Myself, Quizzing

Nostalgia: The first Nihilanth

For those who came in late, Nihilanth is an inter-IIT-IIM quiz festival that is held every once in a while. It’s technically supposed to be organized on an annual basis, but that does not happen. It is held at a random IIT or an IIM, the choice of institute being decided by the sudden death of two randomly selected quizzers from every institute on a deserted island, or so I hear.

My association with this festival goes back to the very first time it was organized – brace yourselves, young ‘uns, it was way back in 2003. NINE YEARS, holy moley! I was 23, about to turn 24, and the only quizzes I had conducted so far were in my own college, and in a local Warangal school, where the kids really enjoyed the impromptu Harry Potter round. Except the ones that had not read Harry Potter by then, the little losers. Well anyway, what happened was that we had organized a quiz festival (called Trivium) in our college a few years ago, and I did the music and movie quiz. A bunch of students from REC Surathkal were in attendance, and proceeded to make a killing at the events. They won nearly every quiz, and were kind enough to take us quiz-masters out for dinner as well with their hard-earned prize money. One of them happened to go to IIM Indore a few years later, and it was him – Suryakrishna Tamada Tatineni, ‘Suki’ for short, who had the bright idea of organizing an inter-IIT-IIM event. And the brighter idea of inviting me to conduct the Entertainment quiz.

Somewhere down the line, people seem to have come to the conclusion that I was responsible for naming the aforementioned quiz the ‘MELA’, short for Music(or Movies) Entertainment Literature and Arts, thereby starting the tradition of referring to every entertainment quiz by that name. People are wrong. Personally I thought the name is a ghastly one and I have no idea who coined it. But for better or worse, it has stuck, and I suppose it does not really sound that bad now.

I wasn’t paid much for my services. But that did not matter, I was over the moon at being invited. Why? Because the General quiz was being conducted by a certain Siddharth Basu. I was going to conduct a quiz with – okay, technically just at the same venue, but still – the guy who got a majority of college students in India addicted to quizzing. Yes, this was a Fucking Big Deal indeed. I found out later that the man was paid a 100 times my fee. Heh, now that was a Big Deal.

But screw that. A lot of things came about thanks to that quiz. It jump-started my alternative career as Quizmaster for college festivals around India – which in turn nourished finances for my fledgling comic art collection. The spurt in invites happened primarily because the people who attended the MELA liked it a lot, and when they needed a quiz-master for their college fests, they gave me a chance. Gaurav Sabnis was there. I remember his college contingent being a little late to my quiz, because of which I had go through my prelims again. He had very kind things to say about it – little wonder then that the second quiz I conducted was in IIM Lucknow the next year. Arnav Sinha was in IIT Delhi, and was one of the reasons I was the first QM they locked on when Nihilanth happened there the second time, a few years later. This was also the first time I met Shamanth and Siddharth (who, as I realized recently, keeps popping into the blog every now and then – hi again, Bofi!) They did not make it to the finals of my quiz, but kicked ass in all the others. Fellow Hyderabad-quizzers Dhaaji and Anil were in attendance too – Anil could not participate that year, but Dhaaji did, as a solo IIM Bangalore representative if I remember correctly. I believe I lost all chances of doing a quiz at IIM Bangalore because one of my questions involved identifying the Beatles, from a demo of  ‘Strawberry Fields’, and that pissed him off beyond belief. Sheesh. I wish I have an excuse, but I don’t. What the hell was I thinking?

It was not entirely by coincidence that I ended up in the same taxi as my fellow-Quizmaster doing the Science and Sports quizzes at the event. We were housed in adjacent rooms at the Hotel Sayaji Grande after all, and over genial breakfast conversation on Saturday, we learnt of common interests. Phone numbers, as well as trivia about Richmal Crompton and Tintin comics were exchanged. We promised to stay in touch, more so because he tantalized me with news about how a friend from the USA had gotten him six CDs full of digital comics. I had heard of Arul Mani before, but that was the first time I met the Good Doctor. Neither his magnificent whiskers nor his patented Thigh Grab were on display that day, but it was an auspicious start to a long and lesbian-vampire-enriched relationship. Meeting Arul was also how I found myself in Daly Memorial Hall one fine Sunday that year, asking questions about Malini Iyer, HP Lovecraft and Artemis Fowl to a mostly-befuddled audience of Karnataka Quiz Association members.

