The Latest Ver 4.0- The Economist Media Convergence Remix
Globalization, Information Age Ver 3.0
Ver 2.0 XPLANE   Ver 1 Redux
Human Capital Edition

The Original

Links to all videos of different versions

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looooooong holiday or abandoned?

Dubai reg vehicles at Muscat Airport. Two of them are from the central parking lot (not meant for long durations). There were some Oman reg vehicles as well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

March-Pasts in schools

Why do schools have a march-past as part of their sports-day? It's certainly not a sport. Not certain what athletic abilities are being tested in this. If anything, it's only torture to those forced to take part.

Maybe this is a case of sour grapes. Maybe some kids do enjoy being part of this. Though personally never saw any fun in spending hours in the sun trying to synchronize steps and staring into vacant space. Was fortunate to never make it to the final squad. Always got thrown out after the 1st couple of practice sessions, for being out of step, and sometimes messing up others' routine as well. To this day, I do not know whether to lift my left foot, or stomp it down, or do something else, when 'left' is called out. The only time I participated was as house captain. Walking on my own up-front it didn't matter that I wasn't in sync with the rest.

Equally baffling is the awarding of a prize for best march-past squad. And usually the judges don't have a clue of the nuances involved. They just go, "Team x gets 1st because I didn't see them make any mistakes." Sort of sticks out from the rest of the events of the day, where performances are clearly measured in terms of time or distance.

Time to do away with this mock-war drill.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Why is anyone surprised about the news on Dubai?

For many years now, many conversations about the transformation of Dubai would usually end with someone sighing "Don't know when it'll all come crashing down." Even the layperson on the street, who'd never heard of terms such as 'Economic Bubbles' knew that Dubai was one. So why is anyone surprised about the news on debt defaults?

The only unknown was the timing. That holds true for all market corrections. Otherwise there were signs, for all to see, since 2008. Besides the low occupancy rates and rentals falling, the decision by Dubai Metro to not extend up to Jebel Ali as originally planned was ominous.

However there's no reason to believe all is lost in Dubai, a la Lehman A lot of investment has been in infrastructure - the metro, wider roads, lots of housing.. So it's well poised for the next round of boom, whenever that happens.

Though right now, there seems to be a lot of schadenfreude around.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hayek in Muscat Daily

The November 14th edition of Muscat Daily had, surprisingly, an article on Friedrich Von Hayek, one of the giants of the Austrian School of Economics.

Quite a welcome change to the usual coverage of economists in this region, which is normally restricted to the Keynesian apologist, Paul Krugman. Yes, he's won a Nobel Prize, and writes in the New York Times. But that doesn't make him always right.  Even coverage of economic througts and ideas do not go much beyond Socialism, Statism, Keynesianism, and on the odd occassion, Monetarism. Seem like quite a lot of 'ism's there. But there's still a lot more not covered.

The said article itself does not paint a good picture. Inexplicably the entire essay has not been printed. Seems to cut off abruptly. The original write-up is available on Bloomberg.

Hayek was not all gloom as painted. He should rather be remembered as one of the foremost advocates of free-markets. And bringing the Austrian school into a bit more of limelight is positive. Even if one doesn't agree with it, we still get to learn some new words. Such as Praxeology and Catallaxy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

2 quizzes - Quizpot & ISM Senior Open

Had conducted the quizpot senior quiz on Nov 5th. An event completely overshadowed by Mamata Shankar's dance, the same night at Al Bustan. The quiz went of pretty well. ISM dominated the show with a 1-2 finish. One of the teams was far ahead of the rest of the pack. The remaining teams were more or less clustered together on the final scores.

The encouraging aspect was, some of the teams' willingness to take a shot at every question asked. This treating of the "Pass" as a cardinal sin, augurs well for the future. A lot of questions, which the quizpot team felt could not be answered, were in fact easily cracked. And some which were not seen as too tough, did actually pass on to the audience. An example was the failure to identify the famous nickname for Amitabh Bachchan.

The only disappointment for the night was the thin audience. Of course, quizpot cannot compete with Ravi Shankar's niece.

The ISM students held their in-house senior open quiz on Nov 11th.  Had the privilege of watching the 1st half. The quiz conducted by the veteran quizzers - Pranav, Lakshay, Sidharth, Sabarinath - were the names I caught. A very good quiz with quite high standards, in both questions asked and the teams. Even the adults would have found some of the questions difficult to crack. The Guy Ritchie question, is one that I think would have flown over most teams.

