Thursday, March 09, 2006



This is the story of one man who said he’d stop the quizzing of the world—and did.

Is he a destroyer or a liberator?

Why does he have to fight his battle not against his enemies but against those who quiz with him most? Why does he fight his hardest battle against his own quiz-hungry soul?

You will find the answers to these sitters when you discover the reasons behind the baffling rounds that play havoc with the lives of quizzards in this book. You will discover the connection between quizzing and world power—the mysterious revival of the Incas—the tragedy of the dinosaurs—the extraordinary thesis behind the observation that when quizzards die they go to JNU—why Mario Vargas Llosa has to lose the next Peruvian election—and lastly, the solution to the universe, the ultimate ball-breaker.

Tremendous in scope, breathtaking in its suspense, Arani Quizzed is unlike any other book you have read. It is mystery story—not about the identity of the next North Star winner—but the quizzing of man’s soul.

(Authors’ note: This unfinished four-chapter definitive novel on college quizzing was co-written by RBC and AG in 1991, with RBC doing most of the writing and AG ‘supplying ideas’—in other words, doing nothing. Photocopies of the chapters were sold to quizzers at various college quizzes. The plot is hideously complicated and a prize will be given to anyone able to work out the identities of Khatam Cetebos in chapter 2 and Leo Lignus Serpentarius in chapter 3. A helpful key at the end identifies the various characters in the first chapter who need introduction—some have become quite famous/ infamous in their chosen fields).

Chapter one

CNMC smelt of carbolic acid.

Why carbolic acid? Why should C6H5OH in colloidal suspension through the air permeate the vicinity? Because the medical profession cannot thrive without it. Like Martians from an alien world, they must have place of their own from which to view the earth, their own tiny pungent biosphere. Into this tranquil gas-jar are suddenly inducted several new species: engineers, hausfraus, eggheads, femmes fatale, bookworms, slideworms and flickworms, not to mention tape(?)worms. All, however, addicted to (ah goddess!) quizzing. Though with agonized shrieks they all strive to make it clear that they only do it for money—the doctors, at least, should know better. Take a quizzard away from his quiz, and watch him outgobble the coldest turkey on the mesas of Antarctica. Though crestfallen they will be at this harsh observation, no flights of fancy will disguise the winged victories hovering over their heads, urging them on to their cocksure triumphs and their foul fluffs. We have noted this while gliding over our phenylated cockpit; let us now swoop in for a closer look.

Before the befogged atmosphere causes us to crash squawking into the podium, we are arrested by the sight of a strange specimen: mild, inscrutable with an equivocally bearded face, dreamy eyes and mare’s nest hair. This, believe it or not, is Arani Sinha. A specimen wo studied till late in that den of iniquity known as Jadavpur University, now deserted for ISI, but stray mentions of him still have the power to curdle the tea at Ashirvad. Though his name is variously pronounced, most versions of it being received with a sharp wince by the so called, we hereby declare our intention to pronounce it Or-o-ni. If anyone demurs, let them quote law—the oronus of proof is on their heads. As for his surname, it is pronounced Sin-ha, though whether this is aranical or not, we shall not comment.

Our hero this brave August morning is engaged in a dark and barbarous rite, to wit: the 1990 Agon General Quiz at National Medical College, the latest congregation of the formidable quiz talent of Calcutta. One big family of animated databases, all under one roof, sawing away at life in all its quizzicality. Is it an accident that the word ‘quiz’ originally meant oddball? That it was coined by a drunk Irish theatre manager on 1798 for a bet? Is there, could there be, a Plan behind it all? An Immovable Mover? A presence that heats with intellectual wine the livers of these men and women, here to quiz with all the energy and ambition of ten Caesars pursuing Cleopatra. Yet do we see in the feverish cigarette smoke curling above their heads the cryptic words ‘Cui Bono?’ Who benefits? The answer to that will bring the cosmos to its knees.

