I have been into quizzing since when I was maybe 3-4 years old. My mom had gotten me these quiz books for kiddos. And I was hooked. There was a daily quiz on radio too that my dad and my brother used to tune in to. I didn’t understand the questions, but I understood the pregnant tension on their faces as they listened carefully in a race to get to the answer before the other. Yet it never really mattered who got it first – both celebrated with high fives and pats on back. I was also keenly around when Bournvita Quiz Contest ran on TV. And when ESPN School Quiz did. And when Kaun Banega Crorepati finally kicked a popular (I hated it!) primetime Odia serial out of the 9 PM spot on our TV.
For the first seven years at school, I was an awkward kid who didn’t score too well in exams, but who always did well on the weekly pop quiz. I won prize money when I was in Std I. It was 500 rupees – a lot of money for a kid who thought the two-rupee candy was one-and-a-half-rupee too expensive. But it wasn’t just the money. The prize brought me something I had been craving for all along – a pat from Dad. He saying he was proud of me – that was the fuel. He made a promise to me then, and to his credit he has kept his promise to this day, that he will double any money I win in quizzes/academic contests. Again, it wasn’t the money, really. It was the first time I felt like I had something special with him – something that was just between him and me. Something I could lord over my brother, for instance. Something that told me that Dad loved me too.
It helped that I liked reading. And I read widely. Our house had 5000+ books back then. I remember reading through 3 sets of encyclopedias between the ages of five and ten: Growing up with Science (32 volumes of 200 pages each, having various scientific concepts and little experiments you could do at home); History on an Atlas (a picture book of world history, 6 volumes, one for each continent except Australia and Antarctica, which were in one. My mom used to say they were twins – born together); and The Young Readers’ Learning Library (38 volumes of 100 pages each about history, culture, languages, animals, what have you.). I read so I could quiz more. I quizzed so I could read more. It was chicken and egg.
I didn’t belong in the classroom – I stammered, my hands shook when I was asked to read aloud from my textbook, some teachers thought I had learning disabilities because I didn’t speak much. Classroom was terrible. Playground was worse. I got bullied around a lot, since I was never naturally athletic. Even the school library was bad. They gave us either Christian propaganda books for kids or abridged versions of 19th century English classics no one related to. And the librarian’s idea of reading somehow involved punishing a kid’s natural curiosity. If you flipped too many pages, she’d drum her fingers on the table. “Why are you on Page 24 without reading Page 5?” If you were too scared to reply – rap! on your fingers. So yeah, I didn’t belong to the classroom, didn’t belong to the playground, and didn’t belong to the library. But I belonged to the weekly pop quizzes, the monthly GK tests, and the annual Maggi quizzes. And though I didn’t always win, I belonged there better than I belonged anywhere else.
And that’s really the story. I have always been a quizzer since. Through school, through college. In college, I was never the best quizzer, but I was the guy who quizzed for “enthu.” And sometimes I think “enthu” counts for more than victories. It centers me on the process and not the product of quizzing. It tells me I belong even if I suck.
That is probably why, after college, I didn’t want to lose something I so dearly belonged to. So, I became a Quizmaster myself, going around schools and colleges, hoping to inspire just another kid. I was fortunate to have friends, who through their own sense of belonging to quizzing wanted to stay in touch. So we coalesced into a team and have been moving towards a common north star since.
Originally published in a school magazine in early 2020.