On the cusp of turning 79, GS Hiranyappa, ex-lecturer and AIR broadcaster, is arguably the oldest quizzer in the city. Notorious for winning almost every quiz he attends, Hiranyappa is nothing short of a legend among quizzing circles. "Our quizzing team was called 'Questionable Characters'. There's an interesting story behind this as well. Long ago I had met K Shivaram Karanth at a radio station where I was participating in a quiz, and me being the curious sort, began pestering him with a lot of questions. Annoyed or amused, he remarked that I was a questionable character. The name stuck," he says, smiling broadly at the memory. Over the years, Questionable Characters has seen over 50 quizzers, both men and women, come and go. "Almost 80 to 85 per cent of my team-mates are now settled abroad. They are all mostly half my age. I'm the only one stuck here," he laughs.
It was in July 1956, when he was pursuing his degree at Central College, that Hiranyappa attended his first inter-collegiate quiz and went on to win it as well. But because he was soon after posted in Madhya Pradesh by AIR, he lost touch with quizzing for a few years. It wasn't until 1980 when Hiranyappa was back in Bangalore that he seriously began his quizzing career. He won the Rotary Club quiz that was then held at Lavelle Road, conducted by quiz-master Niel O'Brien and considered a pioneer of quizzing in India. "We created quite a sensation wherever we went. I remember we were at this women's college in Chennai and we got a standing ovation once the quiz was done. I was also a semi-finalist at the Mastermind India quiz show in 1998," he says. From Chennai to Kolkata to Delhi to Mumbai, there are very few cities he hasn't travelled to for quizzing but he says he missed out on a lot of quizzes due to his severe asthma problems.
Hiranyappa attributes the long hours he spent in school and college libraries to his success in quizzing. "In those days, all my free time used to be spent looking up interesting facts in deep vaults of various libraries. Every time I heard about something new, I had to go research it, get to the actual source of it. But now, it's the age of specialisation. Nobody has the time or the inclination to read and find out about anything and everything. Everyone needs to find a niche for themselves and that doesn't help quizzing much," he says.
Hiranyappa has fond memories of the days when Karnataka Quiz Association had just been set up. "It was founded in 1983 by Wing Commander GR Mulky, who had just retired then and was an avid quizzer. Quiz standards in Bangalore were quite high then, still are. He passed away a few years ago and since then KQA hasn't been the same. And one of the most formidable competitors I had in those days was Dr Murali Mohan. He was an extraordinary man with immense knowledge. I did manage to beat him a few times, but quizzers like him don't come by often," he reminisces. Hiranyappa also holds the distinction of topping the Lone Wolf quiz, KQA's annual individual quiz, 11 years in a row, from 1983 to 1994.
On June 26, 1994, he was awarded the 'Quizzard of the Decade' title by KQA. A notice was issued that read: "His most amazing victory was in the quiz on BBC's 'Mastermind' pattern conducted by the KQA in February this year in which he outwitted Mr Arul Mani and proved that he could take on much younger people even in 'rapid fire' type of rounds. His closest rivals have been Dr Murali Mohan and Mr Movin Miranada and more recently Mr Arul Mani."
While Hiranyappa recalls every incident, like it happened yesterday, with precise dates and times, portraying a mind much sharper than your average 25 year old, he thinks he's not fit to quiz anymore, although he relents whenever one of his team mates insist. If you ever get a chance to converse with him, you may find yourself discussing everything from the invention of the atom bomb to Alexander the Great to the pyramids to pop culture. "It is a little embarrassing to go and win quizzes against people who could be your grand children. Besides, I'm not up to date with all the latest movies, TV shows etc. I'm thinking of writing a humorous quiz book next, maybe write about the good ol' days of the KQA as well," he says.