So why am I talking about this today? Because of my books, surprisingly. You see, all my books just arrived yesterday from India, and are currently taking up a bulk of my apartment-space. I have been halfheartedly opening up some of them this evening, trying not to hyperventilate in the process. And I came across a bunch of pictures. Most of them were taken by a helpful student on my camera (trivia: the camera was part of my winnings at the Saarang 2001 Main Quiz at IIT Madras). Yes, it was a film camera, and yes, the photographs are mostly crap. But still, a hearty steaming slice of nostalgia.

This year’s Nihilanth was held at IIM Lucknow a few days ago, and it was the first in which I did not conduct a single quiz. On the plus side, I go to watch Porco Rosso in the Egyptian theater tomorrow.

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JL of A, JLA and JLU

Am watching episodes of Justice League Unlimited, a bunch of which landed up here thanks to tandavdancer. Had goosebumps during the episode “For The Man Who has Everything”, which was an adaptation of an Alan Moore story from the 1980’s.

(Somewhat coincidentally) Reading Squadron Supreme, Mark Gruenwald’s deconstructionist take on superheroes, featuring analogous characters from the Justice League in a twelve-issue series which sought to address how superheroes would react in a real-world scenario. Yes, yes, I know – Watchmen, Kingdom Come, The Authority yada yada yada, but Squadron Supreme still kicks major ass, and how. Mark Gruenwald, the writer was an avowed Justice League fan – every issue in the trade paperback ends with an essay by a major writer/editor, and in Kurt Busiek’s essay, he mentions his funniest memory of Gruenwald – how he was challenged by the other Mark ( Waid), another Justice League fan about JLA trivia, and how Gruenwald beat Waid by asking him TWO questions that the latter could not answer. Gruenwald channels this love for the classical characters by making a series whose epic contribution to the superhero archetype cannot be encapsulated in a blog post like this. Every subplot, every subsequent issue, every back-story makes you wish that DC had the guts to use its flagship characters the way Gruenwald did, like fallible human beings with powers, instead of walking punchlines. And the strangest bit of trivia – Gruenwald’s will stated that he wanted his remains to be cremated and the ashes were to be mixed in the printing ink for the Squadron Supreme comics. So, in a way, my copy of the trade has a bit of Mr Gruenwald in it.

Come to think of it, I’ve enjoyed the different incarnations of the Justice League that came out as I grew up. The thing to bear in mind is that between my a comic being released and it coming to the stands in India, there is a gap of almost ten years involved. That is to say, in 1992, I was reading JLA issues released in 1984-86. What to do, India is like that only. This was the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of the JLA, which had very entertaining multiverse stories, with crunchy cliffhangers that did wonders for my imagination. At that time, I was a little wary of the 90’s issues, the artwork was not that clean, and for a thirteen-year old kid, “clean” art matters a lot.

When I got into the serious phase of my comic-book love, I tentatively started up on the new incarnations of the JLA, which featured characters I had never seen before. Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and the Martian Manhunter were the only ones I seemed to know – Fire, Ice, the Green Lantern G’nort, Max Lord – who were these people? What was Justice League International? There was Justice League Europe??? Hello?

And then I read one issue which featured the JLA getting shrunk to the size of fleas, and they all land up inside the fur of Fire’s pet dog, and bwahahahahah, Guy Gardner gets himself eaten by the dog and comes out …the natural way. Some UK reprints led me to the Manga Khan issues. Manga Khan! What an awesome name! What an awesome character! An intergalactic trader who launched into soliluquies at every possible moment, and owned L-Ron the robot ego-booster. AHAHAHAHAH! I learnt that these JLA stories were written by Keith Giffen, the guy behind the zany looniness of Ambush Bug. That explained it!

