Vantage point

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Quizzing in my Engineering days in Pune, and occasionally IITB, one heard a lot about Parnab Mukherjee (not to be confused with the Deefence minister), the legendary quiz master who apparently asked questions from memory, and never carried a set of written questions. The opinion on Parnab was sharply divided. His fans said that shows that he knows his questions inside out, and does not need to carry a piece of paper. His detractors (far outnumbering his fans) said he does not need a paper because he makes up questions and their answers anyway.

Today, through Aniruddha Dutta's Quiz Blog, I came across a few scathing blog posts about Parnab -


A lot of quizzers whom I respect consider Parnab to be a huge fraud.

I have been to only one Parnab quiz, which was the general quiz at IIT Kanpur's fest in 2004. As I recall the experience, this is what comes to mind -

The IITK students first gave an "introduction" of the QM, which said - "Dr.(sic) Parnab Mukherjee is a PhD from Princeton university. having studied under the famous John Nash, and is a former World debating Champion.....blablabla".

Then Parnab came on stage, wearing a looooooong Kurta. You guys know the kurta Amol Palekar wears in Golmaal? Parnab's was the exact opposite. Palekar's kurta hardly extends below the waist, while Parnab's just about shows a few inches of his jeans.

The elims would have 25 questions he said, and started reading them out one by one. What struck me was the high percentage of questions about leftist fundas. The others were all know-it-or-you-don't types. All in all, the elims were disastrous. Even then, miraculously, me and my team mates from IIML qualified for the finals.

The finals, like the elims, were conducted from memory, were heavy on leftist fundas, and were know-it-or-you-don't types, with very little scope for workability.

At that point of time, I remember doubting the veracity of a lot of questions which seemed totally made up, like Parnab-bashers had predicted. However now I can't remember most of them. A couple that I can recall are as follows -

The question was about a Chilean leftist organisation and spoke about what all it did in Chile. Most of the teams passed. we were the last team to attempt the question. My philosophy while quizzing is to never say pass, and give the nearest possible answer. So not expecting any points, I said 'Tupac Amaru' because it was Peruvian leftist organisation, and Peru was close to Chile. To my shock, Parnab said "Correct", and gave us the points! None of the teams protested, I assume because they did not know about the Tupac Amaru.

I also remember the question we were asked in the infamous "Speciality round", in which Parnab tells you to choose any topic you like and he will ask you a question on it. He says it can be as obscure as possible, and he will still be able to ask a question. Not very difficult when you make up questions, eh? Some of my friends who have sat through many parnab quizzes recommend that one should choose as general a topic as possible. Then he goes easy on you and asks a reasonable questions, often even an authentic question. But if you try to act smart and give him a very obscure topic, he really makes you regret.

I suggested to my team-mates that since at that point, we were 3rd, and had a shot at the top place, and the 5000 rupees cash prize, we should give him a generic topic, and play safe. However my Bong team-mate Rony said he had a topic in mind which he knew inside out - Books by Satyajit Ray. I personally felt that a Bong challenging another Bong by pretending to know Ray books better than him would be suicidal. But Rony was insistent, so Rajk and I agreed.

On hearing our choice of speciality subject, Parnab gave a diabolical smile. He thought for a few seconds, and asked -

"Which tribal sport is shown as being played in Ray's novel Whatchamacallit?" (sorry, I don't remember the name, maybe Rony can enlighten us)

Rony was positive there was no sport played in that novel, so we said sepak takraw, which was wrong. The fourth team timidly answered "Boomerang?". Parnab said "Correct!!". Most teams had Bongs, and they erupted in protest, including the team which had given the supposedly right answer. firstly, boomerang is not a sport. Secondly, it does not feature in the novel, they said. However Parnab took the "QM's decision is final" way out, and showed us how stupid we were for acting smart.

The next round was even more ridiculous. We were all given newspapers, and were told to choose a page. Then we were given five minutes to go through the page. Parnab would then go through it himself, and ask a question to which the answer could be found on the page.

We chose a page, Parnab went through it and asked -

"Which institution, mentioned on this page, has in its main hall a painting by Raja Ravi Varma, and has among its alumni famous names such as Deepak Chopra and Sushmita Sen?"

I spied the name of some Delhi college on the page and answered that. However it turned out the answer was DPS RK Puram, also mentioned elsewhere on the page.

The net informs me that Deepak Chopra was born in 1947, while DPS RK Puram was started in 1972. So unless Chopra was 25 when he completed his schooling, the question was nothing but poppycock. I did not bother to check the Sushmita Sen or the Varma painting bit, but I'm sure they would be wrong as well. I am also pretty certain that had we given DPS RK Puram as the answer, he would have stated the other college as the answer.

All in all, the quiz was a harrowing experience. bad, and definitely concocted questions, no hint of objectivity, and bizarre rounds.

One thing about which I must commend Parnab is the speed with which he comes up with lies and how confidently he propounds them. But then, being a hardcore leftist, I guess it comes naturally (sorry, couldn't resist that dig ;)).

It seems like a majority of the country knows what a fraud Parnab is. Surprisingly though, he keeps getting invited to conduct quizzes, and that too by esteemed institutions like the IITs. Why, I have never understood. Its not like there aren't other afforable quality Quizmasters available in India (there is your's truly :)).

Maybe it was the lack of awareness and the lack of networking among organisers across campuses.

However now that we have blogs, they can be used to spread the word. Hopefully we can replace the Parnab-mania prevalent in several colleges, with a regard for quality quizzing, and a regard for truth rather than an ability to conduct paper-less quizzes.

If anyone reading this blog post knows about someone organisation which is planning to invite Parnab to conduct a quiz, please forward this link, as well as other links listed earlier to them.