The most pleasing aspect was the use of Infinite Bounce. This is something I've tried to introduce to the adult quizzing circles - many times and all unsuccessfully. For one, the setters refuse to see the drawbacks of the direct-and-pass system. Second, they say the Infinite Bounce is too complicated to understand. So, was really happy to see the conductors adopt this.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

English Newspapers in Oman

With the launch of the Muscat Daily a week ago, the number of English language dailies in the Sultanate has gone up to 4. Always great to have more choice. But sadly the new addition hasn't really set itself apart from the older trio. Expect in price, perhaps. A short & POV look at the dailies that we have.

Pros: Possibly the leading daily in terms of circulation. This gives them some other benefits. Many ads, for instance, appear only in the Times. They also seem to have a pretty good coverage of the local news surrounding the expat community. Plenty of supplements: such as H!, Thursday Mag, Entertainment on Wednesdays, Faces... Also have an e-paper. Not very user friendly though. And of course, they organize the Open Quiz annually.
Cons: Annoying viewpoints & editorial pages. Some regular & irritating letter writers. A few other verbose columnists pontificating on life, the universe & everything. Some of the local reporters are good, but most don't do any spadework. They're content just to copy-paste the press releases. Overall not much quality content.
Was subscribing to this. Twice, just stopped receiving the paper. Had to call up to get it restarted. Otherwise was getting it before 06:00, which was quite fine.

Pros: Oldest daily. They carry the only decent cryptic crossword among all four. Probably copied from some British daily, as the clues sometimes indicate. Some good columns in their business section.
Cons: Nothing much to distinguish it from the rest. The only one that doesn't seem to be making an effort to boost subscription. No discount offers etc. Local news is usually very similar to that in the Tribune.

Pros: Unlike the others, relying heavily on the scant local content available, they run some good syndicated columns. Partnerships with the likes of Harvard Business Review & the Hindu Business Line are definite +s. Some good local columns on unexplored picnic spots in Oman.
Cons: Local reporting is probably the weakest of the 4. Not a very happy experience subscribing. Paper usually lands around 08:00. By this time one would have already left for office/school.

Muscat Daily. No website. From Apex Press & Publishing
Pros: Cheapest of the lot. At 100 baiza a copy or OMR 13 for an annual sub. Greater local coverage. Paper's actually landing around 05:00. Good section titled press releases, instead of passing it off as their own write-ups.
Cons: Not much content. Using a lot of self-advertising, big fonts and wide spacing to cover it. Should probably improve with time. One whole sports page devoted to U.S. games such as baseball, NFL & the like. Does anyone actually follow that stuff down here? Local news is more on Omani & govt activities. Not much on the expat scene. Their idea of the local beat seems to be reporting the accident stats from the ROP & covering overflowing drains. Have started with a lot of local columnists, many of whom don't really make the grade. Not available on Thursdays & Fridays.

Doesn't really substitute a regular newspaper. But at the price, a good supplement.

On a general note, none of the papers' websites really appeal. Too cluttered, too slow. Perhaps all could pay a bit more attention to engaging the subscriber a bit more.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Muscat Twestival

& other forthcoming events to look forward to

A group of Tweeple have called for an informal Muscat Tweet meet to get a chance to see each other in person. Nice initiative. That's on Oct 8th @ Al Masa Mall @ 19:00. Some 24 have already confirmed attendance.

The Singing Kettle is due to perform @ Al Bustan Palace on Oct 15, 11:00. Tickets available for sale at various spots. To get a flair for what to expect you could catch some of their shows on YouTube. I am guessing children will enjoy this.

Mallika Sarabhai & troupe are coming on Nov 12. This should be quite good. Particularly for all dance enthusiasts.

Quizpot is having its 4th National quiz for Indian Schools in Oman. I believe 13 schools participated last year. This is at Indian School Al Ghubra on October 22 @ 11:00. Conducted by Dr. Avirat Vaishnav. For classes VI - VIII. Going by previous editions, this should be very informative.

Not an event per se. The Muscat Daily is launching in Oman. This will be the 4th English newspaper in the country. Starting Oct 10. Will be published 5 days a week.

The Biggest of them all. The Mozart of Madras has announced an event in Muscat on Dec 3. Didn't find any further details. Can't think of a venue large enough to host this.

Friday, September 18, 2009

ISM Inter-house quiz 2009

Q: Id the 2 historical characters caricatured in the pic above.

Had the pleasure of conducting the Indian School Muscat's inter-house quiz for a second time. The event has four teams participating, one from each house. Four members per team, one from each class - IX to XII.

