Countdown to the D-Day Part I

This very day, April 6th, last year, will go down as the trigger day, or should I say the day that determined my future path. Just as when I had a feeling, I had quite a challenging stroll in the park, though I did an excellent job of going through it.

But it Happened One Evening. It was a Sunday, April 6th, 2008. I was able to appreciate it better because of few events that preceded this day. Although one cannot fathom the relevance, personally, all the events were necessary for what I turned out to be on that day.

This goes back to December 2007, when I was making plans about visiting Rajasthan with my mother. It was just two of us. I had made all the plans for the visit.

I got a mail from a very revered senior from my college about teaming up for an All India Cricket Quiz, sponsored by History Channel. I agreed. The next few days, we spoke at the most unexpected times, No hello, Just a funda (an appreciated factoid) from cricket would pop up, when I was working, sleeping, or having food.

That was the passion he had, or the superior managerial skills to pump up the intensity before a contest.

The quiz was to be held in Delhi on the last week of January 2008. We did well to weather the cold in the first place. It so happened, I got myself acquainted with a friend of mine in Gurgaon. She was kind enough to allow me to stay in her house, made Pav Bhaji one evening, took me out with her friends to have a hot cup of chai (tea) at midnight.

That was cold, and I never experienced that before coming to Switzerland.

Pradeep and I dreamt about smashing the quiz in our very own style. This was the second time we paired up as a team, the first one for the Cricinfo Quiz conducted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan and George Binoy in Bangalore.

The theme was cricket, and we qualified for the finals and felt a bit warm inside the auditorium. The finals didn’t turn out the way we wanted. We missed quite a few sitters, coming third in the end. We left the hall disappointed and off we went to the airport. I messaged him early the next morning about taking part in the second round at Mumbai.

I was running short of cash since I had made all the arrangements for a long Rajasthan trip.

But, something inside me was haunting throughout. It was a case of redemption for me and us as a team in general. It is not often we get a chance to prove to ourselves that we are one among the league of very good Sports Quizzers in India. We knew we had to do it for ourselves if not for Rs 50000 as a cash prize for winners.

A fortnight later, Mumbai it was. On Valentine’s Day, I land in Mumbai. Oh, Ya, Good way to celebrate it, isn’t it? In my case, it was the best possible way to ward off the feelings from my previous relationship.

The next day, while he had some work to finish, I took this opportunity to meet Keith, a good friend from my undergrad days. We chatted after a long time.

Post Lunch, Pradeep and I were back for some Quizzing action. Bang bang, we were right on target from the go. We topped the prelims by miles, and it felt right for us in the finals. We earned it! Delhi episode was just a blur.

The form continued in the finals as we thrashed everyone by a 130-point margin. It was ruthless, felt for a while, as to why I idolise Sachin, Schumacher, and Sampras. It was for kicks for being sheer ruthless, not quite the way that undermines others, though. It was a point to prove for ourselves. To restore our pride, in some way, lost dignity. It was all in our minds.

“How about the All India Motorsports quiz?” – Pradeep
I said – “Let’s do it, mate.”

While I sat on a late-night flight to Bangalore from Mumbai, I wondered, Can we repeat this?

Let’s see, for the moment I was looking forward to my trip to Rajasthan.

Countdown to the D-Day – Part III

I was quite superstitious about my hair. I just had too many things running on my head from mid-2007. It turned out to be excellent fodder for my hair. I just liked it, long hair; I took good care of it. It didn’t matter; I was working because I never had doubts I would cut my hair, owing to some pressure at work or family.

And people who mattered at work and home never pressurised me either. They knew I wouldn’t budge.

Actually, in a way, it turned out better. I was able to do a lot of work, which I enjoyed, meeting clients across Bangalore and Chennai. Ok, it was a coincidence that Dhoni, too, had long hair at that time. But who cares? He was successful, and often few people referred to me as Dhoni.

Coming back, March first week 2008, I flew to Mumbai for the zonal qualifying. We had four zones of qualifying Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. The top two teams are selected for the semi-finals in Mumbai, followed by finals very same day. After a nice lunch at Pradeep’s place, we reached the auditorium.

We didn’t qualify; it wasn’t about Formula 1 alone; it was about the entire Motorsports, which was something. We both were shocked, but to be honest, we weren’t disappointed. There was a lot of quality in the teams. We felt out of place at some times when we watched the finals.

We asked if we could take part in the Chennai round with the quiz master Avinash Mudaliar. Since we had not qualified, we were allowed to take part.

Boy, the next two weeks was to determine our capabilities. Pradeep just called at odd hours, and this time he was asking me to put fundas. Once, he even asked his girlfriend to speak to me about focussing on the task ahead and not waste time with girls and other stuff. He was funny, and I admire his unique ways of pushing his partner to achieve a common goal. He knew I had it in me.

We went to Chennai two weeks later, and guess what; it turned to be one of the most challenging motorsports prelims we had ever encountered. We topped the prelims again. It was the final round of qualifying, so in a way, we weren’t dished out Formula1, etc.; it was hardcore motorsports. All forms of Motorsports. We were introduced as one of the best Sports Quizzers by Avinash Mudaliar, quite sarcastic, though. We had a point to prove.

Till the last round, Man, we had lost it. There was no way we could make it, unless, for the miracles in the buzzer round. We had to answer three questions correctly and hope others answered them incorrectly or did not answer them at all.

This was to take the second spot.

The first question, we answer. The second question, the 5th team (a team which currently in second, answers), The third Question, the leading team answers. We still had a chance if we answered two correctly and hoped the last one went unanswered.

