Siddhartha Basu, who pioneered the TV quiz wave in the 1980s, now brings us a new twist to the quiz book – a snapshotty account of India through the 20th century, told though little information capsules accompanied by pictures, some of which are rarely seen, set against the backdrop of milestones in world history. Most interesting are photographs from World War II, the Independence movement and the early republic — British Indian troops crossing a river to Singapore in dinghies, Stafford Cripps with Mahatma Gandhi, Arati Saha swimming the English Channel in 1959, CV Raman at the Nobel awards ceremony in 1928.
This isn’t another handy collection for weekend quizmasters. The quiz element is comparatively small in comparison to the informational material, making up about a third of the book. And the questions encourage the reader to recall the defining personalities and moments of modern Indian history. For instance, where did Rabindranath Tagore first publish the national anthem? Name the engineer who constructed the Krishna Raja Sagara Dam. Who launched the nationalist newspaper Independent in 1919? Not Vinod Mehta, obviously.
By the decades, Basu enumerates the notable points of the crucial century of history in which India established a significant presence in the comity of nations. His book should enjoy a certain appeal outside the rapidly dwindling quizzing community, since it introduces modern history quite efficiently to those who are intimidated by learned tomes on the subject.