Friday, August 25, 2006

Trivial Pursuits: World's Most Useless Knowledge

SMS query at 11:32 PM - "What is the name of the vamp who hangs out with Amjad Khan in Satte Pe Satta?"
Phone call at 2:16 PM (in the middle of a meeting) - "Which mythological character is mentioned in the ad for Manhattan credit cards?"
Follow-up call at 2:22 PM (meeting still on) - "Who the f***'s son was he?"
Email received at 9:01 AM - "Who was the first editor of Bangadarshan Patrika?"
What the hell is going on? Why am I the one who is perceived to the repository of all kinds of really arbit information? Starting from my dad right down to my cousins, everyone seems to be turning only to me for answers to problems which are completely cut-off from any practical utility.

So, I scratched my head a bit and tried to understand how this reputation (notoriety?) came about. And quite aptly, it started quite young! My classmate from school, Partha (who is now a venerable doctor) and I had this fierce competition going on about capitals of countries. Armed with an atlas (Bengali) by Chandi Charan Something, we managed to memorise the capitals of all (well, almost) the countries in the world. And we subjected each other to rapidfire rounds of the most arcane countries like Burundi (Bujumbura), Azerbaijan (Baku) and Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou)!
Now, this completely useless pursuit found public appreciation during the course of watching a comedy serial (called Hakke Bakke on solo-channel Doordarshan), during which a father's friend (coincidentally, also named Partha) happened to be visiting. In that serial, to depict a particularly tough job interview, a question was asked to the protagonist, "What is the capital of North Korea?" and in between the canned laughter, I answered "Pyongyang". My father's friend was suitably impressed. And just as a lark asked, "But do you know the capital of Somalia?". I did. "Mogadishu."
That a 10-year old would know a name which sounds like a Hindi film villain fired from a sling-shot was quite unbelievable for Partha-kaku and he became my first publicist, giving me excellent coverage across hundreds of SEC A homes across 80's Calcutta.

Then came a quiz contest.
This was one of those ones which are conducted in apartments during the 5-day Puja festivities all over Calcutta and the prize is always "Hnaad Knapano Bhooter Golpo" (Bone-chilling Ghost Stories) irrespective of the age of the winner! The quiz-master was a genial uncle, who gave you the answers itself if you asked sweetly enough for hints. This time, he had an ace up his sleeve and he was determined not to let any hints spoil that. Not that any hint was possible in the first place!
Round 3, tied at fourth place. And the question is, "What is the (snigger snigger) full name of Pee Tee Usha?" 1-second pause. "Pass?" Err. No. "Pilluvulakandi Thekaleenparambil Usha." "W-w-what?" This was the first time of could-you-repeat-the-answer-please? - and there was mayhem. I didn't have to repeat the answer to keep to the time but my reputation was sealed.
We still finished the quiz at fourth place but somehow, everybody decided that somebody who knows the full name of PT Usha is not somebody you would like to meet on a full-moon night without a rosary in hand!

Just as a monster gains strength by feeding on human fears, my Useless Knowledge Monster fed on frailties of quiz-masters across Calcutta who asked tangential questions in a misguided attempt to bring variety and the monster grew in girth and ambition.
* Aladin's father was a tailor called Mustafa.
* The skin separating the two nostrils called Columella Nasi.
* Sanjay Gandhi, Jesus Christ and Alexander the Great died at the age of 33.
* The film Karz had the maximum number of songs (4) which became the titles of other movies.
You get the picture, right? And I end up with the burden of having to explain to people why Calvin's teacher, Mrs Wormwood, is so named. Disgusting. You know, anybody who surfs Calvin & Hobbes fan sites can get the C S Lewis connection.

Now to get down to some work, the first editor of Bangadarshan Patrika was Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. (Yes, the same guy whose compositions are voluntary to sing in schools nowadays.)
The Manhattan character was GhaTotkach. (The first T is a hard one, the second soft.) He was the son of Bhima (the second Pandava) and a (good) rakshasi Hidimba. (Her brother, Hidimbo, was killed by Bhima. No, Tina - I will do no such thing to Bubu, even if he annihilates me in Monopoly again!)

Now for the vamp of Satte Pe Satta... the initial discussions seem to indicate that she is Kalpana Iyer. But why Kalpana Iyer would be cast in a film without a cabaret is a valid objection, which we are unable to resolve.
As of now, I have engaged India's foremost (resident) expert on Hindi movies to watch SpS on DVD tonight and report tomorrow. Mad Momma and her OA should feel justifiably proud that they have managed to ask me a Hindi movie question, which has remained unanswered by my panel of experts. Tonight, another expert (non-resident) on Indian cinema will also be retained to identify the aforementioned vamp. She cannot escape recognition.
Watch this space!  

UPDATE: It IS Kalpana Iyer. Non-resident (see comments) and resident experts have both confirmed. Admonishements all around as to why I make simple things complicated! Case Closed.
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