How a club in Calcutta redefined Inquisition (2024)

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How a club in Calcutta redefined Inquisition (2)

Kolkata: For those aligned to posterity, Spain’s Grand Inquisitor Torquemada was indeed the boss of his craft. But for many, affiliated to the present, the Dalhousie Institute would give him a run for his two-hundred-odd scalps. As the patron saint, not necessarily the pioneer, of a quasi-cerebral movement called quizzing. Quasi, simply because it acquires the hues of bullfighting, quite like live television debates in our racy republic.

For folks like me, deeply keen but grossly inadequate operatives of this persuasion, DI ( Dalhousie Institute) was the undisputed Lok Sabha, nothing common about it. Located in a cosy nook off the hullabaloo of Ballygunge, its stature resided firmly in the deliberately elusive goings-on. A secret society of sorts, marginally secondary to the Mensa, with walk-ins permitted only for those with a proven pedigree. Neither wealth nor health nor stealth, but a commitment for self-flagellation. Purely mental, lest you be alarmed.

My very first exposure, courtesy a generous uncle, was the Bata North Star Quiz in 1986, anchored by a voluminous apostle named Sadhan Banerjee. Most exquisite, in visibility and demeanour, were the earnest participants, for whom the outcome of every query was clearly salvation or sacrilege, intensity the stock in trade. Quirky intellectuals in multiple veneers, they were united clearly, by a couple of persuasive worldly factors. An ancient sage, branded simplistically as Old Monk, and a deep-fried rendition of a recently browbeaten meat, chilli beef for the layman. In potency and absolution, a Grand Slam-winning doubles pair, blessed with the acumen to unleash the power bank of every brain.

Most successful teams, at least visibly, seemed adequately fortified by this uncanny combination, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy possibly the only permissible benchmark in terms of amicable contradictions. The Old Monk was nothing short of Gumnaami Baba, an enigma cloaked in a riddle and whatever else. While the chilli beef was clearly the pinch hitter, a delirious amalgam of seductive flavours, persona non grata for many, adding to the allure. Gestalt at its very finest, denied the safety net of conformance, blessed with the addiction of investigation.

The stalwarts were clearly rockstars in their own undeniable right, a function of brainly possession. A certain type was the knowhow knowall, the bewildering handshake of being there and done that. Then there was the saintly sage, equipped with the Wikipedia from the ages. Not to be missed was the scholastic aspirant, juggling the duality of twelfth fail and Raisina Hill, knowing not what tomorrow may suggest. Many were simply the clerically knowledgeable, seeking avenues of exposition that would justify the exploration. Then, there were the callow wannabes who would simply show up and desperately seek to be counted, as a human and not a statistic. Happy equilibrium, you may conclude or uneasy calm, you are entitled to infer.

The victory rituals, whether to a question or to a triumph, were often patented. Some considered an expansive victory parade, others ceded to the decency of decorum, many privately exulted in the joy of correctness, a select few looked heavenwards like the fast bowler Mohammed Shiraz, while the seemingly sanest calmly sipped the enigmatic waters. Those who failed to answer accurately the municipal origins of Hemingway or some such elusive puzzle, simply looked away as a surrogate gesture for looking within, deep within. To question the failures of genes, education, orientation, parentage, siblinghood or any such defensible variable, as a sufficient alibi for continuance of existence.

From DI ( Dalhousie Institute), the culture did spread far and wide, qualifying to be an institution. Neil O Brien, the presiding GOAT, spawned a formidable legacy extending to Andy, Barry and the blockbuster Derek. Alban Scolt, I remember well, from an old school conducting the Eddie Hyde Memorial edition. R M Sen, of Unilever pedigree, was as tricky as Shane Warne while C P Singh and Jayashree Mohanka captained the new age baton holders, embellished by tradition while untarnished by silos. Outliers, rather outsiders, included Dr. Navin Jayakumar from Bangalore, yet another beauteous hub of this curious passion. Siddharth Basu may have earned broadcasting kudos, but those in the know viewed him as a respectable but processed version of the original recipe. .

Technology did come to the party in more ways than one, but the beauty of a physical encounter remains reasonably unsurpassed. Thankfully, quizzes thrive without having to strive and many worthies, old and new, revel in this gorgeous game of the mind. The venues have spread far and wide and the hallowed portals of DI are now worthy of heritage appreciation, but certainly not exclusive patronage. Covid left its indelible mark on this aspect of civilisation as well, with the club enduring an extended impasse.

Just recently, in a venerable institution, I attended a quiz that engaged the finest pedigree of intellect and meaning. The questions were sharp, the answers most refined, and the audience appropriately electric but something was bothersome. Something beyond the definition of words but cognisable within the boundaries of pure, untampered, feelings.

Perhaps it is the presence and absence of emotion, in contradictory tandem. The presence of the sharpest minds, undeniable in any age cohort. The absence of the original aspiration, difficult to describe in current times. When the only reason to score was to belong and not to win. Where the prize for accuracy was just the nod of those who you revered.

There are many quizzes being conjured in the country, as we read. But none to match the magic of DI, in the days when so few meant so much. To so many, sincerely in the know.

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How a club in Calcutta redefined Inquisition (2024)

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