Sunday, June 28, 2015

Remembering 'Master Mind'

This is a speech that I never gave, written for the 8th annual Master Mind Quiz Competition. Master Mind was organised by the General Knowledge Club of Lyceum International School (Nugegoda). It was held last Monday. Malinda Seneviratne was Chief Guest. He made a speech. I was Guest of Honour. I wrote one.

I can’t give speeches without planning them. It is customary to give them at events like these, especially considering what this event is and how I came to love quizzing because of it. Here goes.

"Master Mind" wasn't a “force” years back. In fact if you chart its history you’ll find until recently it didn’t make the moves the way most Quiz Clubs in this country do. This isn’t to say we weren’t functioning properly, but the truth is that we weren’t ready. We needed to improve. Badly.

That was five years back. Times have changed. For the better. I won’t exaggerate and say we’ve topped them all but we certainly have improved.

There are reasons for this, obviously. When I captained the General Knowledge Club of my school in 2010, "Master Mind" was just another feeble, barely notable event which we went to and participated. We didn’t really care for it the way we did with other school events.

But two things happened back then. The first and most important thing was the induction of Mr Dimuthu Amarasiri as our Coach. I really am not in authority to comment on how he conducted this Club simply because words can't measure what he did. He committed himself. He put heart and soul into this. Since 2010, when he and I were "initiated" into the Club, there was an instant taking to on his part when it came to Quizzing. Perhaps it has to do with his background in it. Perhaps not. Whatever the context, I am indebted to him.

The second thing was that my school began to take an interest in Quizzing. And this was where Mr Dimuthu and I had to fight hard. When we organized the 2011 Quiz, as I remember, we were craving for improvement. To the dot then, and without leaving any stone unturned (well, at least most of those stones unturned), we achieved what we wanted.

We are grateful.

But what was it really? The truth was that Quizzing, in this school and probably in every other school, is not popular. The truth is that young boys (I am giving an example here) would much rather follow and hero-worship rugby players and cricketers from the First XI than they would you and me. Yes, these are bitter facts.

I know that we have changed, nonetheless. We may not be in on this as divas or matinee idols but we have gained a following in this country. That is because, I believe, of our education system. In a country where division of labour counts and knowledge has been unreasonably compartmentalised, Quiz competitions offer us a way of gaining those nuggets of information, which really don’t help us at first glance but come into play in certain situations in life.

Yes, Quizzing can be boring. It certainly isn’t for those who aren’t ready for it. There is something exciting in knowing the unknown, in spreading information and wisdom without monopolising it.

Let me give an example here.

For years, we were taught and made to believe that English was a sword. A "kaduwa". We were subconsciously made to fear it. A good, sound knowledge of that language caused fear and its inevitable result, animosity. That is why those who knew it kept that knowledge to themselves and hence a conspiracy (call it what you may) to differentiate children from each other was begun for the sake of preserving privilege. That conspiracy continues to date, mind you. I am not bluffing.

There is a man who teaches in a school in Kurunegala. He is not a teacher in a conventional sense, conventional by today's standard of course. He does something else. He teaches English. For free. Every morning, from about five or six, he teaches those who have an interest in the language.

Now there are English teachers everywhere. Some come and teach well for nothing while others take payment but teach badly. In both cases, the student lags behind. I have seen this man’s students though. They speak better English than me. Even those who are 10 years younger.

What’s the secret? What’s the dividing line that makes us fear that language and makes them take to it immediately?

It’s called ease, ladies and gentlemen. It’s called teaching your students to love what they are taught. It’s called teaching all those taught equality. Taking a more utilitarian view of what is taught and learnt.

A long time ago, a man called John Noyes created a community of like-minded Christians in New York. He taught them to differ from others when it came to the Bible. He asked them to believe that perfection could be attained here. On Earth. In other words, he encouraged them to believe what he believed in. Together.

The Oneida Community is considered one of the world’s oldest communist societies. It was commented on wittily by George Bernard Shaw in his epilogue to Man and Superman ("The Revolutionist's Handbook and Pocket Companion").

That English teacher in Kurunegala is another John Noyes. He is conducting an experiment. One that proves that if something is taught communally, without exclusion and fear, there is knowledge. More importantly, there is also wisdom.

That, ladies and gentlemen, applies to Quiz Clubs also.

But time is running short. Let me wrap up.

There are people here I must thank. To Mr Dimuthu, who has been with us for many years and will be with us for many years more, to those who organised this event, to those who graced this occasion, and to those who won and who participated. Thank you all.