Still haven't managed to get the balance of questions right. Like the previous year it turned out to be a bit too tough for the teams, and way above the head for the audience. Had set an internal target of get  at least 85% of questions to be answered on stage. In the end it turned out to be 80%.

Some expected bouncers were the questions on - U.S. Consulate on Ho Chi Minh Street & Foucault's Pendulum. In some cases, the intention was merely to expose the minds to a few new vistas. Umberto Eco is a much more enriching read than Dan Brown any day.

However the teams bravely attempted all. Very few "Pass" uttered. This was much more comforting than seeing a wall of blank faces. Overall they did well. Three of the four, were in contention right up to the last quarter. Some very good guesswork by all the houses caught the audience by surprise. Yellow house ended up winners, retaining their position from 08. However at the end, only 1 question separated them from the runners-up. Houses Blue & Green too had put up a spirited challenge.

The quiz, being close to Teacher's day, had a link round on famous people who were once teachers. As feared, the connection was not easy to make until the last question, on Dr S. Radhakrishnan, was asked. The problem - it was easy to find celebrities who were once teachers, but not those who were generally known to have been teachers. Another interesting observation when setting: a lot of these celebrities were English Teachers once. Not sure what to make of that. Either English teachers have a lot of potential (prime candidates for a future career as novelist for instance) or that anyone can become an English teacher!?

Surprisingly the teams on stage were not very clued in on media & entertainment. Some or all, missed out on Billy Crystal, Avatar, Sting & David Caruso aka Horatio Caine! A team guessed Michael Jackson for the CSI star's impersonation question! "Every Breath You Take" is 80s, but  everyone  must have heard Sting? Got guesses from Bryan Adams to Elton John. The teams were also not at all familiar with the 50s rock stars, even though some anniversary celebrations were being widely covered in the media.

Some of these passed ones in the entertainment area were remarkably answered by the audience - class IX students. And, as in the 08, the scorer's table came up with a few answers. Guess this has partly to do with the way teams are selected. The selections are done in-house. Possibly the elimination questions are very academic in nature. Hence those with their noses in their books tend to do better. And the ones hanging outside Shatti Plaza tend to miss out. Plus the quota of one member per academic year per team also pushes out some promising talent. Might be better to just have the 4 best from each house represent them. Surely they don't have quotas for other events such as football or basketball?

Tried one other innovation as well. The Pounce, an idea picked from Hirak. Gave two 'Pounce' cards to each team. This was well received, though not all used it wisely. The Pounce basically enabled teams to answer sitter out of turn. The idea was, if a team felt any question was way too easy, and they were too far in the queue to get a shot at it, they could 'Pounce' on it. All teams were pretty enthusiastic about this, and almost all cards were used up by the midway stage. Towards the end, with 3 teams very much in the race, all were regretting that they had not reserved their wild-cards till then. Some of the Pounce cards were wasted on questions that ended up with the teams pouncing anyway. And in a few cases, they ended up giving the wrong answers.

My favourite question for the day was the caricature at the top of this post. Didn't think it was too tough, but went unanswered.

The better half tells me that, even though not a quizzer herself, after seeing many quizzes that I've set, she's able to guess a few answers easily. Says I always seem to set something on Richard Feynman, P G Wodehouse, Calcutta and Calvin & Hobbes. Just as Pickbrain tends to ask on Red Cross, Nobel Prize  and the Pope.  And once the participants cue in on that, they'll start cracking the questions easily.

Of course, once the quizzers figure that, I'll move on to Dawkins, Mostly Harmless & Seinfeld.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rembrandt in Oman

Rembrandt in Oman is an  exhibition of the great painter's etchings organized by Al Salmi Library. Kudos to them for arranging this refreshing show down here. And to all the sponsors as well. The show is soon to close after it's one month run.
Initial feedback on the show, from acquaintances, were poor. They were probably expecting some of his more famous paintings to be up on show. The Night Watch, perhaps. Probably disappointed to see a lot of black & white sketches.
The show was quite fascinating nonetheless. The artist's trademark use of chiaroscuro to highlight parts of the picture was very visible. Rembrandt's use of lighting is quite famous. It is said that he made shadows fall where he wanted them to fall.
His name, of course, even more famous. Once Sam Goldwyn seeing a film he was producing, with only half the actor's face illuminated, worried that exhibitors would pay only half the price. Director Cecil B. DeMille told him it was Rembrandt Lighting. Quoting deMille quoting Goldwyn "Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!"
It was amazing to see the contrast that Rembrandt was able to bring into the prints. And the level of detail in some of them was wonderful. All this in, essentially, a 2 colour medium. Quite a few of the etchings were on biblical themes.
Besides seeing the beautiful etchings, also learned a few terms related to the art. Drypoint - Using a hard-pointed metal needle to engrave. Burin - Cold Chisel. Chiaroscuro - Use of light & dark to bring out contrast. And Intaglio - the International Business School Meet* at IIMC:) Overall, a positive experience.

