Thursday, April 05, 2012

A whole lot of questions

Giri ‘Pickbrain’ Balasubramaniam is one of India's leading quizmasters. He talks about the qualities needed to be one, and the preparations that participants need to do

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a recent regional round of the Tata Crucible Campus Quiz at the Gateway Hotel, Kochi, several colleges are taking part. They include the Government Engineering College, Thrissur, Rajagiri Centre for Business Studies, Kochi, DC School of Management and Technology, Vagamon, and the Mar Athansius College of Engineering, Kothamangalam.

And during the programme, there is one voice that dominates. It is a deep baritone, full of confidence and verve, and it belongs to none other than quiz master Giri ‘Pickbrain’ Balasubramaniam. The nickname came from a pseudonym he used for a newspaper column.

“There are some tricky questions,” he tells the Kochi audience. “And the teams from Kerala are missing them.” Sometimes, he is encouraging: “Kerala is a good quizzing state.” And sometimes he is dramatic: “The final has ended like a T20 cricket match.”

Giri has been a full-time quizmaster for the past ten years. He has conducted more than 1500 shows for schools, colleges, and corporates in India, USA, UK, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Oman.

“Quizzing is becoming a big sport in India now,” he says. “There are individuals who earn prize money of Rs 10–12 lakh a year.” Incidentally, the annual turnover, including quizzes on television, is to the tune of Rs. 200 crore.

Asked for the reasons why quizzing is popular, Giri says, “Indians like information, whether it is gossip or of the constructive type. That makes them fans of any game that is mind-based.”

Giri gives an example. “Sudoku is not an Indian sport,” he says. “Yet, the most popular place for the game is in India. Anything to do with the mind works well in our country.”

You also need to have a good mind to become a quizmaster. “A lot of people think that if you are good at public speaking, you can be a good quizmaster,” he says. “But that is not true. You need to have an extensive knowledge of several subjects. A team could give an answer which is not there on your card, but is still correct. You should be able to spot it.”

Apart from that, the presentation style, the framing of questions, and the manner you get the teams to work out the answer is important. “A quizmaster is a facilitator,” says the Bangalore-based Giri. “It is not a forum for him to display his intellect. A quizmaster's role is to ask questions that participants can answer, otherwise, what is the fun? Finally, it is important to have a sense of humour. Today's youngsters like witty and snappy remarks.”

Giri has a high regard for the young quizzing talent in Kerala. “At the national school level, Kerala schools often win competitions,” he says. “Isn’t it amazing that during the Tata quiz in Kochi, there were schoolchildren in the audience who managed to answer a couple of questions?”

The top ten cities for quizzing include Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Pune, Bangalore, and Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. “It is a small city, but has a high concentration of educated people,” says Giri. “So the kids are smart.”

In order to encourage smartness among kids in rural areas, Giri conducts one of the world’s biggest IT quizzes – 14 lakh students – in association with the Karnataka government. “It helps the children to stay back in school,” says Giri. “They get excited about knowledge, and develop the belief that they are not too bad as compared to the students of the urban elite.”

Meanwhile, queried about tips on how students can get smarter at quizzing, Giri says, “Keep reading newspapers and magazines. But it should be to gain knowledge, and not necessarily to win competitions or score marks in examinations. The good news is that information is so easily accessible, as compared to ten years ago. During our college days we would win quizzes only if we sat in libraries for hours. Today, knowledge can be accessed by anybody with the click of the mouse.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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