For the fourth question, a toughie, we press the buzzer and answer.

Hi-fi’s exchanged, c’mon, we can do it.

The fifth question, no clue, we press the buzzer, we worked out quickly, and Pradeep answered Bugatti. Perfect. We were 2nd. The last question went unanswered, as we didn’t have to take a chance.

We got a round of appreciation for our late effort. It was the final two rounds; we went overboard.

Ok, we made it. At least, the sarcasm proved we were good enough for the finals. Now, we were among the top eight teams in India, after a month round of qualifying.

We felt Barcelona a bit closer. Yes, the winning team won an all-expense trip to Spanish Grand Prix 2008. Pradeep, from the beginning, had one aim, Barcelona.

And in the end, it turned out; we did this quiz, travelling crazily one place after the other in search of this.

This was what one calls chasing one’s dreams—a dream of watching a Formula One event live.

That night, at Chennai Airport, I was reflecting on few things. I wondered, did my hair play any role?

I know; I was superstitious about it. I felt I had all the luck and got everything I wanted because I had long hair. I somehow didn’t like to be under this assumption.

I saw Dhoni winning in the Australia ODI series with his short hair. Sometimes, we need to break out of this shell to understand who we are. It’s good to be getting things done, not because of the hair, because of the capabilities.

Next few days, I went about pondering, to have a hair cut or not. Fine, let me have it. And I felt a change; I was not the same guy who went about being ruthless in his work; I thought I was reborn, and I knew I was transformed emotionally, and now I was ready to look at life from a different perspective.

Just a week before the finals, I had my hair cut. I feel one of the bold moves I ever made considering the stake of the finals. I didn’t want this hair; I wanted to get out of this, it was a sort of force holding me. I wanted to be liberated. Liberated I was after the haircut.

The finals were to be held at ITC Sheraton, Mumbai. All expenses for flight, hotel stay, transfers, etc., were paid by the Times of India and BP (Bharat Petroleum).

The Last Supper before the D-day

After watching Virender Sehwag getting to his second double hundred, I took the flight early morning to Mumbai. When I got out of the airport, I saw the score on my mobile phone. The message read, “Sehwag out for 319 and Sachin for a duck”.

We were taken to our hotel, Sea Princess, right next to Hotel Taj Mahal. The view from the room was terrific, Gateway of India adjoining to the sea face. A few months later, when I visited the same place for my Visa, it was carnage after the bomb blasts.

After having a nice lunch, I relaxed for a while. Pradeep, who stays in Mumbai, met me at the venue. We all had to wear sponsored T-shirts, and the Quiz Master was Derek O Brien.

It was a showcase event as the top management from B.P., Times of India had graced the occasion. Narain Karthikeyan was the special guest, and he did his bit like a quiz master towards the end. We managed to qualify for the finals by winning the semi-finals round. The scene was set for a grand finale. After a stage of some entertainment from Mansi Scott, we began the finals.

The finals were more of a game show than a quiz final. You had lots of unusual rounds. One team wasn’t performing and you had three teams going for the kill until the final round. We were one among the three.

Final round, we did our bit, two questions to go, we had lost the race for the top spot. The top two teams tied, and we were third-placed in the end. A college team from NIT Allahabad won the jackpot.

Wait, a minute, Second Prize gets an all-expense trip to Bangkok.

Third Prize, a lot of goodie bags, including Rs 6000 worth fuel, a small trophy, a chance to stand on the podium just like in Motorsports for prize distribution. The spray of champagne for winners and a group photo.

We knew we came close, and in hindsight, if it were to be out and out finals like it is usually conducted with scoring and other things, we would have won.

Nevertheless, it was some experience to be known as the third-best team in Motorsports Quiz in India. It was nice chatting with Narain Karthikeyan after the event for few minutes.

A few days later, this event was featured in the Bombay Times, and we had our picture on it. Looking back, it was March 29th last year, when we were verge of being Famous; it turned out we were ‘Almost Famous.’

I was fortunate, my partner was Pradeep, and I learned quite many things from him. It’s no joke, he was like a mentor, and I was happy to learn the tricks of the trade, which he had been for such a long time and continues to do. He taught me to calm the nerves before a big event, and we did pull each other legs during our so-called ‘Indian Sports Quiz Trip.’

To our team names ‘W.G. DisGrace’ to Mon-key (Mann ki) Shakti Tann ki Shakti (keeping with the theme of Harbhajan – Symonds incident), we did come a long way. In India, New Year begins around the last week of March. I can say it was a new year for me on a personal front. That was it, and it all ended in Mumbai. Quizzing terms, Yes. Personally, all the above experiences heralded the dawn of my new found life.

I had so much to tell that I ended up writing a blog in early April last year titled ‘Love story or is it my Story.’ The ramifications were such that it changed my life completely.

And April 6th was the D-day that soon turned out to be an important day of our lives. I know the events that occurred in those three months last year made me write a blog on my love life about a girl I never met, cut my hair, and start a new life.

In the end, the superstitious would have won; had I not cut my hair, we could have won. Who knows?

I don’t regret it. I am here in Switzerland writing this, a day after seeing Kimi Raikonnen losing out in Malaysia this year compared to him winning on April 6th at Bahrain last year. As the race culminated the previous year, I felt I was’ Out of my Comfort Zone’ for the first time in a week.

And that’s how it stands to date. A special friend did something ‘Out of her Comfort Zone,’ and since then, she has become extraordinary in my life, and so on we went about living the days of our lives.