He's India's favourite quizmaster, but Derek O'Brien is also trying new things.

To a generation brought up on a diet of Bournvita Quiz Contest every Sunday, Derek O'Brien version 2010 might come as a bit of a shocker. The man who played the quizmaster card for over 15 years isn't in quite the same avatar that one might be used to. Sample this, for example: “Being a quizzard is being a bore”, and you wonder where it's coming from.

Knowledge is power

Ask Derek and he laughs. “I've evolved a lot over the years, and I think knowledge should be more purposeful than recreational,” he says. “I'll always carry the quizmaster tag: it's the true story of how once people become famous, they try and hide behind their dark glasses. Now I say don't be a quizzard, make knowledge more interesting. You need to make it more engaging.” Simply put, coming up with random trivia won't go any where if the knowledge isn't applied.

Knowledge seems to be Derek's flavour of the season, and he's passionate about what it should stand for. “It's about being creative about different things,” he explains. “Take a glass, for example. It could be my phone. It could be my guitar — albeit with a very bad guitarist. It could even be my murder weapon if I chose to stab you. Young people need to open up their minds to different ideas.”

His current projects reflect his mindset, since he's bringing out an eight-part series called Be a GK Champ with publishing house Pearson Longman, which covers topics like people, sport, travel and science. Derek is also excited about his ongoing Know and Grow with Derek Soft Skills course with Pearson, aiming at developing a student's non-academic side.

Ask him about his own reportedly poor performance as a student, and he scoffs. “It's all relative,” he says. “Was I captain of the elocution, debating, soccer and basketball teams? Yes. Did I come in the first three in English and languages? Yes. Was I amongst the bottom three in mathematics and science? Yes. What do you think that means?”

Derek also says that he has no need for hobbies, since work for him is a holiday. Before you can pull him up for spouting clichés, he explains his schedule. “This morning, I addressed a meeting in my capacity as chairman of the passenger services committee of Indian railways. In the afternoon, I met teachers and principals as a part of the Pearson programme. Tomorrow, I'm talking to senior executives from a company on generating ideas, and in the evening I'm accepting a award from the Indian Television Academy for being amongst the top 20 programmes on television. Now you tell me if you think I need hobbies. My work is fun for me.”

He does admit that he has a soft spot for movies, and that he is a fan of television show Glee, stating that it gave him the chance to sing songs together with his 15-year-old daughter. “It worried me a little that she was singing Paul Anka's You're Having My Baby which was featured on the Glee soundtrack, but she's also educating me on Usher and Eminem.”

Derek doesn't say too much on his future plans, but there's plenty in the pipeline, including an inter-school quiz show that he's launching in 2011. “I want to engage young minds and open up quizzing to something more interesting,” he says. “Kids shouldn't be afraid to take risks. Pick a niche, and just tell yourself — this is what I want and then go out and do it, and do it well. It's as easy as that.”