Delhi’s Proust Questionnaire – “Mastermind” Siddhartha Basu, Zamrudpur
The parlour confession.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Proust Questionnaire represents a confessional game that owes its structure to answers given by celebrated French writer Marcel Proust in two parties that he attended at ages 13 and 20 in the late 19th century.
We bring these Parisian parlour confessions into the Indian capital to explore people’s lives, thoughts, values and experiences. The series interview folks from diverse backgrounds.
So today, say hello to Siddhartha Basu. Best known as the father of Indian TV quizzing, he has hosted shows such as Quiz Time, Mastermind India and University Challenge. As the founder-director of the content company Tree of Knowledge that he runs with wife, Anita, Mr Basu was also the producer-director of the iconic Kaun Banega Crorepati. Called Babu by friends and colleagues, he works from an office in south Delhi’s Zamrudpur. He turned 65 this week.
Your favorite virtue or the principal aspect of your personality
I’d put a love of language and what it conveys as right up there among virtues I value most, along with a quest for excellence. As far as personality is concerned, I suspect most people connect me with being a walking talking question mark. But I’m no sab jaanta wallah , and while I do value curiosity and factual knowledge hugely, what seems to have marked me out is a certain gift of the gab. People still point me out as – “Yeh wahi hain jo angrezi bada farrate se bolte hain”!
Your favorite qualities in a man
A unique combination of personality, character, abilities, values, compassion, grace, integrity
Your favorite qualities in a woman
The same as with a man
Your chief characteristic
I’d like to think it’s a passion for perfection in whatever I do
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Memorable experiences, conversations, steadfastness, togetherness and support in good times and bad
Your main fault
Talking too much
Your favorite occupation
Any creative process in which I can play a meaningful part, putting imagination to work. Or being engaged and transported by a good performance, movie, music, books
Your idea of happiness
Good health, good company, good experiences, good food and travel
Your idea of misery or what would be your greatest misfortune?
Putting up with an anti-democratic, backward-looking, iniquitous scheme of things
If not yourself, who would you be?
A full-time teacher, who remains a learner too… Or a monk maybe, engaged in social service
Where would you like to live?
Delhi, without the pollution and congested traffic, with better safety, security, services and infrastructure
Your favourite colour and flower.
White, against which any colour stands out. In clothes, blue, white and other colours, like olive and khaki. And love all flowers, without any favourite
Your favorite bird
Koels, for their song. Mors for their looks
Your favorite prose authors
Too long a list, all the way down from the classics. But what I tend to actively buy and read are Indo-Anglian authors – Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Allan Sealy, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri…
Your favorite poets
Again, too long a list. Let’s just put Shakespeare in a league of his own in drama and poetry. All his expressions were essentially poetic, as were encapsulations of philosophy – “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded by a sleep” (Tempest)
Your favorite heroes in fiction
In my youth it used to be Hamlet, Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Siddhartha in Hermann Hesse’s novel of the same name. No favourite fictional heroes at this point of time
Your favorite heroines in fiction
Where do I begin? Draupadi, Scheherezaade, Portia, Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Dorothea Brooke, Jo March, Charulata… I give up
Your favorite composers
Off the cuff – Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Strauss… closer home and more down to earth, SD Burman, RD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Jaidev, AR Rahman, Vishal Bhardwaj, Amit Trivedi, Pritam
Your heroes/heroines in real life
Sakyamuni, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Nehru
What characters in history do you most dislike?
All tyrants and dictators
Your heroines in World history
Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, Noor Jehan, Florence Nightingale, Rani of Jhansi
Your favorite food and drink
Favourites among summer drinks are chhaas, aam panna, shikanjvi, sol kadi and sangria. In winter, single malts, mulled wines and toddies. In Indian food, other than the best of Bengali and Kashmiri cuisine, which are a family inheritance, there’s North-Western and Avadhi cuisine, and then the coastal specialties of Kerala and the Konkan. But with age, prefer Mediterranean and other cuisines which are not too dependent on spices, oils, fat and starchy carbs
Your favorite names
I like names that are resonant with meaning and classical associations, have a nice sound to them, and are not too common. Don’t particularly care for new-fangled, nowhere names
What do you hate the most?
Extremism, fascism, communalism, jingoism.
The military event you admire the most
The liberation of Bangladesh
The reform you admire the most
Universal franchise, right to education, right to information
The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with
My mother was a gifted singer, my father could play the piano. I can just about hold a note, easy ones at that. But I love music of all kinds. I wish I was gifted and trained enough to sing, say Hindustani classical, or play any instrument with reasonable ability – keyboards maybe, or percussion. I used to play pretty nifty khartal as a kid and later fancied playing guitar in my teens, but never got around to taking it up. I feel music is the one performing art where you don’t need an audience. You can commune with the music by yourself
How do you wish to die?
Peacefully, in my sleep, with least bother to others
What is your present state of mind?
Deeply disturbed by the political situation in the country and by the trend of right wing extremism in so many parts of the world. But encouraged by the upsurge of a virtually leaderless pro-democratic movement all across India
Faults for which you have the most tolerance
Those that are admitted, apologized for, and corrected
Your motto in life
Karma with dharma. Do the right thing
Into the citizen’s heart