* Formerly known as National Booze & Sutta Meet

Friday, September 11, 2009

Austerity - Indian style

Digest this. A couple of Indian Central Govt. Ministers, whose personal wealth run into crores, have been asked to stop spending their own money on accommodation, and waste spend the taxpayers' instead.
And I thought you had to spend your way out of the recession? Your own money, not the taxpayers'. Those who can, should be allowed to spend on their wants. This keeps money circulating in the economy.
So what is the new plan? Shun 5-star hotels and run them out of business? And then maybe airlines as well, by sticking to trains? Ministers have already been asked to use Economy Class when flying. Some have objected to this. Sharad Pawar claims that he doesn't fit into an Economy seat. Other ministers such as Farooq Abdulla have also stated their dislike for the cattle class. Pranab Mukherjee has been lambasted for publicly "advising" his colleagues to cut spending. And funnily he himself doesn't seem to be observing this in his planned jaunt to Cyprus
Of course, being economical when it comes to government expenditure is quite welcome. Apparently a lot of policemen have already been relieved from useless security cover duties. But asking all govt officials to use Air India is clearly not saving the taxpayers anything. Air India should be sold off, and the likes of Kingfisher & Jet allowed to fill its space.
Suddenly everyone seems to be on Krishna's & Tharoor's backs - showing them how their colleagues are very thrifty in spending public money. Poor rich fellows:(

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


1. Idiot's Guide to Answering the Queen's queries - Economics On why no one saw the crisis coming.

2.15 patriotic songs (Hindi) to listen on Independence day Not very patriotic myself. But I like good songs:)

3. Michael Foody on why he likes Twitter Quoting him , "The freedom to be mediocre most of the time is something that is necessary to be excellent ever and twitter gives me a way to be mediocre. And that’s why I like twitter."

Swaminomics on some Swine Flu & related stats from India

5. Driving Test Flowchart

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Holistic soothsayer!

During my teenage years, I had a fascination for all pseudo-sciences. Turned out that this was normal - most of my peers shared these interests.

1st read up Linda Goodman's Sun Signs. And started categorizing people by their DoB. Augmented this with Indian star signs. So now everyone was mapped on to a 2D matrix. And then added palmistry to the repertoire. Didn't really believe all this, though it didn't stop me from trying it out on every possible subject.

Later got hooked into Graphology after seeing a TV programme on it. Bought 3 books on it. Now this was more interesting for 2 reasons.
1 - It appeared scientific.
2 - Unlike the zodiac, very few were familiar with this. So it hasn't been widely ridiculed yet. And I could easily pretend to the local expert in school.

Finally added Kinesics to this list. And turned into an integrated cold reader. Took a few years to realize that this was all Bovine Scat.

After this I had taken to debunking practitioners of such arts. Usually they would be specialists in only one of the forms.

Sunita Menon seems to be a generalist. Her calling card reads 'Clairvoyant, healer, counsellor, psychic, guide, philosopher and mentor'. She's most famous however as a Tarot Card reader. As part of the independence day celebrations, the Indian Embassy in Muscat started of with a talk by this celebrity psychic. Celebrity status clearly enhanced by the likes of Karan Johar & Ekta Kapoor being her regular clients. In Kapoor's dud Krishna Cottage, the seance played by Rati Agnihotri is named Sunita Menon.

The widely covered tamasha at the embassy was billed as the "Exotic Indian Science of Tarot Reading". This appears flawed on many fronts. Tarots are not of Indian Origin. They came up in continental Europe merely as a game. Later when it spread to the British Isles, it started getting used for divination. Hence the references in the Harry Potter series, and probably the most famous - Solitaire in Live & Let Die.

I guess it can be called 'exotic' in the sense that it is 'foreign' to this part of the world. And it's as much 'Science' as 'Intelligent Design'.

