When I Hear The Word “Culture”

At all events, the fact that the hall wasn’t half-full, or quarter-full, or even one-tenth full afforded one dim consolation: I would not have to stand during the preliminary round. Nor did I have to waste my time scanning the crowd for familiar faces. It was quite clear that the two other members of what I modestly dubbed the Dream Team weren’t among the few desolate souls who lounged around rather uncomfortably while the bored quiz master attended to his laptop.

I tapped my feet in impatience. When this did not make time go quicker, I drummed my fingers. This activity, too, proving stubbornly unhelpful, I turned my gaze to the door. Just in time.

Professor Singh. It *would* be Professor Singh, whose Probability homework was lying untouched in some folder on my computer for the last fourteen days. For the last week he had been asking me eagerly if I’d faced any problems in the homework, and I’d satisfied his curiosity and my conscience by emitting non-committal responses. But here he was, haunting me again.

The professor stared rather dreamily at the stage, probably mentally calculating the location of the seat that would give the best view of the event. I shrank into myself and wished there was more than one entrance. My reputation as a conscientious,if not brilliant, mathematician would take a tectonic hit in the Professor’s pained estimation if he saw me over-performing at the quiz.

You see, the one thing I know about Prof. Singh was that he hated what was called, for want of a better word, “culture”. He subscribed to the view that novels make you evil, films make you callous , and as for poetry…well, you get the general drift. And I didn’t think I would get any further extensions if he spotted me wasting my merry Saturday afternoon at the grandly-named “Music and Popular Culture Quiz”.

He spotted me. Of course he spotted me.

“Guys,” I said to the missing two-thirds of the Dream Team as they arrived,”I feel something bad is going to happen.”

“I fee-el trouble’s on the way,” Vicky hummed.

“CCR” said Sandy, correctly.

This is one of the negligible disadvantages of knowing quizzers.

A few more people poured in, so that the adjective “several” could be unblushingly applied to the number of participants that the event had attracted in the report (which no one would read) intended for the college magazine.

We made it quite comfortably into the finals. I picked number 3 for our seating position. Unfortunately for numerology, three turned out to be a disastrously unlucky number this time. You see, when you arrange six tables in a semi-circle on a stage, the third one is likely to be somewhere in the centre. Which meant that we had an uninterrupted view of the audience. Which meant that *I* had an uninterrupted view of Professor Singh each time I raised my eyes any higher than the level of the pen. I tried staring sideways all the time, but this hurt my neck terribly. Also this led to other complications.

“Why are you staring continuously at my ear?” Sandy whispered. I went red and looked straight in front of me again.

I decided to lose the quiz by pretending I knew nothing.

This is very difficult in practice. A quizzer’s very soul rebels at such treachery against the self.  I  would  attempt to bottle up the answer, deep inside the recesses of my mind, only to have Vicks and Sands stare at me in a half-censorious, half-expectant “Oh-certainly-you-know-the-answer-to-who’s-the-most-famous-Pirali-Brahmin-give-us-a-sixty-point-lead-oh-please-do” look, the sort that one can’t  resist. And then I’d say it. And then my teammates would thump the table and shake my hand  in excitement and I would look miserably towards  Prof. Singh.

The professor’s mouth was slightly open, and his eyes became progressively larger and larger as I consecutively admitted to knowing obscure trivia on Opeth, Shakespeare and Jhumpa Lahiri.

Inspite of which, we were were placed a disappointing third. I ran directly back to the hostel and attended to my Probability homework with the solicitude of a Florence Nightingale . It was four in the morning when I finally laid down my pen and closed the lid of my calculator.

A few days later, my homework was returned with a small note.

“Dear Raj – I had expected a little more from you on this assignment. I hope you can see why a B is justified.

P.S. Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories are quite interesting. Thanks for the recommendation. However  kindly try to read her only repeat only in your spare time.”


Inspired by today’s Challenge.


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