AR Rahman, Music, Quizzing

The Rahman Quiz

While I acknowledge that I am a Lapsed Quizzer, there comes a time in a man’s life when he is forced to shake that queasy (yeah, fine, pun intended) feeling out of himself by going all Powerpointy. I have been listening to some Rahman every now and then. Though I tend to stay away from his earlier catalog as much as I can, ever since that year-long sabbatical from his music. A friend and I were talking about “Aha” moments in his songs – where random back-up singers go “aha”, like in ‘Kilimanjaro’ and the title track of Parthaley Paravasam. We tried to think of other songs of a similar nature, and suddenly I found odd bits of trivia popping up in my head. So here, out, damned spot. A bunch of 20 questions that are somewhat sensible, and sometimes not. Please make sure to read the fine print (second slide), and come back here for answers in a few days.

(For those who cannot see what’s below, it’s supposed to be an embedded Slideshare iFrame. Here’s a direct link to the page.)


Quizzing, Weirdness


In a different time and place, this would be a quiz question. For now, this is a story.

Cesare was among the richest of the land, of his time. And he was a good man, from what little we know of him. Unfortunately, the politics of his time did not allow for much leeway towards a man like Cesare. The principal monarch of the province where he lived was the son of the religious head of the time. Together, father and son had pillaged the nation. They pursued a series of wars that, in name, sought to unite the country but was a convenient means to bulldoze all opposition, real and imaginary, to their vainglorious ambitions. And now, with peace dawning on the horizon, the state’s coffers lay empty. Plans were made to replenish the treasury – not in an orderly and legal manner, but much like their wartime maneuvers, through treachery and death. A scheme that would not only repay the money lost, but reap dividends by adding to their personal wealth.

Cesare sighed to himself when he unfurled the invitation and read through it. He and another nobleman named Roderigo found their stature elevated, they were declared seconds-in-command to the Head of the Church. It was an honor that would have flattered other men in his position. Cesare, on the other hand, read between the lines. The fine print that spoke of relinquishing all personal belongings to the state in return for this new post. The fact that the only two people who were entrusted with this responsibility also happened to be the wealthiest men in the land.

It was the final clause of the invitation that made him squeeze the grip of his armchair to keep from fainting outright. It stated the date and time of a personal dinner with the king and his father. He knew that modus operandi and the inevitable fate that awaited him. Other men would have attempted flight or worked on a plan of retaliation. But Cesare chose to be an optimist – he knew of others being asked to attend similar dinners, where the invitation included every single member of the doomed guest’s extended family, by name. Here, the only casualty was his own self, and probably his fortune. Any sign of desperation, any clue that he had seen through the monarch’s ruse would endanger his family even more. He had but a few days  to settle his affairs, and he began to do so in earnest – by writing a his will . A trusted nephew was to be his beneficiary and the sole keeper of  the vast reserves of the family wealth.

On the appointed day of the dinner, Cesare reached the monarch’s palace and made his way to the vineyard. The first person who caught his eye was his nephew, sitting next to the king. The king gave him a meaningful glance – clearly, this was one last jibe at him, showing him how all eventualities had been considered by these fine statesmen. The bottle of wine from which the king poured glass after glass to Cesare’s nephew was now proffered to him. He mutely accepted, resigning himself to his fate. It took one hour for the poison to kill the two of them, uncle and nephew. Cesare breathed his last at the vineyard, still dining with the king. The nephew begged to be excused so that he could see his wife one last time. He died at the doorstep of his own house, his wish unfulfilled.

The king swooped in after the funeral, claiming the dead nobleman’s inheritance for the treasury. But what was this? Except for the mansion where he lived and the contents within, his wealth was nowhere to be found. His will had a few lines in which he bequeathed his library and his collection of books, specifically his favorite prayer book, to his nephew. Despite the ransacking and assiduous searches that followed, there was no sign of the family fortune. Finally, they gave up their hunt – the landed property in that provincial town was hardly worth the effort, and were left to the nobleman’s family. Some of the other heirs tried looking for the money, but that proved futile as well.

Time passed. The king’s father died, poisoned by a political enemy. The king was driven away from the country, history does not even record the cause, place or time of his eventual death. Cesare’s family continued living in a state of moderate comfort, and as generations passed, the story of the missing inheritance became a topic of dinner-time chatter. His descendants became soldiers, diplomats, bankers and men of the Church. The library, the prayer book included, stayed within the family as a source of much curiosity. Sometimes, an adventurous scholar would try looking for clues among the books, others would laugh at their mad quest.

This is where my story ends.

I did not make this up. This really happened, but it is a story that not many people know, because it gets overshadowed by another tale, one involving a young man from a different country. By a strange turn of events, this young man was to become the sole benefactor of this sordid political maneuver.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to complete my story. Connect the dots, if you will.

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.


The FWSE Round answered

It started with just one of those cool things you hear when on the Internet. The Vijay Iyer Trio’s cover version of M.I.A’s ‘Galang’. I hadn’t heard of the band before, and was impressed by Iyer’s piano-playing on the song, great their interpretation of the song. Obviously, this is not a question you can ask in a standard quiz – not many people would have heard ‘Galang’. One should not really ask which song is being covered when the cover is so radically different and the original is hardly that famous.

So I came up with the question ‘The song is a cover from the X’s first album, which is named after X’s father. X’s second album is named after X’s mother, and the third album is named after X. ID X and all three albums.” A nice way to play a song that I like and make a question out of the fact that M.I.A’s albums have this naming convention. And if I guess right, her next album will be named after her baby. To be very honest, I was not too happy about the question because it seemed too self-indulgent, in addition to being badly phrased. When I started thinking of the round where I could ask people to search, I was searching around for a ‘hook’ – some topic that could jump out into multiple strands of trivia. M.I.A seemed a nice way to start this off. And definitely not because I thought Maya was among the awesomest albums of 2010.

So, what did we know about M.I.A? The breakout track for her was ‘Paper Planes’, which featured in the trailer to Pineapple Express before it went stratospheric in Slumdog Millionaire. Not many people know that the backing guitar riff to ‘Paper Planes’ was a sample of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’. (Yeah, even I didn’t, until I checked out the Wikipedia entry sometime early last year.) In quizzing circles, well, at least in those cycles where people occasionally name-drop Hipgnosis as answers to any question involving multiple album covers, the Clash’s London Calling is well-known for the way it copied the fonts of Elvis Presley’s first studio album.

Pineapple Express refers to a weather phenomenon, and the whole Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen/James Franco cartel connection was ripe for the picking for a convoluted connect. Franco obviously tied into Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire, the other M.I.A tangent, because he stars in Boyle’s latest 127 Hours. Rogen and Green Hornet get a nod, as do Franco and Spiderman. And Freaks and Geeks, hell yeah.

Slumdog Millionaire leads us to Vikas Swarup and QnA, and the South African Boeke Prize (the list of awardees makes it clear that there is some kind of Indian bestseller list tie-up with the way the Boeke jury thinks). There was also the case of Danny Boyle thanking Anurag Kashyap in his movie, and Kashyap returning the favor in Dev D because Boyle suggested the use of a still camera for Dev’s drug-trip scenes. Dev D led to Sarat Chandra and Devdas and its multiple adaptations, and Sarat Chandra to Parineeta and its multiple adaptations as well, which also covered the obligatory Lit part of the MELA.

Hmm, yeah, ‘face to face with’ is ‘Roobaroo’, in Urdu. Naresh Iyer and Vijay Iyer have nothing in common except for their family name, but who am I to avoid a gratuitous Rahman reference if I can help it?