Her show seemed to have impressed the audience, going by the newspaper reports. Keeping with her ilk, she doesn't appear to have definitely forecast anything during her talk, despite numerous queries. The only prediction that is not completely vague is when she said that the US would take another 10 months to come out of the economic depression, Europe even further, and India & the Middle East have already started coming out. Waiting to see if this happens. Though it'll be difficult to define what exactly needs to happen to certify that the depression is over.

Like everyone and their uncle, she claims to have forecast the market crash as far as 2 years ago. If she knew so clearly, why didn't she go short, and make some serious money out of her forecasting abilities?

Dial 419

In the 1920s many people apparently got letters for a prisoner incarcerated under a false identity in Spain. The writer sought help to get him released and promised a share of large riches in return. Known then as the Spanish Prisoner Con, this has morphed into different forms, and refuses to die.

Nigeria has of course taken over as the hotbed for such schemes. But amazed that there are still people who fall for this. This man feels ashamed that the perpetrator comes from his land, sullying his name as well. And I feel embarrassed that the victim is from my land:(

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mapping the World - Wikipedia style

Open Street Map - The Free Wiki World Map, is a map site which allows users to update street maps. Similar to what Wikipedia is trying to do to the standard encyclopedia. This site primarily depends on users uploading GPS tracks to add and update the streets. Plus the various tagging options - 1 way, unpaved streets, malls, restaurants,...

The maps can of course be downloaded and used at will. No fees, as far as I've understood.

Looked at some of the places I regularly visit. Not all streets have been captured yet. All the more motivated to get the GPS out on my next trips.

Some new applications have come up that make it easier to edit the maps. One such is Walking Papers which allows one to print maps, draw on them, and scan it back to Open Street Map.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lazy Ad agencies?

Here's a couple of ads that appeared in the Times of Oman last week. Same day, only a page over.

Guess both Raffah & Zahara use the same ad agency. And the moment they got 'medical' in their brief, they took out their stock medical images and did some photoshopping. Unfortunately with the same background colour as well, a lot of readers would have thought both ads were touting the same product. Clearly one of the clients did not get the bang for their buck.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Where your Facebook photos could end up

A family in Missouri takes a few snaps, and does the usual stuff with it. Mails it to friends, puts it up on the blog, adds to their social networking site profiles. Only to find one of the pics is now a large hoarding for a store in Prague!

So make sure you're smiling in all the mug-shots you've put up in Facebook, Orkut & the rest.

Monday, June 01, 2009

India Quiz Oman – A Retelling

So we make it to the finals of a quiz, which has editions all over the GCC. Patronized by the Indian Ambassador. Some heavy duty sponsors’ backing, including the Resident Manager. The acoustics are terrible, and you can hardly make out what the QC is saying. Apart from that everything seemed ok. Then it’s time for our 1st direct question for 10 points, and we’re all anticipation. The QC says this is a visual question. We hope to be able to identify the person / thing about to be shown.

Up comes a picture of the Taj Mahal. You think “Surely, he won’t ask us to identify that!” Then he says “That is, of course, the Taj Mahal.” A sigh of relief. Ok, so the question is going to be something better. He turns to the audience and continues “Built for…., built by…., architect…., number of labourers….., years taken……, fusion of ….. styles……” We were straining to catch his words amidst all the echo, thinking there may be some hidden hints to the eventual answer. Five minutes into his verbage, I wonder to myself, “He’s read out the entire Wikipedia entry on the topic. What could be left to ask?” And then he finally turns to us. “The question is this.”
Dramatic silence.
What is the height of the Taj Mahal?”

In this quizzing desert that is Oman, with just one huge oasis in the form of the Times of Oman Open Quiz, any mention of a quiz is manna from heaven. Or was; until we tasted the spectacular India Quiz conducted by Kannu Baker of Vision Tomorrow.
Surprising, but for a company that claims to be in the fields of event management, advertising & public relations, the publicity was virtually non-existent. Most of the regular quizzers did not know of the event at all. What seemed to have brought in a bit of a crowd, was the circulars sent out to the Indian schools. Moreover the timing wasn’t really great with some of the schools having already closed for the summer. Meaning, a lot of expats had left for India.
On to the actual quiz. The prelims were on expected lines. Many of the questions seemed to have been taken directly from either school text-books, or the Manorama Year-book. Purely fact-based, with little room for working out. You either knew or didn’t know the answer. E.g. which is the longest canal in India? On the banks of which river does the Kaziranga lie? Given this, it is surprising that the school teams did not do well.
There were a few rank bad questions such as, “Which article in the constitution states that there shall be a President?”
Who cares?

