October 14, 2010

The Genesis of Chakravyuh

Reproduced with (I hope :D ) the blessings of my quizzing seniors at the BCQC is the story of how one of India's finest  open general quizzes started off.
I was lucky to be studying in COEP the years 1999-2003 and being part of the Boat Club Quiz Club, one of the finest quizzing legacies / club anywhere in the world...I still very much remain a part of this fraternity , though I be domiciled in distant lands nowadays...

Here then (links to BCQCs own website  on the title to this blog post) reproduced  is the blog (LINK TO POST HERE) by my immediate quizzing senior (Gaurav Sabnis who passed out of COEP in 2002 ) :

The Genesis of Chakravyuh

This is a mail i had sent on the Inquizitive list a couple of years back, describing the birth of COEP's own quiz, Chakravyuh. The mail was written at a time when it looked as if Pune quizzing was dead, and the rejuvenation from VIT and Fergusson had not taken place.

I must be one of the luckiest quizzers in Pune, timewise. Boat Club (BC) quizzing was in a state of rapid evolution from the time I was in first year until the time I was in the final year. Those must definitely be the best 4 years (if not among the best) of quality quizzing in COEP and in Pune. There were great quizzes and quizzers in colleges like AIT, Fergusson, AFMC (grudgingly, I admit, they make the cut), COEP and of course PICT and a really good Verve quiz (very ephimeral, driven by just one exceptional individual - Hirak Parikh). Of late, the zenith has been reached with a Mastermind from our midst. But all other indicators suggest of a stagnation, if not a decline. I must wait to see the questions from BCJ and Chakravyuh 2003 before I can pass a final judgement on what is happening to Pune quizzing.

This is the story behind the birth of Chakravyuh. It was an age where men were men, women were women, children were children, and so on, but basically quizzers were quizzers. Every batch in COEP had at least 2 or 3 "dedicated" quizzers. Most of them were top class quizzers too, but most importantly, they were dedicated. Wherever we went, we always had the biggest contingent of quizzers (In fact, I suggest that BCJ registration be at a subsidised rate for us, since we have always come with at least 6 or 7 teams, even in the leanest year =-)). I still remember quizzing in my first and second year( 1999 and 2000). The teams of George and Kunal, Jitendra and Salil (whatever happened to those two??) and Sujay and Ramanand used to be there in almost every final of a quiz in Pune. We would either win or come second, since the only competition came in form of "Bhatta plus 1" from AFMC or the "big four" of AIT (Kapil, Samrat, Navneet and Shrikanth, for the uninitiated) in different permutations (I did my bit winning the Mood-I Conundrums in my Second Year). With such domination of the quizzing (which was to keep growing), we often wondered why COEP did not have its own quiz. Domkundwar was the Principal and George told a harrowing story of what happened when he had made an attempt to start one. When he had gone to Dommy with the idea for such a quiz, he was met with a barrage of hostile questions like "What is your attendance?" , "Show me your class notes", and "I shall speak to your project guide about how you work". Needless to say that the idea had been vetoed as emphatically as possible.

There was a general sense of resignation amongst us COEP-ians with everyone believing in the "It's a government college, nothing can change" adage. This was of course in my first and second year. What made us shake off this inertia when I reached Third Year (2000-2001) was a noticeable change in the quizzing culture of the BC that no one has quite spoken about at length. During this phase, there was a slow but steady paradigm shift in our quizzing, with the culture moving from a more "quiz oriented" to a "question oriented" direction. This means that while earlier, emphasis was laid on the fact that there was a quiz, with the minimal level of competency, now we laid more emphasis on the quality of questions. Making great questions was considered as much of an achievement as winning a quiz. While earlier getting questions from quiznet or the KCircle sites was acceptable, it now became a sacrilege. So the days of "two people getting 60 questions every saturday" to the Boat Club were gone, simply because the level had improved, and emphasis was placed on originality.

Since quizmastering became as reverred as quizzing, there was a renewed thrust towards efforts for a COEP quiz. Domkundwar was slated to retire and that helped too. So in my third year, when he finally made way for an interim Princi, Mrs. Jog, we tried again. This of course was the "Year of the Grandslam". It started with me and Neeraj winning the Fergusson Inquizzitions, and later, Sujay and Ramanand sweeping each and every major quiz in sight (Verve, BCJ, Mensa, Shyam Bhatt, and some more). The list of COEP quizzing achievements was nothing to be scoffed at. With this impressive list, I drafted a proposal in February for a quiz to be held in March, during the college gathering and went to meet Jog.

As is usual in COEP, students are given the last priority for meeting the Princi. I waited alone outside the office for hours together on many afternoons before I finally got to meet the grand dame. She took one look at the letter and shot it down saying "I am just a temporary principal, and there is already Fervour going on. I can not spare staff". I tried the arguments "It hardly needs any money, we don't need any staff, we need only the audi and nothing else", but to no avail. She was firm. She could not sanction an event at this stage. My frustration reached its peak and it showed on my face. This probably led to her saying "There is a Gathering Committee meeting next week, give me this proposal then, and we will think about it. But don't get your hopes too high".

As I reported this to the then quizzers, i.e, Sujay, Ramanand, Harish and Neeraj, there was again this general sense of resignation, like "Is college ka kuch nahi ho sakta". No one had any hopes from the Gathering Meeting since the committee was not really very sympathetic to our demands, interested more in spending 20,000 on a crummy music show than 3,000 (yes, that was our measly demand) on a quiz.

