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26.06.2018

“But I don’t know anything.” “You don’t need to,” I tell my colleague. It’s just a pub quiz - the fun is in the not-knowing.

This process of persuading potential teammates is a pre-game ritual: Bangalore’s pub quizzes mean there’s more than one to go to every week, if you like. Teamed or solitary, it’s my favourite ritual these days: crossing the Pelican signal at Garuda Mall to The Permit Room on Wednesday evenings. The ground floors are weekday quiet, and I catch fragments on my way up to the terrace: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, most-filmed non-epic story, over 30 adaptations. I hurry up the stairs but someone has got the answer before me: Devdas, of course.

It’s now something of a familiar ritual to arrive, a bit too well-dressed, for what should really be a casual after-work hang. The staff know me, and even kindly save me a seat. I welcome these complements - if not quite counterpoints - to the city’s better-known, more intense quizzing scene. And why not? The city’s beer gets better and better, the music is tolerable; and we can arrive in groups, but also, joyfully, alone and amateur.

Pub quizzes tend to take two formats. The standard-issue table-wise approach, followed by quizzes at Vapour, Tippler, and The Humming Tree, goes: form a table, get table numbers, score, and play for the ultimate victory: your alcohol bill on the house. This favours a relatively strategic, heavy-hitting approach: teams must be formed with care. The other format is to award prizes by the question - 24 or so questions, and each one you answer, you get a free drink or a snack on the house.

**

“It’s sooooooooooo easy, ya,” a friend says, when I mention I’m a regular. But there’s more to quizzing than knowing what PO Box number the Australian Broadcasting Corporation uses (9994, in tribute to Don Bradman’s batting average). At the best pub quizzes, the topics tend to be pleasantly all-encompassing: a bit of Bangalore, a bit of whatever’s viral recently, some sports, some pop culture. Obscurity and “fundae,” quizzing’s version of lateral thinking, don’t matter so much. (Keep an eye out for The Humming Tree’s fortnightly food- or music-quizzes if those are your specialties, but otherwise bring your best generalist.)

The friendly neighbourhood pub quiz is where I, and other women, turn, sometimes because we want lighter entertainment, sometimes because we’re not up to travelling to Koramangala, and sometimes, honestly, because the male-dominated mainstream quizzing scene can make us unwelcome or uncomfortable. Everybody knows that to quiz is to be shouted down by a too-aggressive man. The charitable response is: okay, he’s just excited about an answer; he does it to everyone; leave it, no. But quizzing is gendered, and one too many quiz festivals in the engineering college-circuit leave women quizzers with memories of being bullied (especially when we’re conducting the quizzes). #MissMe, to coin a hashtag.

The pub quiz, by contrast, is low-key joy: a formerly silent co-worker who morphs into a teammate who knows the name of the inventor of chapstick; a moment in the spotlight for answering a difficult question; jumping out of seats when we figure out a connection. There are even minor irritants to heighten the feeling of belonging (too much smoke! People blocking the view!)

At their best, pub quizzes aren’t about showing off our smarts; they’re about the freedom to fail and to be dumb, the freedom of a certain public rowdiness, allowed in solitude or in groups. For those of us weary of the old boys’ (and other) clubs everywhere: it’s a chance to come and make our own.

Getting there: Cluesday at Vapour, Tuesdays at 276, 100 Feet Rd, HAL 2nd Stage, Doopanahalli, Indiranagar. Join the group here; Witty Wednesdays at The Permit Room, Wednesdays at 16/3, Commissariat Road, Richmond Town; Bheja Fry at Tippler, Thursdays, also at 276, 100 Feet Road, HAL 2nd Stage, Doopanahalli, Indiranagar; Check The Humming Tree’s Facebook page for announcements about Risky Quizness.

Neha Margosa lives and works in Bangalore.

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