Sayonara Doyen : An open letter to Neil O Brien – The Pioneer of Quiz in India

27th June 2016 – Calcutta

My Dear Neil Uncle ,

I could have start this letter by addressing you by anything else but as you are a year elder to my late father I found no other word that stands stronger here.

It has another reason too. if a man without his physical presence can force a boy to take a regular lesson religiously on every Sunday morning then he ( the man ) has every right to become his uncle.

From my very young age my  father was my tutor at home.It was way back in 1983.Sunday morning of those days were fun but along with that a strict study session with father was also fixed from 8 am to 11 am after which I was allowed

When an orthodox newspaper gives you a place on it's front page on your parting it says all about you.

When an orthodox newspaper gives you a place on it’s front page on your parting it says all about you.

to go our local club where outdoor games like soccer and cricket and indoor activities like debate and quiz were cultured with almost a religious dedication.As my father was also the President of the local club me and my dada  had enough encouragement from him to be involved in all such activities. Quiz was one of that.

Quzing in a typical middle class Bengali locality in Calcutta was not that popular a game in those days but thanks to some exceptional initiatives by our local young men we had the taste of quiz even before Sidhartha Basu started Quiz Time in DD’s national channel on Sunday night.( KBC kind of light quiz show was born 17 years from that time ). For me Sunday was a fun day as I had a gala time attending quiz and debate in my para club from that age to early 1990s before the club disbanded.If this is the story then where were you Uncle ? How come you casted a magical shadow on my mind from that time ? Yes you did ! With an invisible presence you were also taking my class on every Sunday morning even before my father used to start his lesson of English or Maths to me. Astonishing it may sound but fact remains genuine.

It was the time when newspaper world of Calcutta was witnessing an amazing unimaginable battle.

In it’s  107 years of existence for the first time 4 Chowringhee Square was facing a serious competition just across the road and that is from  6 Prafulla Sarkar street.From 1982 The Statesman was challenged by newly launched The Telegraph.It came like a storm in newspaper world. Designed by professional designer, new font, bold heading and with many more it was the smartest boy in the market and with that it introduced another new thing.Instead of paper supplement it has introduced a free magazine on every Sunday to it’s readers. It was an unimaginable concept in India’s newspaper world that a Sunday supplement is served in a separate independent magazine !!!!!! That’s not all.There was surprise in it’s content as well. Apart from articles it was full of comics, puzzle,cross word and a page full of Quiz by one Neil O Brien !!!!! Quiz we all knew  a game played mostly in school and picnic but in  newspaper a full page quiz every weekend !!!!! Just a revolution. More to that you designed the page as per your idea that invited  readers involvement.

Tribute from The Telegraph from where it all started for me

Tribute from The Telegraph from where it all started for me

You started inviting questions from us and started printing them with name and address.I never sent any quiz compilation to The Telegraph but on every Sunday as soon as the paper was dropped at my uncle’s flat I used to run through the quiz page edited by you.Trust me the piece of gold that I picked form those pages of quiz made me a confident boy in school.Life was simple in 1980s. In our off time in school we used to quiz among class mates and me by digging your gold mine used to hit the bull’s eye. Soon in school I was crowned as quiz master who knows little more than all. It is  a fame I still enjoy at the age of 42.

Our entire generation got intoxicated with quizing when Sidhartha Basu started quiz show at TV on Sunday 9 pm.For us it was a family reunion in front of  TV.Me, my  brothers, father and uncle used to get engrossed  with that.It was just like having a heavy breakfast and gala dinner on a same day while breakfast in morning was served by you. As you were the quiz master in print we started collecting old pages of The Telegraph magazine.In school like me many started doing that.Thus made us your kid whom you gave light from long distance.

In 1967 when you started a revolution in a small room of Dalhousie Institute of Calcutta I still had six years in hand to born.So the mayhem of quiz that created a wave and moved young minds of sixties to an intoxication of cultivating knowledge through memory games was not seen by me.When I developed an ear to listen , an eye to see and a mind to take from early 1980s it was you who by that time had cemented the position of quiz in India.I saw you twice on stage conducting quiz but my best memories of you is not related to quiz.It was your role as a moderator in the annual Statesman debate on 16th September 1999 at Kalamandir where your oratory skill and sense of humor were best displayed. ” What is wrong with “Calcutta” ? was the topic of the panel discussion and no one can forget the way you handled  Mrinal Sen, Shyamananda Jalan, Saugata Ray and others.

You started quiz in Bengali magazine Anondomela from 1986 ( am I correct ).It was a new wave for all of us.Most of us were reader of that magazine and your quiz became central attraction.There I sent many questions to you from my own wisdom.You ignored most but

One old copy of Anondomela - 22 years ago you delighted me by giving a chance to get my name printed next to you in the same page

One old copy of Anondomela – 22 years ago you delighted me by giving a chance to get my name printed next to you in the same page

in 1992 you suddenly selected 2 questions of mine for two separate issues of Anondomela. One was like  “ Which hindi novel of Munshi Pren Chand was inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali novel ” Noukadubi” ? The correct answer ” Toofan”. Other one was ” Which road of Calcutta is now renamed as Moulana Abul Kalam Azad Sarani ” ?Correct answer is ” Narkeldanga Main Road“. Trust me Neil uncle I could not sleep all the night in thrill that day as I saw my name printed next to you.I started feeling myself a quiz master what actually I will become soon after.