But the morning before the meeting as I was about to leave for college, I had a brainwave. I decided to redraft the covering letter for the proposal and rely on emotion to get us through. Earlier it was waxing eloquent on our achievements, like the long list of wins that year (about 10 or so, including smalltime quizzes). Now I decided to go for the lady's jugular. I filled it with a lot of emotion. I don't have the letter right now, it must be on my computer at home, but this is basically the gist of it -

"We have been dedicatedly practising our quizzing every Saturday. We work hard to maintain our standards. And this hard work has been rewarded with great results. We have won each and every quiz in sight, even done well in quizzes in Mumbai despite no financial assistance from the college. There is NO OTHER sport or field, be it debate, rowing, football, drama, in which the domination of COEP is so complete. Because of us, COEP's name is synonymous with success in the quizzing scene. Our list of victories speaks for itself. We do this despite having no annual budget allotted to us. Whatever is sanctioned is usurped by the Debate Club for their travels. Inspite of zero assistance from the college, we are doing so well.

And now we just wish to have our own quiz. We don't ask for any vast amount, just 3000 rupees. Is that too much to ask? When 20,000 are spent on an internal music show, 3000 is less than peanuts. We don't ask for any staff to help us. We will manage on our own with the small number of volunteers. All we want is the auditorium for some hours. And we are utterly dejected that such meagre demands are summarily rejected.

It is as if the college does not care whether we do well or not. There is no appreciation of our wins, and we get a step motherly treatment. We are very disappointed and the whole zest for quizzing may die out......."

blah blah blah, I whined on and on, hoping it would have an effect on the lady.

What happened in the meeting (I was not there) was that after all matters were discussed, Sujay, who was present there being the Football Secretary, said "Ma'am there is the matter of the quiz..." and she interrupted him. Then she spoke, under the effect of the letter, apparently, telling the committee about the "poor quizzers" who do se well despite the lack of any support and how they deserved to have the quiz since they were asking for just 3000 rupees and all. The committee of course agreed. In fact Jog talked of drawing up a resolution so that funds from the money that the college makes for transcripts be allotted to the quiz so that it will not be dependent on the Gathering. Wonder what happened to that.

So anyway, a friend of mine, who was the HAM Club secretary called me up from the college and conveyed the good news that the quiz had been sanctioned. After this we started working on war footing. Questions were never a problem, but we had little experience of how to publicise it properly. We decided that all five of us senior quizzers would make questions, i.e, Ramu, Sujay, Harish, Neeraj and moi so that we could not participate, and COEP winning would be unlikely (like AIT and unlike AFMC, we were wary about even the smallest hint of the R-word). It was decided to have an intra-COEP Mastermind like contest ( indicator of the future glory?) during the time when elims were checked so that COEP-ians did not feel excluded from the participants scene. We did all the running around, like getting an LCD projector allotted (no easy job, though the college had 3), getting the auditorium set up, the sound system working, and all.

It was decided to make it a seamless quiz, with nothing like a separate "audio" or "visual" round. That would be our USP, everything mixed. Each of us five made 30 questions and finally integrated it one midnight in the august company of mosquitoes on the Boat Club, where the Punt Formation practice was taking place. Getting a computer assigned from the college would have been a full day job and we were so sick and tired of all the bureaucractic hassles we had endured till then that we decided to use my comp. Neeraj got his car all the way from Vimannagar early morning and we lugged the PC to the college. The publicity could have been better, but really did not get much help from the FE and SE kids(indicators of the future non-glory?) except for the ever sincere Bimal and Nupur . Credit must however be given to Manish mahajan for coming up with the name - Chakravyuh. Just the five of us handling the questions, red tape and the publicity was too much. Still, about 40 teams turned up. This is where the difference made by the freshers helping out at BCJ shows. Anyway, March 16 dawned, and the quiz happened on time.

The quiz went pretty fine and a detailed report of the finals can be found on the inquizitive archives. The compering was shared by Sujay, Ramanand and Harish, and Neeraj and I handled the computer and other off-stage things. I don't exactly remember the entire line-up for the finals, but here's a shot at it. There was the Infy team of Shrirang and Amalesh, there was an ex-AIT team of Samrat and Navneet, we had Niranjan and Swapnil teaming up, and there was a COEP team of Amrish and..someone. The Infy team won it with a vast margin, and the ex-AITians came second, with Niranjan and Swapnil (named "Suvarnagram", a combo of the names of us 5 organisers, a great gesture) came third. Rahul Srinivas won "Abhimanyu",the intra-college Mastermind contest with the topic "Harry Potter Books".

By this time, though the interim Princi Jog had left, and the new Principal, Ghatol had just taken charge a day ago. We sent someone to invite him, and he actually turned up, stayed for the whole quiz, and was apparently loving it. When we invited him on stage to give away the prizes, he gushed a lot about what a great event the quiz was and how he was thinking hard for every question. He complimented us on having the best event of the gathering (he said this some days later at the closing ceremony of the gathering too).

Chakravyuh 2001 ended with the new Princi in the saddle being an admirer of the quiz (a fact that helped things the following year). Everyone appreciated the questions, the punctuality, and the organisation. Finally, COEP's own quiz had happened, and it was a smashing success.

It was great coming back to Chakravyuh in 2004 as a participant, and win it teamed up with Neeraj. Looking forward to Chakravyuh 2005

My usual quizzing pardner Maniche & Self  had a couple of cracks at Chakravyuh & Abhimanyu with some not so major achievements . We did qualify on stage for the 2002 edition if my memory serves me correctly. I also qualified for the finals of Abhimanyu( COEP's intra- Mastermind style solo quiz) in the very first edition 2001, but that year the solo crown belonged to my other occasional Quizzing-pardner-in-crime Rahul Srinivas, my quizzing exploits with whom formed part of another blog post  (LINK HERE)

Chakravyuh is very , very special to me and I hope that I can team up (ideally with Maniche) with someone to take the Chakravyuh (open quiz) crown. Till that day arrives, I shall always remain a quizzer with a point to prove...

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