I grew up in a family where we were intense, almost obsessive, about many strange things. During my mid-to-late teens, I don’t think a day passed without there being a “session” at home. What do I mean by “session”? A gathering of people, numbering greater than 10, all focused on some activity or the other. What activities? They varied, in mini-seasons lasting a week or two, and included:
- Carroms (played in fours lying at odd angles on the floor)
- Table-tennis (on the dining table, using books to form the net
- Card games aplenty (from “56” to Memorial Power, finding pairs, to Canasta, to TwoToTheLeft)
- Chess (not as many takers though
- Categories (which we called NamePlaceAnimalThing and played with real gusto).
- Scrabble (played with an incredible intensity)
- Board games in general, particularly Cluedo, but including Ludo, Chinese Checkers and Snakes & Ladders
That’s when it was too hot to play outside. Participant ages ranged from 6 to 60 (really) and everything was played with ferocious yet humorous spirit. Wonderful times. Usually half the people present were friends of one family member or the other, the rest were family or neighbours.
Sure we fought. It wasn’t always all sweetness and light. But in the main we played, played as close family and close friends, and we’ve stayed close ever since.
What I described above was a daytime and weekend and holiday thing for the most part. Weekday evenings were all about hanging around together and listening to music; when it got late the scene shifted to playing duplicate bridge. And we read. We read by the shelf-load, by the truck-load. Draped in strange positions all over the place, usually munching on the food that would materialise by magic.
And one more thing. We were trivia freaks, but we didn’t call it trivia. We called it quizzing. It was perfectly normal for any one person to pull a dictionary, a book of quotations or a volume of an encyclopaedia off a shelf and then start asking passers-by questions. Calcutta had a brilliant quiz scene in those days, probably still has.
[Strangely enough, I don’t remember seeing anyone study. Or do homework. I can’t imagine where they could have, every room was packed with other, ultimately distracting, activity].
Anyway. As I was saying. We loved trivia. And we didn’t treat trivia so much as a test of knowledge but as a test of recall. More importantly, quizzing was a team sport and individual machismo was of no value. Sure, “golden” answers were appreciated and respected, where you knew something that no one else on the team knew. But the important thing was the team.
These values made their way into the DNA of the quiz scene in Calcutta, particularly the “recall not knowledge” principle. Any fool could come up with a question that no one could answer. The challenge was to come up with a question that every team could answer, but not necessarily within 30 seconds while under competitive pressure.
It became a fine art, setting questions that danced teasingly on the tips of tongues. Those were the days Before Google. Nowadays it is actually quite hard to set a question that’s unGoogleable, and as a result the “recall versus knowledge” principle must be under severe attack. Particularly in today’s age of ubiquitous communication. I lost interest in the UK quiz scene once mobile phones with Web browsers and Shazam entered the scene; too many people resorted to, shall we say, alternate and assisted modes of recall.
Since then, just for fun, I’ve been quietly compiling lists of questions that can’t be Googled. Which means I look at many things with an unusual perspective. Take today for example. I was “watching” the cricket in Dhaka, and when I ran down the names of the Indian team, I noticed something:
The average surname-length of the team was below 6 letters, just 63 letters across the eleven people. Very unusual. [Incidentally, I also noticed that I have children older than half the team, a sure sign of my age].
So. Cricket fiends amongst you. What’s the shortest team you can come up with, the one that would trouble the scorers the least to put up. 63 is the target to beat. Sehwag Gambhir Sharma Singh Pathan Dhoni Raina Pathan Chawla Kumar Sharma. [I remember some Leicestershire and Northamptonshire teams in the early 1980s that had quite a few short-named players, must check].
Incidentally, the full name letter count could also be a record. 68 plus 63 makes 131. That’s low. That is very low … for a country that has had a President named Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, a singer called Madurai “MS” Subbulakshmi, a composer named Laxmikant Kudalkar; and cricketers named Srinivasa Venkataraghavan and Bhagwat Chandrashekhar. [My own name and surname take up 21 letters].