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.


  1. Thanks for making me relive (relief)those moments! For once I was not only clueless about the answers but also the questions as well.

    Pl. link my name to my blog Thanks.

    Good work partner :)

  2. This is an outstanding essay and perhaps Shafeek you should add writing to your enormous quizzing skills as well. Even for non-quizzers like me it was a pretty poor set of questions and format, so for you it must have been painful to sit through.

  3. The only good the quiz has achieved is your post. I do feel sorry about Team - 3 losing their 10 points obtained in debate and not quiz.

    You may be in the wrong job.......keep writing

  4. The Wali duo - Team 3, were probably the unluckiest on the day. They just couldn't get the QM to agree with them on anything. Besides the Odd one out round, they also missed out on the Paradesi Synagogue - for some inexplicable reason.
    We thought they had scored, they thought they had. But when the scores were read, we found they hadn't.

  5. omg! this is ridiculous and sad ... its too frustrating that all these people end up getting all the contracts when genuine quizzers fail to impress them ... it is so difficult to get some sponsorship for a quiz back home in kerala when we quizzers conduct it,but at the same time money pours in when it is some kind of an event "management" firm !!


  6. Why does this article remind me so much of those parttime, pretender quiz masters who we see regularly on malayalam TV channels.:) Great writing dude..It was funny but it did strike a strong note on why Quizzing is not popular.cos its plain boring to have stupid facts & figures questions while it could be made much more interesting with more use of the brain workout rather than just memory plus..! Thankfully there are people in Kerala (dont know if you would know them) like Snehaj, Anil Sir,Chandrakant.Jyoti and a lot more who are doing a great job building interest in quizzing in general.( part of your article reminded me of a program I hated..the reverse quiz...Ashwamedham?? Maybe there are fans of the quizmaster who are reading this but I hated his snooty I know all look. I bet even the very young Rithwik from Calicut(a talented quiz star) could beat him any day at his own game).
    And dude.. best of luck for the next quiz happening in Oman.. hopefully its more interesting than watching dances from the rear angle:)

  7. ugh. After Giri's quizzes, this must've been a PAIN.

  8. @Mystique. Right about the pain. Didn't last long but felt like forever.
    This should interest you.
    Your old house won - again.

  9. My God shafeek,I haven't laughed so much in a very long time .Your description of the proceedings ,of which I was an integral part ,was simply mind blowing and of course accurate to the last laugh .I still wake up with nightmares of my attempts at answering such brilliant questions .At that time I felt I wasn't patriotic enough as I couldn't answer such 'simble questions about my motherland .My only relief came in realising that some great quizzers on stage like you ,were qually clueless.btw we managed a second position and we're so happy that hemant had finally cracked a quiz.