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.


15 thoughts on “Nostalgia: The first Nihilanth

  1. Sai Ganesh says:

    Dude. thanks for sharing the pics. fucking brilliant. esp the one with u and arul. :)
    And IMHO, MELA quiz is probably the best one of the best “topics quizzes” ever!!! thank u for that.
    And hats off to Suki! for Nihilanth!

  2. Saar, thanks for mentioning me, but please do not link my name to Gaurav’s blog. My blog is

    In any case, that IIM Indore event was momentous in many ways. Meeting you was phenomenal – we were way too excited to meet a quizmaster who got us. But just that warm afterglow of a quizzing fest kills me every time I think of it. I somehow thought the name of the person who made it happen was Surya Kiran Tatineni.

    And this article seems to think the same –

    • Ugh, sorry about that link gaffe. Basic copy-paste error, just fixed it. I was tempted to link to your ancient blogdrive post for a minute, Mr Ex-Lonely Highway.

      I worked with a guy named Surya Tamada, hence the confusion with Suki’s name. Mukund called me out on that too. Fixed.

  3. Roshan Shankar says:

    I’m pretty sure you don’t know me but I’ve been lurking on your blog/livejournal for quite some time :) Thought this might be a good time to comment.
    So, first things first, thanks for introducing me to so many things comic. It started with your long post on Lone Wolf and Cub. I finished that and tracked back attempting to read everything you wrote about!
    I was at NSIT before(we won your quiz and some others at Mridang) and we made it there on the verge of exams because our senior, Debasish (at IIM Indore) used to rave about you. It was an absolutely wonderful quiz. Since we “grew up” with that story of you defining apocryphal, I’m afraid I’ve spread that to as many places as I can, including now at the Stanford Quiz Bowl :)
    Can’t do much to change that. One of those urban legends I’d let it be(despite confirmation to the contrary :D)


    • Roshan, thank you for the kind words, and glad you enjoy the blog. And you also remind me that I should reread Lone Wolf and Cub soon. It’s been a while!

      Oh well, I am now urban legend. One more thing I have in common with Batman.

  4. Dhananjay S. says:

    Had attended your Entertainment Quiz at Nihilanth (Year – ???) at IIT-Bombay as an audience member. Remember you having done a Theme on Mithun Chakraborthy movies. It was one of the finest Ent quizzes I have seen till date. Whats more…I had got along a couple of non-quizzing friends and they too enjoyed it to the hilt. Cheers!

    • Thank you, Dhananjay!

      I believe that was 2008. One of the reasons I remember that quiz was that Shamanth Rao, sports god and ent-hater happened to know that Mithun’s son was named Mimoh and cracked my theme. That man’s full of surprises. :)

  5. Anil says:

    Nostalgia indeed – good to see those pics. I did participate and qualified for all finals except for your quiz (obviously!)

    Incidentally, I had taken that pic of the 4 Quizmasters sitting together. Think I took one more featuring Sid Basu and you alone. I remember you wanted to show it to your uncle and tell him that quizzing does get you somewhere:) Did that happen?

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