The Quiz For The Professionals
It was hot and humid afternoon in Dubai. I was with a group of professionals from Nepal who were on tour of UAE. Checking upon our watch we realised it was already past one in the afternoon. Endless sight of manmade constructs had mesmerised us so much that we had lost track of time. Back in Nepal, we would be having snacks. There we were; yet to have lunch.
We spied a restaurant nearby. A gush of cool air invited us as we opened its door. And the soothing ambience hinted the place must be more than decent. We washed our face clean as humidity had it drenched in sweat. Still wiping ourselves, we gazed at the menu. It looked like everyone was hungry, just that pang of hunger had been forced to play second fiddle to signals of sight all these times.
“What is special in Dubai?” one enquired. It has become customary for guests to seek information on popular food of the host country. And there we were doing the same. Opinions started flowing in. A simple glance at the menu revealed how lucky we were back in Nepal. Lunch is masu bhat; just choose between mutton and chicken. We opted for a la carte. And there were multitudes of appetisers, entrées and desserts to choose from, as one liked. Some of us were fascinated as to why having a meal had to be this complicated.
“What is the national animal of UAE?” Just then a kid from our group innocuously questioned while still looking at his iPad.
The unexpected interruption killed our discourse abruptly. Silence descended. The inquisitive boy was son of a key traveling member and his question had taken us all by surprise. Fault lies with men who usually harbour the notion that any curiosities of children are within their ambit.
Everyone felt compelled to answer as if failure would challenge their social standings. Old analogue clock hung on the wall kept ticking but no answer was forthcoming. And then visitors, on cue, looked at me in unison. They had deftly fielded the query. I had to forgive them for they were new to the land.
I was sure it was a kind of antelope but could not tell what exactly it was. I read a lot and take a great pride in having lot of information and some knowledge. But, that moment of failure really bruised my ego.
“It is a kind of antelope” I said all the while reaching out for my smartphone. Google was a great help. I was somewhat right; it was a kind of antelope named proper ‘Oryx’. “But, how come I did not know it despite having stayed here for years?” I muttered to self. Fact is I am on the ‘wrong’ side of thirty and have, probably, crossed my median age; god knows. But at the moment it dawned on me that I had always crushed with rancour any such prospect germinating in my subconscious lest it foment untold bitterness.
The innocence of the kid transported me back to my childhood and those carefree days. We were naive, playful, gullible, hopeful and most importantly hungry to acquire information.
Lacking televisions and other entertainment avenues, elder brothers and uncles would round up us in the evenings and throw random questions: “What does VIP stand for?”, “Which is the capital city of China?”, “What does CID stand for?”, “What is the national animal of Nepal?” etc. And we the kids would fight among ourselves to answer. In hindsight those were the questions drawn from ‘lok Sewa’ examination they were practicing for.
Those informal quiz competitions were frequent and often the cheapest form of entertainments. And we really savoured them. Correct answer would lead to accolade if not anything material. But those seemingly trivial exercises stretched our young minds and motivated us to learn more. Maybe it was those drills that inspired me to keep learning, forever. We believed the one with more correct answers had a brighter future in store. And I thought for pursuit of life everyone had the same start line to begin with.
I still keep reading; only priority has changed. I try to keep myself updated on economics, finance, markets, politics, sports, technology, payments and what not. But, interestingly, the type of questions the kid had asked has not hit me for a long, long time. It is not that they have become redundant, but rather I am not an aspirant for school-level quiz contest anymore to be deliberately stumbling upon such staples.
Living in free market economy, I am glad that I have a job. But while it enables me to harvest some wealth generated by the system, it also renders me a tiny cog in the vast wheel of capitalism. There is room for growth but I do not need to know the name of world’s longest river to achieve it. It is Nile that originates in Ethiopia and Uganda and flows through Egypt into Mediterranean Sea, if you insist. Still life keeps throwing questions now and then. Just that I have to hone in certain skills, learn to observe and master lots of subtleties to answer those.
The restaurant was in an area populated by financial institutions. Couple of guys dressed immaculately in suit started arriving. They must be some mid-level bankers I reckoned. Polished black leather shoes paired with black leather belt; socks matching the colour of trouser; tie touching the tip of belt; the tail a tad shorter than the tie; half an inch of cuff sticking out of the blazer; trimmed hair and kempt beard; it made for a majestic sight. The elegance on display was breath-taking. Oozing confidence, they demonstrated they were privy to unwritten rules of sophistication. I had no idea how intelligent they were. But, if they had requested us to move to another table we would have complied without reasoning. Why the servitude? There we were some of the smartest people from our country.
Palate & plate
Just then waft of aroma filled the room; part of our order had arrived. We were back into discussing intricacies of local dishes as we arranged our plates. ‘Hummus is spread made from boiled and mashed chickpeas. It is blended with lemon juice, salt and garlic and served with olive oil dressing,’ one of our team members elaborated. ‘Dip a piece of bread and savour the taste. It is rich in protein and fibre and lowers cholesterol.’ he added. Others, unable to contribute to the discussion, were in awe and stayed quiet out of deference.
It was yet another competition to stand out; just that only gracious, resourceful, gregarious, well versed and well travelled stood any chance of winning.
(Parajuli works with Himalayan Bank)