Anyway this did not give any cue on what we were to face in the finals. The prelims were followed by a few dances by students of Kalamandalam and Indian School Muscat. This was a rather nice fill-in. At least better than random members of the audience being cajoled by the compere into killing us with their versions of Rafi & Lata. It gave the kids probably their 1st chance to display their talent before an audience.
Funnily one of the dances had to be repeated as the TV cameraman deemed the lighting was not sufficient. Yes, the whole show was being filmed by a crew from Asianet. Reminded of a wedding in Kerala, where the videographer asked the groom to untie & tie the Thali once again, as he had not properly filmed it.
To start the finals, our QC called the chief, cheifer & chiefest guests, the main, mainer & mainest sponsors, plus a few others on to the stage. Then the finalists were called one at a time, asked to pick a lot for position on stage, desks A-F, and have this read out by a different VIP for each team. There being more VIPs than teams, not all of them had the honour of reading out a letter of the alphabet.
The finals were a very short affair. Only the torture made it appear to last hours. 24 questions in all grouped into 3 rounds to the 6 teams. Of these only 6 could be passed in case of a wrong answer. The other 18 could only be attempted by the team to which it was posed. Pretty poor structure.
And soon we came to the Taj Mahal question. Seeing the ‘deer in headlights’ look on our face, the QC goes on, “I can give you options, but it will be for 5 points only.”
We ask for options. He says, "Is it a) 260 feet or b) 230 feet?"
Now I had worked through a lot of MCQ while training for CAT, and had a fair success rate, even when I didn't know the answer. But nothing had prepared me for this hair splitting. We randomly guessed 260. He says, “No, answer is 230 feet.” (Or that was what we heard. Looking it up later, it seems the options were 216 & 213.)
A bit later, it was déjà vu. Only this time Dr Sunil Malani & Pranav Laxman were at the receiving end. A picture of the Qutub Minar was shown, 5 minute description given, and then its height was asked. The hapless looks on their faces had all the other teams in splits. Resigned, they went through the motions.
“Please give options.”
No, TweedledumGotcha look on face.
“Ok.” How much more do we suffer this?

The QC had a curious way of asking questions. He would read out a lot of random unrelated facts about the key person or monument. Then ask a question that may not be connected to anything that he has said earlier, other than it being about the same subject, broadly speaking. Take this question posed to the audience. He asks one of the teams on stage,
Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, correct?”
The team not being sure of this, but having no reason to dispute, replies, “Ok”
And then to another team, “And this day is celebrated as National Youth Day in India, am I right?
“I guess so.”
This day was also Makara Sankaranti, agree?”
“Fine.” Where is this question going?
Good.” Now turning to the audience, “He also gave a very famous speech at Chicago, at the Parliament of World’s religions.” Then went on to give the highlights of the speech. (Or maybe even the whole speech. Couldn’t hear properly, but it took a long time.) Now the question is, “Where in Chicago did he give this speech? In other words, where in town was the parliament of world’s religions held?”
The audience, being intimately familiar with Chicago, unsuccessfully tried blurting out all the famous landmarks of the town. “Temple”, “Church”, “Parliament”, “Hotel”, “Airport”, “Railway Station”, “River-side”, “Beach”, “New York”, “Footpath”, “America”, “Japan”, “Obama’s house”……
The QC finally had to give the answer himself.
At various times, different teams interrupted him to tell him that they could not hear the question. After the 3rd or 4th such interruption, he told the team, “The question is not meant for you anyway.” That shut us all up, tight and proper. The audience had a good laugh at this.

Round 2 of the quiz brought out more bewilderment. The format as explained was, “You’ll get 4 clues to a person’s identity. If you answer after the 1st clue, you get 15 points. 10 points if you answer after the 2nd. 5 after the 3rd. After the 4th clue you don’t get any points.”
3 Teams, including us, were yet to open scores after 1st 12 questions. So we’re strategizing, “Let’s try and crack it at the 1st clue and get back into the reckoning. And out comes clue #1.
“He was a freedom fighter.”
And we wait for him to go on. No response. That’s it? Resignedly ask for 2nd clue.
“Good. He won the Padma Vibhushan award.”
Great! That narrows it down to some 200 people. “3rd clue please”
“Was leader of opposition in 1993.”
Only one possible answer to that! At least we opened our account, even if it was only 5 points.

