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Updated: June 18, 2013 18:12 IST

Mind games

PRINCE FREDERICK
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PASSIONATE ABOUT QUIZZING Navin Jayakumar Photo: K. Pichumani
PASSIONATE ABOUT QUIZZING Navin Jayakumar Photo: K. Pichumani

What makes the Landmark Quiz still popular in its 20th year? Quizmaster Navin Jayakumar has the answer

Mid-way through an interview, Dr. Navin Jayakumar dons his favourite hat — that of a quizmaster. While on the subject of innovations planned for this year's Landmark Quiz, which debuted in 1988 and completes 20 years on the trot (1992-2011) this Independence day, the 49-year-old neuro-ophthalmologist poses a question: One of them is extremely audience-friendly and involves a five-digit number — what is it?

He reveals the answer on the condition that it will be kept a secret; Navin wants to safeguard the surprise for his audience. However, for the uncontrollably curious, he offers a clue: the new feature is a child of technology. “Over the years, the Landmark Quiz has matched strides with technology,” says Navin. From audio cassettes and videotapes to CDs, DVDs and web-casts, it has consistently embraced modernity. Like a father fondly remembering the tentative steps of a child, Navin recalls the first year of the quiz when preparing visual questions proved quite a handful. Slides had to be made of photos shot from books laid out in the sunlight. The event was close at hand, when Navin started attending to this task. One day was lost to rain and another to a malfunctioning camera, and Navin heaved a big sigh of relief when it was finally accomplished.

Considering the quiz had been started almost on an impulse, problems of this nature were only expected. The Chennai chapter of the Quiz Foundation of India (QFI) was hoping to organise a grand quiz to celebrate its first anniversary in 1988, when Gautam Padmanabhan of East-West Books (now Westland) introduced Navin to Hemu Ramaiah of Landmark, which had also completed a year. The meeting proved fruitful; Landmark Quiz was born. Following this lucky start, it oddly went into hibernation and resurfaced only in 1992.

Looking back, Navin thinks the timing was perfect. Quizzing was largely confined to academia, before Siddharth Basu arrived in the 1980s. “Basu elevated quizzing to national consciousness. Most important, he made quizzing interesting to everyone. Being active on the whirlwind quizzing circuit of the 1980s did Navin great good. He saw quizzes shrivel up and die because they offered nothing but difficult questions. “What is the point of having a quiz where people can answer only two questions?” Guided by this logic, the Landmark Quiz began to rise in popularity and attract people by the hundreds.

“A guy postponed his wedding to make time for this quiz. Another participant is coming from England for this year's quiz,” says Navin. From Chennai, the quiz spread out to gain a pan-Indian character. This year, it will be conducted in seven cities, an increase of two over the last. For a busy doctor, conducting seven quizzing events in as many cities is a tough task. But Navin is grateful for a huge team that's taking care of the mundane aspects of organising a quiz, which he tackled in the early years.

His work is now restricted to research and presentation. Engaging in a bit of mathematics, he found out it takes 70 to 80 hours to prepare a quiz. That's a lot of time. But nothing compared to the hours Navin spends unconsciously looking for scraps of information. The diary he carries around proves he is a quizmaster all the time.

Keywords: Landmark Quiz

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