(Mirrored on my personal blog.
Parnab Mukherjee (you can see a picture here). That one name is guaranteed to make any serious quizzers blood boil. In his many years of conducting quizzes, he has chalked up a reputation for many things. He's been accused of embellishing his resume, lying about his education, unfairly influencing the outcome of quizzes and having a 6-year old alter ego. In fact, as the saying in quizzing circles goes, the "b" in his name (pronounced "Por-nob" in Bengali) should be left out, because his quizzes are so obscene. But all that is hearsay. I am now in a position to give you the dope on Parnabda first hand because today, I have had the infinite pleasure of actually attending a genuine 24-karat Parnab quiz.
When Salil told me that Parnab was conducting the SCIT Business Quiz, I knew I just had to go. Yes, the quiz was in a remote corner of Pune, and that the organisers were charging an obscene 100 bucks per participant*, but how often do you get to see India's best bad quizmaster perform? I found me an equally enthusiastic partner, and after spending a lot of money on petrol and the exorbitant entry fee, we were there. The quiz, as usual started late (I suspect this was Parnab's fault more than the organisers'). Almost an hour after the indicated time, in walked the great man himself. He then proceeded to conduct the elimination round without referring to any notes whatsoever. In fact, the questions were so off-the-top-of-his-head that he asked a volunteer to write them down so that they would remember them when it was time to check the answers. In theory, such paperless quizzing is what makes him (theoretically) great quizmaster. In theory. Communism works, in theory. But I digress. The elims were extremely so-so. Many of the questions were only tenuously related to business. We didn't do very well at all. We calculated we scored 6 out of 25, and there were many teams who said they'd scored 7s and 8s. We reconciled ourselves to watching the finals fromthe audience seats, and partook of a (really good) repast at the SCIT cafeteria.
We got back to the auditorium 15 mintes late, when they were just announcing the qualifiers, and we found that Ganesh and Salil had qualified for the finals. To our great surprise, so had we. We took our seats on stage, and the long (and allegedly false) introduction of the quizmaster began. This time, they left out the bit about him attending Penn State and Princeton (where he studied Econometrics under John Nash, no less). This may be because of the aforementioned schools' unreasonable reluctance to acknowledge their association with Mr. Mukherjee, but we'll let that pass for now. We will let the fact that several other unsubstantiated claims were made pass. We will even let the fact that Parnabda has really long, scary fingernails pass, and get on to the point of this article, the quiz.
The quiz was, in a word, weird. The questions, as in the elims, were asked without reference to any notes. The answers, too, were given without reference to notes. This rather unfortunate coincidence has led to uncomfortable questions about some of Parnabda's facts. However, since many of the questions were on topics that no one present had ever heard of, we were not in a position of actually challenging the great man. The only complaint I have to make about his four normal rounds is that they were either extremely arbitrary or extremely easy.
The two Parnab Special rounds, of course, were a different story. I call them "Parnab Special"s because I am sure no other quizmaster in the world has either the pizaz or the maaz to attempt them. The first of these Parnab Specials was the newspaper round. The gist of the newspaper round is that you get a newspaper, you choose you a page, and Parnab asks you a question that appears on the page. We chose the front page of the newspaper assigned to us (the 9th July issue of The Hindu). Parnab agreed, and began giving us a lot of gas about couriers, Meghdhoot and the Indian Postal Department. Then, changing subjects with aplomb (and leaving us wondering about the necessity of the aforementioned gas) he asked us the name of the two leading characters in Whatchamacallit, a book by Kalidas. Confused by the explanation of the round given us by Parnab, we mumbled some answer. Parnab smiled and told us that the correct anwer, Shiva and someone else. And how did he link it to our assigned newspaper? Very simple. In a obscure corner of our page, was a tiny 2 sq cm ad for Neelkanth Jewellers. And Neelkanth, as any idiot knows, is one of Lord Shiva's names. Simple, no? The outsatnding brilliance of this question left me stunned, and I didn't really listen to the questions asked the others, but my partner assured me that they were equally astounding.
But the showcase round, as in any other Parnab quiz, was the speciality round. Speciality rounds feature in many Indian quizzes, but the twist in Parnab's version is that you can choose a topic of your choice, off the top of your head, and he asks you a question off the top of his. Your topic can be as obscure as you wish, in fact, he encourages obscurity. However, having been warned that Parnab punishes obscurity, I chose the most general topic I could think of, History. On being prodded to narrow my speciality, I chose Western History. He smiled, and asked me the British Prime Minister who preceded Margaret Thatcher. He gave several clues, saying that the man in question was a Tory, an ex-businessman, and a founder of the New Labour tradition that Tony Blair belongs to. I answered James Callaghan, because although his biodata did not correspond with what Parnab gave in his clues (he was a Labour Party member who used to be a civil servant), he was Thatcher's predecessor**, and that was the question. Parnab disagreed, and said that the answer was Edward Heath. Now Heath, although a Tory, was not Thatcher's predecessor as PM. Nor was he ever a businessman. But such is Parnab's amazing stage presence, his supreme self-confidence, and his extreme pig-headedness that I did not attempt to dispute the answer. He went to the other teams, who had chosen such amazing topics as Heinz and Campbell Soup. Parnab rose to the occaison and asked superlative question, which of course we were unable to answer. Afetr this round, the quiz finished (to the great relief of all involved) and to our greta surprise, we finished third. Due to extreme mental anguish, I fail to recall the names of the winners and runners up, but they did well, and I do not grudge them their extra prize money. I was just glad that the ordeal was over, and ran home.
Thus ended my first Parnab quiz. Will I ever attend another, given the opportunity? Of course I will! This was the most entertaining quiz I ever went to. Parnab truly lives up to his reputation of being overconfident, obnoxious, and the best bad quizmaster in India. What a guy!
PS: I have an idea about an interesting meme. I have included links to every previous anti-Parab article I could find. How about, every time anyopne writes about Parnab, they include links to all the previous articles, so that we have all the relevant opinions and evidence in one place? The next person to write about Parnab, please try it out.
* Before I get any hate mail form SCIT junta, I'll just clarify this. The fee was for all ten-twelve events in the fest, and so wasn't all that exorbitant. We felt it was bad because we had to fork out that much for just one event. I'm sure the guys who took part in multiple events found it reasonable.
** See the list of British PMs here.