We cast our eyes about amid the bewildering brilliant ribaldry of quiz foreplay. We notice several desiccated specimens, all with the mark of Cain on their foreheads, put there by hard self-slaps when they missed a question. Here we find a tall basketball player, one of the few quizzards who has other talents beside a mind like a steel trap, and whose life, like that of the 1857 revolutionaries, revolves in a planar spiral around the haj to the capital, with occasional lapses into paraplanetoidal spheres. There is a third year Presidency history student, rivalling one JU-ite only in Hindi film funda, currently a victim of JNU blues, about which more later. Another pair from Presi, vying with each other in mass, are prone to have sudden fierce arguments about who is heavier. Saurav Sen, a JU specimen whose knowledge of ancient Rome, especially the food habits of Roman vermin and the number of calories the lions got from each Christian in the Circus Maximus, has always disturbed Arani to the depth of his database.

Now a voice like a foghorn distracts our attention, and a startled look thitherwards shows that it emanates from a frame to suit. Alu (Arithmetic Log Unit?) has arrived to represent NRS, along with Rito Mitra and a decrepit old crock from way back called K. Mullick. Next to them is Jhantu Burman who has a veekness for wine, women and song: when the public’s around he stops singing. We pass lightly over a group of doctors, noting a baby-faced Parsi by the unlikely name of Battiwala, a PharstOarldRetarned quizzard cum debater cum extempore speech maker from Calcutta Medical, with an equally baby-faced IIM specimen who is doctor by name and not nature and who is unfortunate enough to possess the initials V.D. We see a gaggle of Presi types, over all of whom broods the shadow of Sinha’s frustration, especially over the Gang of Four known as Presi Blacks, presided over by a repository of sports statistics whose interest in current politics may be more than an accident.

Those within the hearing of Bhow bells are said to be Cockneys, or alternatively come to life singing ‘I Bhow to thee my country’ or ‘Bhow, Bhow, the winter wind’ though this makes them sound like bloodhounds being given a bhow job. Strange to tell, but this curious four-letter word is the appellation of a bhow-legged doctor from CMC whose questions are exceptionally schizophrenic and who is acknowledged to be a gone case by all hands. Another gone case is now sub-editor of The Statesman who with the deputy editor of the Calcutta Skyline is part of the manic old guard. Other lines also run from here to the world, to Patna, to southern Mississippi, to XLRI, and of course to Delhi. Speaking of Patna, we have a rail-thin, hawk-nosed expert on terrorism, female sibling of our Patna resident, who has a tendency to shock Loreto nuns with sudden mentions of syphilis. Next to her is the matronly and quizbitten MRs J., whose presence shows that the bug knows no barriers, infesting without mercy all classes, tribes and nations, irrespective of caste, creed or marital status (witness Debuda). Also shown by the presence of the O’Briens, reputed by their name to be descended from Brian Boru, king of Connaught, though this may be a typical Irish tall story. And while on Ireland, we notice a specimen who has had the luck to be born in the land of Guinness but who has long since shakes its dust off her baby booties and is now involved in the perpetual steely-eyed quest for a team.

Closer in, we notice a pint-sized specimen by the name of Tintin. This is not the name by which various harassed officials have him tagged in their individual rogue’s galleries, but it is the name by which he is best known in quizzing circles. It is he who has now cast a suspicious glance at the Sinha, for the Sinha’s mind is in a spin: he did dream of moneybags tonight, and the questions of the universe are drawing breath to blow their bugles in his being. Unbeknownst to him, fate with the abhorred shears and galley-proofs is approaching, the golden gates of peace are closing; soon he will be locked in a dream-nightmare that will rack his soul.

The quiz prelims are over in a flurry of scribbled sheets like snowflakes; though the atmosphere through which they float in serene drifts is far from cold; it crackles with all the tension of an Ascot Opening Meet. Volunteers pounce on the errant testimonials or engage in undignified tugs-of-war with the more tenacious quizzards. ‘Time’s up!’ shouts our QM, the usually suave and self-possessed J. Ghosh from NRS, who shares perpetual youth with the other Ghosh from CNMC, and who is the only living person who can handle unruly quizzards without mussing his hair. This capacity of his is being nevertheless being severely being tried at this instant, as Jhantu suddenly wakes up to the fact that he has forgotten to write his team’s name on his sheet, and insists on chasing it all over the room. Order is restored presently; the Ghosh surreptitiously mops his brow, and those quizzards who are not pretending unconcern on the balcony outside wait with bated breath for the results. Arani (sigh of relief) qualifies.