From 1992 onwards I started conducting quiz shows from very basic level like in local clubs and in private function. Soon I started getting calls from various college fests.It took me to University of Calcutta to Goenka college and many more places.I started travelling Bongaon to Srirampur to Howrah to Baruipur. Then in 1995 I got a call from Amrita Bazar Patrika to contribute in their quiz page.My first contribution with 20 odd questions on 100 years of cinema was printed on March 1995 with a photo of mine just like your photo used to appear in The Telegraph. I was so overjoyed that I purchased 8 copies of that Sunday edition of Amrita Bazar Patrika and why not uncle ? I was thinking myself Somen O Brien that day and just within a month when I got a chance in The Statesman to contribute a set of quiz questions under my name I was almost dead in excitement.It all then bloomed for

Some of my published quiz compilation in The Statesman.These all are in 1999

Some of my published quiz compilation in The Statesman.These all are in 1999

me.I went on compiling quiz boxes for The Statesman till 1999 and for Amrita Bazar till the time it was alive. In 1996 when The Asian Age came in Calcutta and made quiz a cult in newspaper I became one of the most frequent contributor. It was me who was allowed to compile quiz on Durgotsav in a non stop row of 10-12 days before the festival.I did it  from 1996 to 1999. It was The Asian Age readers from whom I got fan letters not one but many and it was in The Statesman where information given by me in quiz page prompted readers to write letter to editor.Was not it too much for an insignificant boy like me ? Why I am beating my drums so loud is that if you were not there in our lives as a light house of quiz nothing would have happen – just nothing.

However you again reminded me and this time it was followed by an intellectual mishap  !!!!!

Your special quiz box in The Statesman - probably started from 1996

Your special quiz box in The Statesman – probably started from 1996

From 1996 onwards you shifted your Sunday quiz page to The Statesman and this time it was edited by you and your son.The same way you started inviting questions from readers and I responded again.To my delight on one Sunday morning I found you have selected my question as best of the week.The question was ” We all know that Tintin is a reporter by profession but for which journal he works for” ? The correct answer ” No body knows as George Remi never wrote the name of the journal for which Tintin works”.I sent this question and you with extreme confidence on me  printed it in The Statesman.

At that point of time trust me Neil uncle I had not read the first book of Tintin that is ” Tintin in the land of Soviet” and it was not the era of Google where you have everything in your smart phone.So my mistake was 100% unintentional and so was yours. A couple of years after when I first saw the book Tintin in the land of Soviets I had shock of my life !!!!!!!! There it is very clearly written that he is the reporter of a jounal named ” Le Petit Vingtieme” a french jounal.

Never before as a quiz master I had a faceloss like this.

I was almost reduced to tears.Not because that I committed a blunder but because my

The cover of that Tintin book that revealed I was wrong.

The cover of that Tintin book that revealed I was wrong.

carelessness has brought disgrace to The Statesman and a man like Neil O Brien. A paper that people think authentic and a man people think pioneer of memory game named quiz was disgraced by me.I must have run to you or The Statesman House same evening to tender my apology but I could not gather courage. Today I knell down before you to admit that I let you down.Without checking all sources ( I had no option of checking Google in 1997 ) I sent you a factually wrong question and never thereafter confessed it.

I kept my bond with quiz till the time I was able to manage it. After that where ever I worked I conducted atleast one quiz there among in house employees. Whether it is Blue Dart or Philips Electronics  or Samsung I tried to make people engrossed in the magic of quiz an art that you taught me many years ago even with out  knowing me personally.

A set of quiz question on Calcutta's cinema hall - my compilation of quiz published in The Statesman in 1996.

A set of quiz question on Calcutta’s cinema hall – my compilation of quiz published in The Statesman in 1996.

One thing that I learnt form you is going deep of small thing.Let it be a lane of Calcutta or let it be a small soccer match there must be 100 interesting points that can magnet a mind to know more about that. Believe me I tried that many a time and many of my contributions covered subject which is apparently insignificant but once you are in it is a treasure. Whenever any of my compiled quiz on such subject came into print in any newspaper I always thanked you in silence. When I was planning to design my website I ensured that a page must be preserved to showcase some of my compiled quiz in print media.You had been my friend in facebook for last 2 years but I was never able to overcome my hesitation to request you to visit the quiz page of my website.Now honestly speaking  I regret and I repent for that hesitation.

The moment I got the news of your demise I remember a file as old as 23 years old.

Once this file was like a treasure box to me. It was that where I used to keep all paper cuttings of your quiz pages published in The Telegraph and The Statesman.I do nto know how many afternoon or late night I gulped these cuttings running through each and every gem that you brought for us when there was no internet and no Google.You were Mr Google for us and these paper cuttings were our search engine.I tried to locate that file in my house and

My old file full of paper cuttings from newspapers where you used to compile quiz.A delight in dust.

My old file full of paper cuttings from newspapers where you used to compile quiz.A delight in dust.

finally last Sunday with much of my delight I found it.The  file found under the lump of dust and cobweb is still pregnant with plethora of yellow paper cuttings from The Statesman. It was a delight found in dust. I tried to read as many as possible of all those yellow papers through out the day.There was your face on the corner of each box and there was your note giving introduction to a subject or informing about an impending quiz coming up in Asansol. There was the space titled “11th question” reserved for the best question of the week.There was you saying silently but candidly that welcome to the world of general knowledge.Enjoy the power of wisdom.

Rest in peace Neil uncle.Be assured that your revolution is not dead and it will never be dead till the time human mind will look for light and will look for intellectual evolution.

Bet Regards.

Yours beloved


please visit my quiz page.

please visit my quiz page.







About Somen Sengupta
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