November 07, 2011: Sushil Kumar of Motihari Bihar is not a child prodigy. He is not one of those children who come home with a trophy in our advertisements for cereals or chocolates to doting mothers and fathers. He is actually someone who had seen very little childhood. In fact he wouldn’t have had any childhood if it was not for the KBC. He had no TV at home. So he used to go to a neighbour’s house to watch the show. And as the show progressed he would start answering the questions rapidly - most of them correctly. This was spotted by the neighbour and he suggested to his family that this boy had a knack for general knowledge and they should invest in his education. That’s why he was sent to school, otherwise he would have been one of those 20 million child labours who are usually addressed as Chhotu in our households, dhabas, shops and other business establishments. He had an opportunity to study and thats how he landed up a job as a computer operator at Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act office.
There are more than 300 million Indians in that age group, but Sushil Kumar got a breakout opportunity. He nearly flunked on the very second question at the KBC when encountered with a question about the Intel Inside advertisement. He is certainly someone who doesn’t pay much attention to ads when watching TV. But the TV watching audience in the KBC studio bailed him out. He went with the audience poll and crossed his first hurdle. I was shocked that a computer operator didn’t know that Intel is the integral part of a branded processor. Maybe they use unbranded computers for MNREGA projects, I thought. But after that initial hiccup Sushil’s grasp of current affairs took over. He had not prepared for the KBC shoot as professional quiz participants do by mugging GK books and dry runs with friends and family. " I only read newspapers and watch TV news, that’s all", he told me later.
As a KBC expert your job is to help the participant with your knowledge. You are seated separately in a room and as a practice, you are asked to choose the answer before the participant does. It is very very tense. Because you are the only one who has to hear all the questions intently and react immediately, living every micro-second of the successes and failures. So you keep your fingers crossed all the time that when a participant comes for your help, you know that answer. You get tenser as the stakes get higher. I was very confident of the three answers at Rs. 6.4 lacs, Rs. 12.5 lacs and Rs. 25 lacs. When he reached the Rs. 50 lacs thresh-hold, I had broken a cold sweat already. These were really high stakes for someone earning Rs. 6000 a month. I calculated hurriedly and found that it will take him 138 years to earn that kind of money at current rate!
Mr Bachchan- who everyone lovingly calls AB at KBC shoots- had by now skillfully struck a personal cord with Sushil and was explaining him the importance of the next question in his inimitable style which only he is capable of. My heartbeat was racing and I was quietly praying for a simple question. By sheer luck, I knew the answer to the next question. Maybe I remembered it from a book I had read as a child or many articles I read about Lal Bahadur Shastri from the time when a museum was dedicated to him at Moti Lal Nehru roundabout in Lutyen’s Delhi when I was a young reporter. But you are never sure about an answer till that computer graphic locks in and and AB’s voice booms - "Sahee jawaab". But this time it was " aap crorepati ban gaaye hain". I felt relieved as I have never felt in my life. The wrong answer could have cost this young man from a poor place Rs. 48,40,000 and I would have never been able to live that down. That’s why when Sushil thanked me on air I was a bit emotional that I had helped someone to reach this point where his life is totally changed. And also that I was part of his ultimate triumph.
I was not sure about the answer to the next question which could have won him 5 crore. I was sure by now that Sushil will take his crore and quit the game. But he dug his heels. They were the most agonizing and longest minutes for all of us present at the sets and millions of viewers across the country who watched the programme later. Ultimately, Sushil Kumar made reality TV history in the country by eliminating some choices given to him. His intelligence in choosing his answer was remarkable. Sometimes we all find the intelligence not within us, but outside us in the wider world. I wish all the Sushil Kumars of the world that they find the Intel outside.