The quiz begins. Fast and furious fly the challenges to the rationality of the universe. Which household appliance is modelled on the human arm? Answer: the Terry Anglepoise lamp. What was the first standarised commodity to be mass-produced? Answer: Books. What does the word Manhattah mean in Naragansett? Answer: the place of the great booze-up. Anxious faces and sweaty palms prevail on the stage—not entirely because of the quiz, but over the nagging question of when the food will arrive. Unwary quizzards who eat too much have to eat crow as questions pass by their full mouths. But quizzards’ digestions, both of funda and dhop-chop are phenomenal. They thrive on both.

Halfway through the quiz Arani is gnashing his teeth. The situation is bad: CMC and Presi Blacks (aargh!) are ahead of him. CMC leads by five points, with Presi two pints behind them. JU ‘A’ are ard on Arani’s heels, though their anchorman Joy Bhattacharya has disappeared into the wings. Saurav Sen anxiously strains his atlanto-axial articulation in the cause of peering uneasily over his shoulder thitherwards, but to no avail, for the Ghosh and their direct pass over them like a South Sea Island thunderstorm, the Bhattacharya arrives 2.3867 seconds too late, and Joy & Co. are left with the proverbial cold shower to console themselves with. Arani piously thanks the Sphinx of Thebes, who was the first recorded quizzard in history, and picks up the question. He is now one point behind the leaders.

The tension mounts. CMC fluffs a sitter on stock market slang. Alu picks up a question on Edgar Rice Burroughs by the skin of his teeth. Joy makes a brilliant comeback in the audio round, identifying three out of four voices in an extended remix by an amateur group of a Dylan number that flopped in 1964. Arani gets one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ and curses his luck. Bleakly, he watches Devdaan pick it up, reflecting bitterly that Devdaan has had advantages he never had. But then three bonuses come to him one after another and restore the tattered remains of his morale to working order.

Yet no! the visual round casts him down again, Ranjan Raichowdhury identifies the view from the eastern corner of Eiffel Tower. Anup unravels a question of horrible obscurity on South Indian dance forms, to the disappointment of Mrs J. who lies in wait in the audience for just such funda. Benjamin Zacchariah boosts JU ‘A’ with a youthful picture of Jimi Hendrix. Pagla of NRS rises magnificently to the occasion and not only gets his direct but also cuts off two bonus points that were heading for Arani. Our hero is destitute. Mutely he turns to Tintin for help, but Tintin is busy stuffing himself with sandwiches—this quizzing Weltlust never gets to him. Arani muses over his chances of getting a gastric ulcer in the next half hour. He picks disconsolately at his food and loses his appetite when Presi answers something abstruse about John Maynard Keynes. It is now his direct.

J. Ghosh approaches, tilting his head to one side as he always does when about to deliver a stinker. Tintin’s sandwich drops from a nerveless hand. The Ghosh speaks:

“One of the wonders of the ancient world was the Colossus of Rhodes, a statute of the sun-god built from the bronze of the captured cannons of Antigonus of Macedon who lost the siege of Rhodes. It was 105 ft. high and beacon fires lit in its eyes at night. Question: WHO OR WHAT WAS THE MODEL?

Tintin chokes. Arani is unaware that he is trying, unsuccessfully, to chew his abortive beard. Jaideep Mukherjee turns a pinker shade of pink. Only Debkumar is calm, convinced of his total inability to answer the question. Five precious seconds are wasted reviving Tintin, but Arani has a strange feeling that time has stopped. Something is struggling to get free inside him: he is suffering from the exquisite agony of being visited by an inspired bhat. But five ephemeral seconds are not enough for the birth of an universal truth, and the question passes (fickle world!) leaving Sinha writhing in agony. They say opportunity is bald on the back of her head and can only be caught by the forelock, a question which has not occurred to a quizmaster yet, showing that they don’t know everything. Through a haze of thwarted funda, he watches it go around…”Yes Keshta? Marcus Aurleius? No, no, not old Marcus…What? Caligula? No. No emperors, please...No Jhantu, it was not Cecil Rhodes….What, Minoo? Speak up, can’t you?…Philip of Macedon? No, you’re on the wrong side of the war…”

He wakes to find the question back with the quizmaster. Ghosh looks around with a pained expression. “Can anyone in the audience try it?’ Dead silence. People inspect their fingernails with great assiduity. Arani’s teeth are chattering. To stop them, he bites into Tintin’s sandwich.

