It was a riveting quiz contest with one over-riding question: how to help those who helped you when you were a student. The answer was a unique fundraiser spanning over 50 years and several generations of students of the largest Indian Institute of Technology in the country.

With the pandemic and the lockdown raising a question mark over the next semester, students and alumni of IIT-Kharagpur got together to help alleviate the distress of informal workers on campus. These include mess staff, janitors, cycle-shed attendants, maintenance and housekeeping staff that keep the halls of residence humming throughout the year.

Their vehicle was an online inter-hall quiz contest co-hosted by Ustad Zakir Hussain, diplomat-author Vikas Swarup, former SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya, quizmaster Siddhartha Basu and others, that went on well past Saturday midnight.

The alumni have raised about Rs 90 lakh for the workers of which Rs 55.26 lakh was raised from the finals on Saturday alone.

The prime mover behind the idea was Aditya Nath Jha, CEO of Krayon Pictures, and a 1987 Chemical Engineering graduate from the institute.

“Our mess workers had put food on our table when we were students. Now it is our duty to ensure there is food on the table for them and their families. We, the alumni of IIT-KGP, came together spontaneously to organise a series of intra-hall quiz series, leading up to an inter-hall finals. Each quiz was a fundraiser. People from 50 different batches of IIT-KGP took part in the contest. Alumni and current students participated in this first-of-a-kind virtual quiz contest without having any geographical barriers,” Jha told.

Given the cause, Jha said, it didn’t need much persuasion for all to sign on — from participants to quiz masters.
The mess workers and other contract and casual workers of IIT Kharagpur have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are about 10,000 people, including dependents, in the informal sector who are associated with the institute. Funds raised from this quiz contest will go directly to these workers to support their families. The institute, at present, is closed due to pandemic. Last week, IIT Bombay announced that its next semester will be online.

Alumnus Kumar Deshpande, who graduated from the institute in 1976, became nostalgic while participating in the quiz on Saturday night.

“When I was at IIT-KGP, I was the first guy from my hall to get into the quiz team. Back then, socio-cultural teams were given much importance. Yesterday, it felt great to be able to take part in the online quiz,” said Deshpande. The 66-year-old, who took part in the contest from Mumbai, was the oldest contestant in the finals. His team won the competition.

“It is a great initiative to help out workers at the institute who have been facing a lot of difficulties due to the present crisis. The event was flawless and very well-organised,” said Deshpande.

Fourteen teams from seven undergraduate halls at the institute competed in the finals. Each team had five participants. There were seven rounds in the finals, which were conducted by guest quizmasters such as Ustad Zakir Hussain, Siddhartha Basu, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Harsha Bhogle, Vikas Swarup, and Giri “Pickbrain” Balasubramaniam.

The quiz was organised on the Zoom online platform, and broadcast live on YouTube. Donation links were shared with the audience between the final rounds. The finals received more than 14,000 viewers, and more than 700 pledges for donation. Seven people, including Jha, took the initiative to organise the event and handled its technological aspects, while another six people were involved in its promotion.

First-year student Maitreyi Swaroop, 19, was delighted to compete with the alumni. “It was very entertaining to interact with the legends who worked as quizmasters. Sadly, our team came second last,” said Swaroop, who was the youngest participant.

Quizmaster Giri “Pickbrain” Balasubramaniam lauded the IIT-KGP alumni for the initiative. “Small ideas like this can create solutions. People from Johannesburg to Chicago were able to attend this goodwill quiz. IIT-KGP has taken the lead in organising online quiz contests. This culture will now grow as the Covid situation has accelerated this process,” said Balasubramaniam.

Jha said that the quiz could be the template for other such events to help raise funds for the vulnerable in the pandemic.


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