Then came the last round. Four pictures would be shown, and the teams would have to pick the odd one out – for 10 points. The 1st team gets pics of the a- Tirupati temple, b- Meenakshi temple, c- Charminar & d- Mecca Masjid. Team answers, “C-Charminar is the odd one, because the other three are places of worship.”
“The answer is wrong. It is b! The other 3 are in Andhra Pradesh, and b is in Tamil Nadu.”
Team 1 is too dazed to respond.
2nd team gets 4 pics of various dances. Going by the 1st answer, they guess “a. Since the other three dances are South Indian in origin, and a is from North.”
“The answer is wrong. It is c, since c is folk dance, and the other 3 are classical.”
Team 2 is beyond caring now.
3rd team gets 4 pics, again of monuments. They guess d, since other three are Mughal architecture.
“The answer is wrong. It is c since the other 3 are in Delhi
“But our answer is correct as well”, argue Team 3. They then describe each of the monuments shown and who built it.
“All right then. I’ll give you 10 points.”
Team 3 is jubilant. They too have got off the 0 mark, in their last chance.
Teams 1 & 2 wake up now. “But in that case, our answers were correct too”, they chorus. They both start explaining their answers in detail, and ask why it cannot be considered correct. The QC reverts and cancels the 10 points that he had just awarded to Team 3. Poor fellows.
The remaining questions were on similar lines. Indian culture seemed to be restricted to dance and buildings. Only the answers got funnier.
“3 photos are in colour, and the odd one out is in B&W.”
“3 photos are taken from outside the building, the odd one out is taken from inside.”
“3 dancers are female. The odd one out is male.”

And finally the results were announced. Hemant Mainkar and his son, Gautam were the only team that seemed to be somewhat in sync with the QC through out the show. Even otherwise, they were deserving winners of the quiz.
Just when we thought that we could finally escape, the QC says, “We have one more dance coming up.” And leaves the stage, with the participants still sitting there. And then the dancers come on, and perform: with the quiz participants seated right behind them on stage. For the 1st time in our lives, we probably saw a dance from the rear angle.
At last, came the prize distribution. The chief, chiefer & chiefest guests, and the main, mainer & mainest sponsors were all called to stage and send back to their seats in sequence after giving away prizes and a trophy carrying pictures of Mahatma Gandhi & the Quiz Conductor, to each of the teams in order of their final position. We, Sangeetha Sridhar & self, finished somewhere in middle 4. Not certain where, but we only scored 5; so can’t have been too far from bottom.
The show concluded (Finally!) with a photo-session with all the guests of honour, sponsors and participants.
I wouldn’t say the day was a total waste of time. Did learn some new things. For instance, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the height of the Taj Mahal. Who knows, maybe it will be the tie-breaker in some other oasis. Just because one of them turned out to be a mirage, does not mean we’ll stop searching.

India Quiz Oman - Observer Report

A friend, seeing the report in the Oman Observer, called up to ask how the quiz went. He was bemused hearing my response, saying the article painted a completely different picture.

Reading through the article, I could only reply that it matched the actual event in quality. The reporter has simultaneously assaulted the English language and facts, without the least bother. I would normally have expected the organizers to have submitted a write-up for the newspapers to publish, so that the journalists don’t need to do their job. This doesn’t seem to have happened in this case, leaving our writer to cook something up on his own.

Here’s the article

THE Oman edition of the spectacular show of Federal Bank India Quiz held at Al Falaj Hotel Le Grand hall on Thursday with a fully packed audience under the patronage of the Indian Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman, Anil Wadhwa, was indeed a grand success. Ibrahim Saif al Hamdani, Editor-in-Chief of Oman Daily Observer was the Guest of Honour.

The Quiz Master and the Director of the show, Kannu Baker did a brain brushing style of presentation by hurling questions that impart knowledge of the uniqueness of India by inducing a spirit of patriotism in quizzing. The gala event of India Quiz with cultural synthesis show was a thrilling experience to one and all and also a new initiative in quizzing while bringing forth the unknown facts and the rich culture and heritage of India was well accepted by the audience.

There were six teams comprising two members that were selected for the final round of India Quiz after a bottleneck elimination round. Sunil Makhani and Pranav Laxman were the winners of the show from more than hundred teams from various states of India who just gave it a try in their selection round. “Which section of the Indian Constitution stipulates that there should be a President for the country?”, “Which state in India has the longest coastal area?”, “Who was the Arab traveller who helped Vasco-da-Gama to reach Kozhikode, a district in the south Indian state of Kerala?” participants of various age groups, professional acumen and varied IQ levels remained spellbound as the grandmaster threw arrows of questions one after the other. Some of them raised clues and guesses and some bright ones made it through.

