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When curiosity pays

They passionately collect every little data and dates and know strange facts about obscure people and places. In short, they are quizzers aka those with a perennial gleam in the eye. G. NALINI BALAJI does some quizzing of her own.

WHO WAS the female astronaut who died when the Challenger went up in flames? What is the little plastic bit at the end of the shoelace called? What is the former name of Thailand? What is the skin cancer associated with Aids? If you can answer these in a jiffy, chances are you're a quiz buff, and part of Bangalore's lively quizzing scene.

The early days of television in India will be best remembered for the exciting programme Quiz Time, the Limca-sponsored inter-collegiate competition anchored by quiz guru Siddhartha Basu. Sure enough, the series captured the imagination of a fledgling television audience in the mid-'80s. There was also Prof. Yash Pal, who anchored a very interesting science quiz show on Doordarshan, paving the way for others like Narottam Puri and Derek O'Brien.

Bangalore was always a fertile ground for quizzes even before television came. Though there were quiz clubs here, the honour of being the "father of quizzing in South India" goes to Wg. Cdr. (Retd.) G.R. Mulky. Inspired after a chance participation in a quiz in 1980, he founded the Karnataka Quiz Association (KQA) three years later along with eight like-minded enthusiasts. "I often wondered why one needed to travel to Chennai or Kolkata in order to participate in a quiz when we could have an association of our own," he recollects.

KQA, a non-profit association and one of the largest quizzing associations in the country, began its activities on a modest scale. Today it boasts of a collective membership of nearly 600 quizzers and around 80 programmes a year. Says Avinash Mudaliar, KQA Secretary: "Our main intention is to promote quizzing as a mind-expanding activity. To do so, we conduct about five quizzes every month, and encourage people of all age groups to participate. Moreover, we want to get the message across that quizzing is not an eclectic sport reserved for a select few." Sure enough, the KQA's quizzes attract enthusiasts from varied backgrounds, beginning from little schoolchildren to software professionals.

KQA Vice-President Arul Mani says to adopt quizzing as a lifelong passion, all it takes is to nurture the fundamental sense of curiosity innate in all of us. The KQA conducts organised quizzing at seven levels. Once a year, it holds quizzes separately for girls at three different levels. Apart from general quizzes, it conducts those on specialised subjects too.

"Science, entertainment, sports, literature, and other subjects constitute the bulk of our quizzing themes. Most of the programmes are team events but we do conduct a few singles events in three different categories to identify individual talent," informs Mr. Mudaliar.

KQA has devised a unique ranking system whereby graded points are assigned for each quiz, which over a period of time are integrated as total points earned over a session. Quizzers are ranked at the end of every such session. The best teams and individuals are awarded rolling trophies on the occasion of KQA anniversaries.

KQA also conducts quizzes for institutions such as schools, colleges, recreation clubs and social service organisations. "During summer vacations, quiz workshops spread over a fortnight are held for school students. We aspire to catch them young and encourage youngsters to take up quizzing not just as a hobby but at a professional level too where they could go on to become quizmasters," says Arun Hiregange, KQA Treasurer. This apart, quiz clubs in several colleges in the City pitch in to keep the game alive and well.

KQA is proud that of late it has been getting requests from schools to train their students to prepare for stiff competition in high-profile quizzes. To top it all, a little-known fact is that every year, the selections for the BBC Mastermind quizzes are made through the KQA.

Wg. Cdr. Mulky believes that there were three high points to the quizzing movement in the country: "The first of these was Quiz Time in 1984. Then came the BBC Mastermind series, and more recently, Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC)." These programmes fuelled public interest in quizzing. But one should not forget the contribution of Ameen Sayani to quizzing on radio much before the era of television, he adds.

Quizzing hit big time in the City in 1997. Back then, the brand equity genre of corporate quizzes were instantly lapped up by an eager corporate sector. "Any country which has a strong knowledge base and whose citizens are ever on the lookout for opportunities to further their understanding will surely come up trumps," observes Wg. Cdr. Mulky, adding that India and England are the two best quizzing nations in the world.

Quiz aficionados agree that over the years, the packaging of a quiz show has evolved in ways inconceivable even a decade ago. "Take the high-profile KBC programme for example, here we had a quiz show with a difference. Participants were asked simple questions... In addition, the elaborate sets, the celebrity host, and of course the prize money added to the aura," says Mr. Mudaliar.

An avid quiz buff who has himself conducted several quiz shows, Mr. Mudaliar recalls KQA being flooded with requests to conduct shows during the heyday of KBC. "We had an overwhelming number of participants at our open quiz shows though our questions we posed were tougher than those asked on KBC. On a lighter vein, we heard of tuitions being held at various `centres' for KBC hopefuls!" he reveals.

"We have a collection of nearly 2,000 slides amassed over a decade, for we believe that visuals play an important role in heightening the thrill of a quiz show. And we want to bring out the best in everyone by putting them at ease." The collection comprises 35 mm slides, images, and audio clips loaned free of cost to known parties for their in-house quizzing. "Our material is borrowed by institutions such as Benares Hindu University, BITS (Pilani), IIT (Chennai), JIPMER (Pondicherry), KMC, TAPMI (Manipal), and the RECs at Trichy and Suratkal," says Mr. Mudaliar.

Not surprisingly, Bangalore produces some of the top quizzers in the country. Says Arul Mani who has appeared on the BBC Mastermind show: "Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city, and people from different backgrounds, experiences, and thirst for information have come to call it home. Add to this the thriving IT sector and the picture is complete."

Some enthusiasts do, however, feel that the emphasis on English language quizzes has proved to be detrimental to the regional language quiz movement. When Wg. Cdr. Mulky conducted Kannada quiz shows in schools in Malleswaram, he was overwhelmed by the response. "We had requests from nearly 4,300 students wanting to participate. We had a difficult task in bringing down that number, through a process of elimination, to just under 300. On the other hand, the lack of adequate impetus to Kannada quizzing is disheartening. I'd say it's a road less travelled."

The KQA employs the services of one Hindi and five Kannada quizmasters.

What is the mantra for donning the role of a quizmaster? "For one, any person who wishes to become a quizmaster should have been a quizzer in his or her early days," says Wg. Cdr. Mulky. A quizmaster has to collect facts and figures and ensure that the show is both entertaining and informative. Adaptability in hosting a wide array of quiz programmes, be they sport or general knowledge-based, is the key to a successful quizmaster. Being a quizmaster is a professional option today, compared to, say, the Eighties.

"People like Siddhartha Basu, Derek O'Brien and Harsha Bhogle can switch roles with élan. They can host a children's quiz or a corporate quiz with equal felicity. There aren't many in this field who can do so," says Wg. Cdr. Mulky.

Speaking on the trend of roping in celebrities to host TV quiz shows, Mr. Mudaliar says: "Remember that at the end of the day, it's all about ratings. To achieve that end, a well-known face is the best bet."

Those who would like to have a shot at being quizzards may contact Mr. Avinash Mudaliar at 6643137 or 6341617.

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