From Start to Finish - IOk, I've wanted to do this for a while, but always shied away from it because it somehow felt a little pretentious to do so. But it sometimes seems to me that I am not really making any self-inflated statements here, and it'll be a good place to dump these for future reference and perhaps to point any inquisitive busybodies with Web access to this place. It also gives me (for the moment) a rather large cache of things to feature on these pages, especially when the empty screen stares you in the face, the fingers are poised to hit the keys but the mind has chosen that moment to draw the veil of silence.
This, by the way if anyone is wondering, is to be a recounting of the whole Mastermind India (MMI) experience that engulfed me, in a manner of speaking, in the second half of 2002. It includes a extensive cast of Bangla-bhaashis, especially one from Pune, a supportive credit list of fellow quizzers, a national award + one sardonic artist from Mumbai/Pune + a fictional couple from over 75 years ago, misquotes and First class A/C compartments, and a silver whatchamacallit. It also subsumes within itself, the incredible story of The Lucky Tie.
Before The Beginning
I suppose it's fair to say that ever since the first edition in 1998, MMI has been the top quizzing prize in the country. This was clearly because we don't have any other open and national quizzing events, teamwise or individual unlike Quiz Time et al from the past. Add to it the somewhat majestic brand appeal of both the BBC and Siddhartha Basu, whose elitism and erudition both stand out as vivid counterpoints to the more commercial channels and their "game shows". It also means they can spin the "no-prizes" concept to further this effect: a grand testament to the finest spirit of amateur sport, unsullied by nasty competitiveness and crass commercialism of profit, very much in the best traditions of British sportsmanship (this being a utopian hark back to the past, of course). I do think, without being cynical or snooty, this is true to a certain extent - most members of the quizzing fraternity will not be put off by the lack of any reward, and it does further the reputation of the contest. In my case, it was quite ideal, given my famous jinx with moolah (that I'll touch upon later).
I hadn't actually given a MMI written qualifier in the two years prior to 2002 that I knew of it. Let me delve into the mundane specifics of this, for the benefit of those who want to know how selection works. First, the organisers of MMI, namely Synergy Communications, float the news of the qualifiers in the quizzing circles (these days simplified by the various Indian quizzing egroups that dot the landscape). In the first two years when the Web wasn't quite what it is now, I guess it was a combination of having a reputation as a quizzer or knowing the right people that got one invited. We first heard of the MMI open qualifiers in 2000, 64 contestants would be picked (it was 48 in the first). I didn't choose to take part in that or the next year, (a) as I didn't think I'd make it (b) I didn't know how it would work with my academic year (turned out to be a decent decision, because I don't think I'd have had the same success with the amount of time at my disposal, plus the shoot times might have clashed with submissions and exams) and (c) most importantly, wanted to get into a situation whereby if I made it, I could win atleast one round. That was the only goal I had, to make sure I'd do everything well enough to win the preliminary round. The reason behind that was I didn't think it was easy enough for people to qualify more than once (since it's a selection based on many factors, not just the test, a previous participant could be ruled out in favour of letting others have a chance, plus there has to be a three year gap).
So I didn't feel like taking it, and I didn't. I hadn't reasoned it out in so many words, but given that not too many people from Pune were being picked and there were better quizzers here then, it was a good 20-20 decision. I remember Gaurav and Hirak (who'd taken the tests) that they thought they'd done well among the other Punekars taking the writtens, but hadn't qualified. That's because the Mastermind organisers have a selection procedure (and this is clearly stated in their rules) that not only takes into consideration, the performance in the test (which is obviously a GK test, with a large scoop of current affairs) but also profile (age/gender/profession/city). They do it to give the quiz a balanced look across regions and backgrounds, otherwise, I can promise you, there would have been more engineers (with so much quizzing in the millions of engg. colleges) there. I also feel thus it is difficult for students to make it, because there tend to be so many of them. Plus if you are a good quizzer from a low-profile city (say Lucknow or Saharanpur :-) ), you'd have to stave off lesser competition than if you were from Bangalore or Mumbai. Essentially, your chances depend on a lot of factors. I don't think being Bengali helps ;-), if so, perhaps being Tamilian, does too?
Pre the Qualifier
2002, and I was out of college, fresher doing software development like many of the washed masses of India. The British Library and quizzing e-groups had put out the notices for the qualifier. There was a registration on the Synergy website which accepted the personal details and three topics of specialisation. I duly filled them up, and my three were: The Recipients of the Bharat Ratna, The Test Career of Adam Gilchrist and The Tommy and Tuppence Stories by Agatha Christie. A brief note on these choices: I had seen a book on the Bharat Ratna winners at Crossword a few months ago, and had always thought it would be a great MMI topic. Some of us at the BC sometimes spoke of good topics to pick, and I knew Bharat Ratna would fit in nicely. Adam Gilchrist seemed a compact scope (Harish would think of the same), and I had genuine interest in his career. As for T&T, it would come for in amusement in certain quarters, but again it was a strategic choice, not too large or small, readable enough for mugging up. I had thought of going for the Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron - the movie (I didn't think they'd allow it, but Casablance had been done once before, so I thought I could try my luck.) But there was a small matter that would almost trip me up first.
Just a few days remained before the written test, and I became aware that the rest of the BC gang that had registered at the website had received email informing them that the Pune one was to be held in the Symbiosis premises on the forthcoming Sunday in March (IIRC). I hadn't received any such note. Damn! On the Saturday BC session before that Sunday, I realised I was the only one not to get it! Had I goofed up on the registration? Worse, had they filtered me out? Didn't I fit some hidden criteria? Were my topics too cheesy to be considered? The latter seemed the most likely, and I had given in to fate. Someone suggested that I turn up anyway on Sunday and see if I could register on the spot. It seemed unlikely to me I could, for hadn't they gone to all the trouble of notifying people that they wanted for the test? Still, I said I'd take a shot at it.
BTW, MMI-V is being re-run at 10:00 pm Thursday IST & 10:00 am Sunday on BBC World. If you are unlucky, and have nothing to watch, you might catch me in this week's episode. If you do and also find yourself reading these pages, just watch everything closely. I don't know if there are enough vacant slots to show the remaining 15 episodes, so given that I only come again in the last two episodes, this might be the only unpleasantness you may have to endure!