Ghosh flashes a brilliant smile. “It was a little statue of Apollo that was dug up on the bech by a one-eyed beggarboy on the fifth feast of Saturn just after the siege was broken, taken for a portent by the priests of Rhodes.”

Arani chokes. THIS CAN NOT BE! He knows, he KNOWS in his blood that this is WRONG! In a sandwich-blocked voice, he croaks. No, no. Debkumar pats him paternally on the back as his eyes roll heavenwards. But the ultimate indignity for a quizzard is to faint after missing a question. So with a superhuman display of cali he saves himself, though he is now exhausted, bewildered and bemused at the violence of his reaction to this vague funda. What’s Colossus to him or he to Colossus? But he has no time to think about it, as through miles of cotton wool he hears the quiz continuing…why were hatter mad?…what is measured in ankars, tunlets and runs?…what liqueur is made out of rotten orange peel?…what is the origin of the word slob?…what is the common name for crystalline mercuric sulphide?…and so on and on. Ad infinitum et ad nauseum. He is feeling distinctly queasy when it finishes. CMC and Presi tie for first place, followed by JU ‘A’ and a jaali team composed of one JU engineer, one IIM cat, one out of work journalist and somebody’s sister from JD Birla. Arani finds he is somewhere neat the end, saved only by the poor show of NRS who are demoralised by the lack of Ghosh. Even CNMC beats him.

The quiz is over. Tintin dashes off, muttering something about the writing the next instalment of his quiz saga. Debkumar and Jaideep Mukherjee have a friendly argument over who missed the most questions. They appeal to Arani to arbitrate, but he is in no mood. Dodging Saurav Sen and Ashok Malik who are busy thrashing out the vagaries of the Macedonian succession to their own satisfaction, he stumbles out into the pale discouraging monsoon daylight to hail a passing S14, smarting over the injustice of fate and resolving passionately to get his own back on Lachesis, Clotho and Atropos at the nearest opportunity.

The S14, clanking musically, bears him away from the scene of the fiasco and into the future.

Arani Sinha—legendary quizzard from JU Engg. C1986-90. present whereabouts—somewhere in darkest America
Tall basketball player—Joy Bhattacharya (JU, Maths.), formerly with ESPN, now with History Channel
Saurav Sen (JU History, 1986-89)—probably the most knowledgeable man alive on the Wankel Rotary Engine (don’t even ask)
Jhantu aka Aveek Barman—currently head of NDTV Profit
K. Mallick, K. Ghosh, Meher Battiwala, Ranjan Roychoudury—all docs
Vikram Doctor—Doc by name but not profession (IIM, Cal); currently doing something media-ish
Koushik Bhowmik aka KouBhow—doctor turned French student turned film historian (CMC, JNU, Oxford)
Debuda aka Debkumar Mitra (JU, Maths)—the granddaddy of Calcutta quizzing; currently with Big Ideas
Devdaan Mitra—senior journo at Telegraph and giver of jobs to many JUDE alumni; be nice to him
Ashok Malik—(Presi. History), superb quizzard turned sangh parivar apologist journo. Sigh!


panu said...

Next Installment please!!! This one reminds me of the ARGUS quiz I took in my UG days (needless to say, my position was somewhere near Arani. Incidentally, The name Arani reminds me of an entirely too quizzy and extremely uncool, not-so-long-gone senior)

Abhijit Gupta said...

if it helps any, the title, advertisement and the first line are a piss-take of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and We the Living

Deep said...

how about a profile of those deathless doyens of cal quizzing, Mrs.J and Mr.RaM Sen

Anonymous said...

Yo, Tintin.
The correct "Battiwalla" is Minoo; Meher being the older sister, now mother of two, also a physician.

Could you please post the remaining chapters?

--Minoo Battiwalla (no longer baby-faced)

Anonymous said...

Extremely fascinating... One of the very few ventures into the comical and closed world of Quiz circle of the late 80s - early 90s in Calcutta.

A few more episodes on the other adventures of Arani would be highly appreciated.


Goa said...

Great. Like flipping through an old photo album.

the rail-thin (alas, not so anymore), hawk-nosed (alas, still so) expert on terrorism, female sibling of our Patna (now california) resident, who has a tendency to shock Loreto nuns with sudden mentions of syphilis.