The pursuit of ‘knowledge’

Brahman Naman, Netflix’s first Indian film, follows Naman and his cronies as they navigate the world of excessive secretion of male hormones (and other bodily fluids), Bangalore in the eighties, college and more such mundane events that occur in the lives of twenty year old boys. Naman is an elitist, casteist, sexist prick who also happens to be a quizzer. You could doubt your assessment at this point (as I did) – are quizzers usually elitist, casteist, sexist? I don’t think I stuck around long enough to find out.

When I was eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, my school teachers discovered I knew stuff. There was a funny test we were made to take at the end of every term, a General Knowledge Test (and this grade showed up in your report card too, against a column marked G.K.). By some freak coincidence, I scored high on this test, because I knew answers to absolutely strange combinations of questions.

Who are Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po?

Teletubbies!

(There is no reason for a middle school student to know this – Teletubbies is the cartoon equivalent of watching paint dry, with the strangest creatures who look like onesies filled up with air, and a sun that resembles a baby. It’s all very surreal. Also, it’s for toddlers – I think.)

Shweta Prasad won a National Award for her role in this children’s film.

Makdee!

Now that I have had enough time to reflect on the things we do in school, I cannot imagine a more useless activity than quizzing. Is it reveling in the accumulation of trivia? Does it automatically translate into a feeling of superiority? What does one do with this knowledge crammed into their brain? I cannot seem to decide if I enjoyed it or not back then. I remember the small thrill that went through me when I got an answer right, and I soaked up the attention without complaint (of course). But I also remember the anxiety that builds in the moments before the verdict is revealed, the panic that you might not know enough, the disappointment when another team presses the buzzer before you do. I remember having to show up in the weekends to practice for the Bournvita Quiz Contest and the (short-lived) fan girl moments when I finally met Derek O’Brien (quizmaster hosting said contest).

Brahman Naman showcases a quizzing culture that I am (fortunately) not familiar with (I haven’t been in touch with it for over a decade now). Why are there so few women? In a scene that felt a bit too close for comfort, Naman’s team is short of one person, and the girl who has a crush on him fills in. It isn’t required that she know anything, she’s only there to take up a seat. But even when she does know an answer, Naman and the others refuse to acknowledge her contribution. Then I think of a team mate from long ago, the embarrassment I felt when he asked me to not open my mouth during a quiz. He was confident he’d know it all, and that my contribution would be minimal. But it was even more humiliating to realize he did know it all, and I didn’t know as much.

Interestingly, the movie treats its women with more respect than you would expect from a masturbatory comedy in the same genre as American Pie. [Bonus points for the most creative (and scary) use of a fan, a fish tank and a refrigerator.] The women are clear about what they want, and eventually make decisions that are best for them. The men are sex-crazed and sexually repressed – even something as normal as a girl answering the phone is sexualized in Naman’s mind. Unlikeable people can have movies made about them too, and Brahman Naman stops just short of being an unwatchable movie.

Seriously, though, what use is quizzing?

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2 thoughts on “The pursuit of ‘knowledge’

  1. As a child I was in awe of the quizmasters and those who did well on these things. I saw this as knowledge beyond the school books. I was one of those who could do better in quizzes about movie song lyrics. I did read the famous book titles and their authors and the currencies and flags of various countries. I could never name the chief ministers of various states or the plays written be Shakespeare so I never got to participate beyond the classroom level. On one hand I can say it is all frivolous mugging up. But on the other hand, I meet so many people who have no idea where Germany is situated and I wonder WHAT they studied in their history classes and if they ever read the books they studied in school. So many people know so little about the world around them and if something is not going to give them instant marks or a heavy cash prize they don’t bother to learn it. In that way, quiz enthusiasts do seem well read and knowledgeable. They need loads of trivia to make the cut.

    Before I started reading Harry Potter, I used to be irritated about the HP trivia question in each Young World Quiz. What is SO important about a couple of books (only 2 were released then) that every week we are asked about Harry’s Bank’s name and his favourite sport etc.? I guess I have outgrown the phrase of knowing trivia. Or maybe not.

    So who really said, “elementary, my dear watson”? It was P.G.Wodehouse. I know it because I actually read Psmith, Journalist. I later cross checked with Google. I was right. Collecting trivia is fun, stumbling upon it accidentally is much more thrilling.

    The other thrilling trivia discovery was the origin of “Meme”. Richard Dawkins tentatively puts forward the word in the book “Selfish Gene”. He proposed calling it mimeme, from the Greek word meaning “that which is replicated.” He wrote in his book, “I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.” One of the very few times that Dawkins sounds humble. Splendid chap.

    I will stop here, enough trivia for one day. 🙂

    Off to the next post.

    Liked by 1 person

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