Name: Dayita Bira Datta
Based in: Assam, India
USP: Being the winner of Mastermind India, 1998
Dayita grew up in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in a family of avid readers. Her father was very knowledgeable about history and current affairs and discussed them openly. He also had an extensive personal library. These influences nurtured her love for history and literature. Since her childhood, she also loved the rush of answering questions through quick recall. She keenly participated in classroom quizzes and discussions.
In the 1970s and 80s, Dayita actively quizzed with a lively quizzing circuit in Calcutta. She specialised in history and English at college. In the late 80s, she left for Dehra Dun to take on the role of a teacher of history at Welham Girls’ School.
Later, during her short stays in England, she became an ardent viewer of BBC Mastermind. She discovered that she could answer a fair number of the questions that were asked on the show. At that point, she never thought that Mastermind would launch in India.
One day, Dayita was contacted by the organisers of Mastermind India, to participate in a selection round. This incident happened 11 years after her last tryst with quizzing, and the selection round was in Calcutta. She almost did not participate, as she was to travel out of the country on the day of the selections. The questions were then faxed to her and she faxed the answers back. ‘I thought I did all right and forgot about it,’ she says. A few days later, she was informed that she was qualified for the show. It turns out, she had obtained the second highest score during the selections.
Having qualified, Dayita chose her specialist subjects for Mastermind— the ascent of Mount Everest from 1900-1990, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army, and the life and works of the British naturalist Gerald Durrell. She created a diagram of Everest and made detailed notes on it. She prepared mind maps for the other two topics. As far as the general round was concerned, Dayita ‘just hoped for the best’. Little did she know, that her name would go down in history as the first winner of Mastermind India.
Despite her victory, Dayita clearly believed that quizzing is more of a medium which facilitates quick recall than one which proves an individual’s true knowledge. She is of this opinion even today. Hence, after winning Mastermind, Dayita went on with her career as a teacher of history. She used her ‘junkyard memory’, as she calls it, to ‘dredge up little nuggets to season her lessons’. She also employed cartoons, newspapers and films to liven her classes. She encouraged classroom discussions on contemporary events and referenced works of relevant fiction to her students. She assigned book reviews as projects.
With time, she evolved into being the Vice-Principal of Welham Girls’ School. In mid 2017, Dayita retired from Welham. She is now a senior teacher of history at Assam Valley School in Balipara, Assam. To Dayita, history is not about learning facts, but about developing intellectual skills. Over the course of her career, she has influenced many of her students with her infectious love for history and continues to do so.
In her free time, Dayita indulges in omnivorous reading. She enjoys reading about topics such as the history of science, travel, nature, literature and of course, general history. She enjoys listening to jazz, western classical and classic rock music. She also has a penchant for birding. She was quite the backpacker in her youth and loves to visit art galleries, museums and wildlife sanctuaries.
In 2003, Dayita was bestowed with the National Award for Teachers by the Government of India. She received the award from the then-President, Late Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.
In 2004, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gems Education Foundation, after being nominated by her students.
Post her Mastermind victory, Dayita continued her association with quizzing, albeit sporadically. She helped in setting the questions for a few special rounds, for the subsequent seasons of Mastermind India. She was the ‘friend’ for an acquaintance on the popular game show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. Later, she was also a panelist in the ‘Triguni’- a panel of three experts- on the same programme.
Dayita has co-authored a series of history books with a friend, for classes 3-5. She has also collaborated on a series of general knowledge books called ‘Do You Know?’, for classes 1-8.
While working at Welham Girls’ School, Dayita oversaw the school’s quiz club. She set questions for intra-school and inter-school quizzes as part of her role.
Dayita also writes book reviews and film reviews, many of which have been published in The Telegraph.
Dayita belongs to a women’s travel club and has led tours for them to Europe, Uzbekistan, Ladakh and China.
She has also conducted workshops and has been a panelist at many seminars.
Dayita Bira Datta can be reached at:
Phone: 91-97487 54862