Quick bit of trivia – Keith Giffen claims that it was him and JM Demetteis who brought “Bwahahahahaha” into popular culture.

Sometime during the early nineties, the JLA kind of faded away. There was this long arc called Breakdowns, which involved a lot of shady things going on after the League’s manager Maxwell Lord was shot at. I totally lost interest by then, and don’t even know what happened then. The next I heard of the JLA was during the Death of Superman saga, where Doomsday defeated the League in one. single. issue. Eh? This was what the world’s premier crime-fighting team was reduced to?

DC realised the iconic nature of the JLA though. It relaunched the series once the whole Knightfall-Doomsday-Artemis storylines were over in the respective Batman-Superman-Wonder Woman books, and the Big Three were brought back into the fold. The writer? Grant Morrison. The early issues of the JLA can only be described in one word ( or maybe two ) – breath-taking. The crises presented to the members were epic, planet-threatening cataclysms, the likes of which cannot just be handled by a Superman or an Amazon princess all alone. These were problems that required teamwork, and specialized powers, and plans and counter-plans and evasive action. All those people who doubted the necessity of having a non-superpowered being like Batman in the group were gratified by the way Batman, a self-professed loner and, within the DC Universe, more of an urban legend than a public hero, was used in the JLA this time around. He was the no-nonsense plan-meister, the one with the back-up firmly in place, at home even in alien worlds among superhuman brawlfests. Mark Waid took over after Morrison, and continued the series with the same hyperactive style. I read this series in white-heat sometime this year, on scans. Need to buy the later issues some time, already have 1-15.

During Infinite Crisis, the JLA was disbanded, mostly because the members’ distrust of each other led to feuds – following Wonder Woman’s public execution of Max Lord ( Read up on IC sometime, for complete details) and Batman’s recollection of his mind-wipe ( ditto Identity Crisis), things reached a point of no-return.

I believe the new One Year Later storyline reforms the Big Three version of the JLA. Brad Meltzer is writing it, so I expect a lot of soppy fan-wankery disguised as first-person narrative. Blah. Though I don’t doubt I would be reading the series sometime. I am more excited about this spin-off series called JLA: Classified, which presents out-of-continuity stories by writers like Morrison, Ellis and Giffen – and it’s rumoured that Garth Ennis will write his last Hitman story sometime soon for this series. Yippee dee yay!

Coming back to Justice League Unlimited, I am taking in the episodes at white-heat. What I don’t like – sometimes characters don’t use their powers realistically enough. Hmm, ok, superhero license, I guess. Part of me gets excited at being able to identify characters like B’Wana Beast, Brimstone, Circe and El Diablo. I like the quirky way in which certain episodes get resolved – and man oh man, does Bruce Timm know how to spice up the female characters or what? Black Canary, Circe and Zatanna look mindblowingly hot.

Wait a minute, I am drooling over cartoon women. Sheesh.

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I’ll keep it brief

I lke Stephen King a lot, ever since I read The Shining on a train journey from Delhi to Guwahati and shivered to myself on the upper berth halfway through the book. True to the way I behave, I began to scrounge out Stephen King books right after that. I think I bought close to 7 books in a month, the same month I was coming down to Warangal to join the college. My father and I stayed in Calcutta for a day, and I spent the better part of that afternoon at Gol Park, haggling with the booksellers there for a bulk discount on the Kings I bought from them. Then I bought a couple more at Vijaywada station, where I got them for 95 Rs each, by some strange coincidence.

One of those books I bought and read in that initial white-heat period was Insomnia. Probably not one of King’s finest, the book was engaging enough because it seemed to be linked to King’s other works in odd ways. There were nods to The Dark Tower, and to Pet Semetary, and because most of the characters of all these books were fresh in my mind, I could enjoy the book a lot. You know what the most important thing about Insomnia was? The way it talked about sleep-deprivation. The main character – Ralph, I think his name was – slowly begins to sleep less and less. It’s not like he doesn’t want to sleep, it’s just that he could not go to sleep. He used to twist and turn in his bed and manage to sleep for an hour or so, and even that got chipped down to a couple of minutes per night. And it was then that Ralph starts seeing colours. Auras around living things. And small people in white coats with scissors in their hands.

