During childhood, I had watched various Quiz shows on Doordarshan but the auditions never reached us at small-town Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Sony Entertainment Television’s knowledge-based Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), Amitabh Bachchan and Information Technology revolution decentralised participation and rekindled my hopes too.

Intermittent ‘sms-answers’ meant that success remained elusive. Come 2022, I sent the responses again.

One morning, the mobile rang. With scam and spam calls being a norm, it was providential that I answered. It was an Interactive Voice Response call introducing itself as being from KBC. I answered three questions. A caveat followed – “if shortlisted, you would be contacted again.”

A fortnight later, another call came through informing me about being shortlisted for ground auditions – Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) and audio-visual interview, at Kolkata. The caller indicated a venue but under the impression that the call was being recorded, I did not jot-down the exact venue. When I tried to listen to the recording, it was garbled. I thought an opportunity of a lifetime had been squandered. Technology is, after all, fallible.

Friends at Kolkata helped and emails to the organizers, confirmed the venue and dates.

Ground auditions were elaborate – a detailed ‘Personal Profile’, made one cogitate on numerous aspects of personal life. The MCQ-test had 20 questions. I got shortlisted. Similar such exercises had been conducted elsewhere resulting in about 4000 auditions. The audio-visual audition with the KBC-team went off well.

Providence apart, I resolved attending to even unknown callers. Meanwhile, I blocked numerous spam-scamming and phishing URL messages offering hefty rewards and a seat at the FFF-round.

An unknown number called again. A gentleman identifying himself from KBC informed that I had been selected for the FFF-round. Cautiously, I suggested that I would call back on his number to verify his credentials. He agreed, adding, “Sir, we do not ask for any OTPs etc.”

He expounded a series of instructions about KBC – dates on which travel to Mumbai is required; details of costumes; video-call a friend, companions etc. Wiser after the technical glitch earlier, we jotted down the details. Before disconnecting he mentioned that team-KBC would, from that time onwards keep calling to coordinate other aspects.

Preparatory interactions regarding costumes were elaborate and participants and their companions were to carry at least 8-9 sets of pre-approved costumes.

A coordinator asked for photographs of costumes and I ‘Whatsapped’ whatever I had in my wardrobe. I have an extremely poor and awkward sense of clothing and attire, sometimes bordering on embarrassment, and was happy to transfer this burden off to my better-attired wife.

Finally we were off for Mumbai – my wife from Delhi and I from Nagaland.
Once at Mumbai, the organizers collected the costumes. A ‘cluster’ comprising ten participate over four episodes. Organizers decide the costumes each contestant and companion wears for a particular shoot/episode.

Once ready, the participants were shepherded to the ‘studio’ for ‘mock’ FFF- practice before every shoot.

During ‘mock’, the realisation dawned that FFF is the most difficult yet the most important step. Pitted against youngsters, with nimbler reflexes, my own handicap came to the fore. The distance between FFF and ‘Hot-seat’ is dependent on proficiency in reading skills, speed, quick reaction and accuracy all bundled in every attempt. The scope for an error and correction is narrow – a modification though possible is not a viable option – loss of valuable seconds means a certain quitclaim of ‘Hot-seat’.

Our cluster was a window into a country of diverse dreams and aspirations – from an IIT-IIM graduate to a content writer-cum-blogger, a social media influencer and a private sector executive on the one hand to a teacher-cum-tourist guide, an employee of a High Court, a home-maker on the other, all split between an IPS officer and a young police constable. Besides the opportunity to earn a quick buck at the game of knowledge, aspirations were varied too – owning a start-up, paying-off family debts, children’s education, increased visibility as an outcome of being on the ‘hot-seat’, to owning a ‘scooty’ and for me personally the opportunity of living a dream and bringing an isolated Nagaland to the national mainstream.

Two episodes done, the hot-seat remained elusive. Slower reflexes resulted in mounting tension. My wife pep-consoled me that I had proved myself 30-years back – qualifying the prestigious UPSC, but zindagi har kadam ik nayi jung hai. Fear of failure and public rebuke for not getting to the ‘hot-seat’ were palpable. For many, an IPS officer is an omniscient being, not an imperfect human.

At the fourth FFF, I was the quickest reacting with a childlike “Yeaaahhhh !” Attaining the ‘Hot-seat’ was a moment of unparalleled euphoria and relief!

The episode had Amitabh Bachchan’s grace, professionalism and humility writ all over. Feeling absolutely at ease on the hot-seat, the moments shared with him and the KBC-crew will remain vibrant memories for the rest of our lives – my wife and me.
Some hits and regrets though – the latter squarely attributable to my being unable to continue beyond what I achieved.

First, what I achieved was pitch-forking Nagaland onto the national main-stage – hopefully this would propel my friends, colleagues, well-wishers and ordinary Nagas to connect with something at the national level. I was representing Nagaland more than myself – the fact that Amitabh Bachchan adorned a Naga scarf during the episode would make Nagas and people from the north-east India proud. Hopefully, many more KBC-contestants from Nagaland and north-east would emerge in the coming days.
Next – the misses and regrets.

First was the disappointment at not joining the Crorepati-club – an immensely difficult question took me down. However, by the time this happened, I had a decent opportunity of recounting some achievements and narrating what the ‘Indian Reformative Institutions’ and the prison and police personnel had achieved.
Had I continued, I would have utilised the occasion to let the country know about the ocean of diversity which India is – “Bharat Dhaara” – that Nagas and north- eastern people are not ‘chinkies’ but proud Indians and creating and propagating stereotypes in a large and diverse landmass and people can be damaging. Misconceptions about most north-eastern tribes and Nagas being beef or ‘dog- meat eaters’ are true, yet misimpressions too. Not all Nagas are dog-meat or beef-eaters and there are many who love dogs and animals as much as we do. However, a degree of freedom in eating habits has to be acknowledged and tolerated by the mainstream too.

Another misconception is that Nagas are ‘head-hunters’. Doubtless, they were proud head-hunters but have given up head-hunting in 1950s. They still pride themselves being called valorous head-hunters, something which many ignorant Indians still feel is true. They are not barbarians !

Most north-eastern tribals and Nagas are as much humane as the rest of us.

Last but not the least, a message that Nagas are honest, large-hearted and extend unparalleled love and hospitality to guests and friends needs to be disseminated.
The opportunity lost was not merely monetary but in national integration too. Yes, the primary motivation may have been money but ‘there are certain things money cannot buy’ – love, affection and lost opportunities.

Hopefully, this piece would fill that void.

Born in Himachal Pradesh, Rupin Sharma, IPS, has been a part of the Nagaland police force for almost two decades. He is currently posted in Kohima as the state’s Director General of Prisons, Homeguards, Civil Defence and SDRF. Views are personal.

Also Read | Why has Nagaland government put salaries on hold?


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