More than 60 per cent of teams were working class from various professions, and 40 per cent teams represented various schools from grade XI and above and it was a unique show with mix of people. The questions were comparatively of very high standard with uniqueness in covering the entire segments of India. “It is something innovative in spreading India’s rich culture and heritage among Gulf expatriates and I wish all success to Kannu Baker and his team for organising such a wonderful new initiatives and keep the spirit of organising more shows like this in the future”, Anil Wadhwa said.

It’s a part of the whole GCC Quiz show by the Vision Tomorrow Communications, a Corporate Event Management Company in association with Federal Bank as the brand sponsor, of which Bahrain show would take place in the second week of June and the quizzers in Saudi Arabia will have their attempt in the week following. In Oman, UAE Exchange, SRK Group and LuLu were the support sponsors. New India Assurance Company and Teejan Furnishing were the Country sponsor of this Oman Edition of India quiz.

What’s Brain Brushing? Bottleneck elimination? Not only has he got the winners' names wrong, he's also got wrong names of the wrong winners.

Comparatively high standard questions??? Cause no one could answer anything? To put the record straight, I was forced to narrate my version of the circus.

Update: The Oman Tribune dated June 1 also carries a report on the quiz. Same error on winners. Otherwise different write-up. Seems the organizers did give out some release to the newspapers, each of which chose to edit it differently. Could not find the link to this though.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

We done it again!

Third time in a row.

And the prizes seem to be getting better as well. On top of the HP notebook, we get 25 riyals to splurge at Borders! Samsonite bags from our in-house sponsor. Besides a few handfuls of other stuff.

And this was 2008

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Earth Hour

Overheard - "We don't need Earth Hour in India. The government already has an hour's load shedding every night."

Nice pics. Click on the photos to turn the lights off.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why is Ghajini so called?

When Murugadoss, inspired by Christopher Nolan's Memento, decided to make a film with the protagonist suffering from anterograde amnesia he titled this Ghajini.
Have been trying to find the reason for this. Read somewhere that this was inspired by Mahmud of Ghazni (Ghajini in Tamil) who also suffered from a similar type of memory loss. However have not been able to find any authoritative source on this.
Read some other story that this was inspired by Mahmud's success in invading India after repeated failures. Similar to the hero's trial in the film. But this doesn't sound plausible. Don't think the invader from Ghazni had so many failures to start with. And the 1st name that would come up for success after many failures is Robert the Bruce.
When remade into Hindi, the makers had to name the villain as Ghajini to avoid confusion among the viewers on the reason for the name. You could expect the saffron parties to raise a stink if the hero had been named so.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Worldy Wise

Amazing how much print is wasted on horoscopes, zodiac, star forecasts and such. The Times of Oman Thursday supplement dated Jan 15 2009 has a 14 page feature on star forecasts for 2009, for all humanity. 14 pages of vague drivel, predicting the year ahead for 6 billion people.

Normally quite difficult to evaluate the accuracy. For one, it is all ambiguous. And second, no body remembers this one year on; especially if the prediction did not come true. In the very unlikely event of something predicted actually happening, the proponents would be blowing their trumpets all over the place. And the billions of false predictions easily get brushed aside.

However once in a while we are able to pin down these fraudsters. A case in point is the forecast for 2008 by a Muscat based astrologer that appeared in the ToO Thursday magazine dated Jan 24-30 2008.
A few gems from the article.

Opening para - "Prospects appear bright for the world in general for the year 2008. The beginning of the year falls under the star of 'moon' and in the sign of 'Virgo' indicating material prosperity and luxuries."
[Pervez Musharraf] will continue to be president of Pakistan successfully in 2008.
[Hillary Clinton] shows success to US presidency 2008
[George W Bush] Failing health will trouble him
[Sonia Gandhi] Sickness will persist in the year.
[Bal Thackeray] the family feud in politics (with nephew) will come to an end.
[Gordon Brown] will have favourable results in elections, success and also public opinion will be in his favour.
[Lakshmi Mittal] 2008 will bring success in all endeavours. Only he lost $16 billion this year.
[Rahul Gandhi] Marriage is also on the cards for him.
Shahrukh Khan will enter politics.
[Sunjay Dutt] will have successful films to his credit. All three movies of his in 2008 flopped.
Atal Behari Vajpayee will be honoured with the highest award of the nation.
[Sensex] would not be a surprise if it touches 25000.

Read the full article for a good laugh.