Did you know that the yo-yo was used as a weapon before it became a toy?

“Take part in the Quiz!”  B demanded, his glasses flashing with fervour as he stared down at me. After grunting out an unenthusiastic no, I turned away. I wasn’t a fan of quizzes, invariably sitting slack jawed in my seat as the rest of my competitors smiled smugly. Plus, it seemed little more than an exam disguised as ‘fun’.

However when another friend  joined in with the easily convincing “Atleast you might get a credit”, I decided to try it out. We walked towards Loyola Hall where most of the students were gathered on pale chairs. The place was packed, stragglers inching their way in with excited murmurs. This was surprising, I hadn’t thought a quiz event would generate this much interest. Glancing around, I noticed almost three rows of people clutching receipts and pens in their sweaty palms.

It started off with a simple enough question and I felt cobwebs unravel from my tired brain. No reason I couldn’t give it my all, perhaps the useless information I accrued from flicking through my phone on the loo would come in handy.

B was the quiz master, his sotto voice mumbling out small jokes into the microphone. There was a buzz of chatter around the room, laughter and cries of ‘Yes, I got it.’ Unlike continuous classes that felt dry and itchy, there was an air of lightness and focus. My friend and I started to discuss, drawing every scrap of ‘is this it’ from our heads. I felt elated every time I was sure of my answer, scribbling it down with blue ink.

After we were done, they showed us the answers. We hadn’t been right most of the time but sitting through the solutions was almost as fun as guessing. Did you know that the yo-yo was used as a weapon before it became a toy? Or that the pudu deer stays miniature throughout its life in South America? It was completely fascinating to discover information that wasn’t just static. It bent and twisted until for the first time, I checked on Google immediately to discover more about something I had just learnt.

After trudging away from the hall, I decided to stay for the seminar to be given by Venkat Srinivasan. It was about archiving, something that had been discussed in one of my English classes. A slim man with a calming voice, Srinivasan, took old objects and found out the history behind it. In a time where memory can be rewritten with just a press of a button, archiving holds even more importance today.

He spoke about the art of story, how everybody interprets what they see in a different way thus creating their own, unique narrative. When a group of physicists were asked to modulate an electron beam to a particular luminosity, they began buying a bottle of wine each time to celebrate. He showed us a picture of a janitor with one of the bottles and explained how the date of each experiment would be marked on the container just as a simple lark. “Eventually” the archivist said to us beaming “The bottles became a type of log book, more accurate than stacks of paper, because with just one glance, the physicists would know when and what day the experiment had occurred.”

Venkat Srinivasan in conversation with Prof Arul Mani
Venkat Srinivasan in conversation with Prof Arul Mani

The audience chuckled. It seemed incredible that years later, a group of people would be talking about this in an airy hall at a litfest. With archiving, he had taken a memory and given us a story beyond just science and experiments. He followed this by showing us a piece of art work from the 1940s’s by Marie Tharpe. It was the first scientific map of the Atlantic Ocean’s floor. What made it even more remarkable to me was that it was created by a woman in the 40’s, back before they were even allowed on ships. He offered the room full of students a chance at internships, “The only requirement we really look for is curiosity” he informed the room, wrapping up his session by answering a few questions.

The audience at Venkat Srinivasan’s session

The next event promised to be full of bellyaches and grins, a workshop on cartooning given by KN Balraj. I walked into the seminar hall and was greeted by a large projector screen with caricatures on it. The spectators were already giggling as a piece with two women proclaimed, “He’s like a conveyor belt, bringing back all his baggage for me”.

K.N Balraj at the cartooning workshop
K.N Balraj at the cartooning workshop

It was the first time I had ever met a cartoonist in real life. His sense of humour was infectious as he showed the audience slide after slide of his work. A few of the comics had to be explained to a few confused students. “I like to make jokes about technology and current events, a joke has to be more than an obvious slap in the face” Balraj explained. Taking out a white board, he showed us how he practiced drawing, making concentric circles just to learn the right flow.

The quiet room was completely focused on his every word with smirks flashing around when a particularly funny cartoon hit the screen. With a red sketch pen he drew people with different expressions. It was a fast process, his nimble fingers barely pausing.

His final exercise was to draw a caricature of a member of the audience. Anjana immediately jumped up, her face wide with glee. The rest of us watched in trepidation. It was hardly going to be a flattering image.

With a flash of strokes, her jaw and nose were exaggerated, giving her an aged, grouchy face. Her face was broadened, the nostrils flaring out, big and bulbous. We looked at Anjana, her face was red and piteous, the previous excitement dissolved like wet paper.

“Erm, Sorry” Balraj said embarrassed as the audience burst out laughing at her crest fallen face. “Do I really look like that?” she whispered frantically as she returned to her seat. “Yes” I heard someone reply straight faced, “In fact the drawing was an improvement.”

We left the hall laughing, the air outside cold and pleasantly damp. It was time for a hot glass of milky chai and coconut naan — the third day of Meta had come to an end.

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Shalom Sanjay

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