Needless to say, this completely freaked me out.

Oh yes, I do know how to seperate fact from fiction, thank you. Especially fiction of the Stephen-King-kind. But what happened was – the book made me promise myself that I would never ever forsake sleep or change my sleep-cycle, that every night I would get a minimum of six hours of sleep, regardless of whatever else is going on in my life.

That resolution held good for all of four years in RECian life, except for a night when I had to sit and design a poster on my computer. Photoshop 5, 32 MB RAM. By the time morning came, I was a completely frustrated wannabe designer – woke up the guys who were sleeping on my bed ( they had come on over to offer moral support through the night, and had dozed off at around midnight). Technically, what I am saying is, I have never done a “night out” before, be it before an exam, or after, or because of college fests or whatever. Well, sure, I would stay awake late, but I could not do things like – I had to grab some sleep when it was dark, or else Stephen King’s Insomnia would come to haunt me, and force me to close my eyes and shut down my nervous system. On the positive side, this meant I could fall asleep under any circumstances, with loud music playing in the background, on a bare floor, on a chair, inside a train toilet…

Over the last two weeks, things have changed a bit.

I begin working in the evening, at about five or six PM if things are really tight, and continue until about seven AM in the morning. I see the sun rise every day, and shiver in the cold morning breeze every time I head home. I sleep until about noon, and then I listen to music and read Doom Patrol until it’s time to come to the office again. (Must. Resist. Doom Patrol. Rave. Must. Resist.) Four hours of sleep every day, food at slightly odd hours ( I have been having a very heavy breakfast, courtesy this really swanky restaurant near my place that offers a buffet from seven AM onwards. 45 Rupees only. And they serve pancakes and honey among other things, yummy!) Lunch gets postponed until the evening, and dinner gets done sometime at midnight.

But the fact is, I’ve never really felt better. It’s actually quite fun to work at this time, I have found that more work gets done because of lesser distractions, and also because I am working in synch with the overseas team. I can play Juno Reactor really loud if I want to. I can play anything loud if I want to, hee-ah. I have a secret stash of chocolate bars right here in my office drawer, and the pantry has an ample amount of coffee to soothe my tastebuds at times. It’s not like I stay tired during the daytime, or that I am over-working, none of it at all.

You know what? I think sleep, and the concept of sleep-cycles are a tad overrated.

Social life, you ask? Not too bad, really. My “window” for a social life is between three and six PM, which means that most of normal human society stays away from me, muwhahahaha. But yesterday was good. Managed to catch a surprisingly good Jazz concert at this cafe yesterday evening. Got drenched too, while coming to the office later in the night. I did what a self-respecting software engineer ought to do against natural born dilemmas – I used my credit card. Saw a sale going on at an Arrow outlet and bought myself a couple of shirts. (Had to pinch myself later to see if I was still sane.) But yesterday was a good day, in fact. I found my USB drive again. Yes, the same one that had gotten itself dunked into the washing machine the last time ( that’s called transference of guilt, for the uninitiated). I could not find it for about a week, and just as I had given up all hope of finding it altogether ( I thought it had fallen out of my pocket), there it was, inside the pocket of a shirt that I was about to put into the washing machine. I have a feeling this little bugger likes refreshing its memory every now and then in the washing machine.

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Gratituous self-promotion in the name of nostalgia deptt.

I used to draw and paint, once upon a time. Even went to art school when I was a kid, and found out that watercolours was the only medium I had some amount of control on. Until of course, I discovered the joys of pen and ink and trying to imitate John Totleben’s artwork.

After buying a scanner ( along with the computer I bought my parents the other day ), I spent some time scanning whatever of my samples I could find.

Scans

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