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Monday, May 14, 2001

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Making clues


Anjali Prayag

A recent study in the UK revealed that five out of 10 people who commute long distance to work have only one pastime ie., the day's crossword in the newspaper. It's not any different in India.

The daily stimulant of the crossword is a lifeline to many of us. But have you ever wondered about the quiet geniuses who craft these pieces of literary art? How do they tap into their creative wells for the juices to flow everyday of the year!

Meet one such wizard. As Public Relations Officer of the Bangalore City Corporation, A.N. Prahlada Rao, may have to cross words with many, but one thing that surely keeps his thousands of fans enthralled are his crosswords.

Prahlada Rao is probably the only man in the country to possess the unique achievement of having created more than 7,000 crosswords in a regional language -- Kannada. And the range of his subjects vary from one end of the spectrum to the other -- cinema, science, crime, women and child issues, culinary, and of course, the general crossword.

And if you could like to know the break-up of his accomplishment; cinema - 1,400, science - 50, crime and police related - 200, culinary - 30, women and child issues - 50 and the rest are general.

That's not all. Rao also is a quiz master, though not on stage. Various Kannada magazines subscribe to both his crosswords and quizzes. The magazines include Prajavani, Vignana Sangathi, Samyuktha Karnataka, Aragini, Shakthi, Mangala, Karmaveera, Vijaya Karnataka, E Sanje, and several others.

Resourceful though he is, Rao is practical too when it comes to the fruits of his labour. ``All I get for my efforts is a small bye-line at the corner. On the other hand, if I had composed 7,000 poems, I would have been respected and awarded for my liter ary abilities.'' We sure know that the effort is not any less here.

What about the rewards in monetary terms? It's definitely nowhere near what the quizmasters or the English crossword creators are paid. ``I get only about 10 per cent of what my English counterparts get. It's about Rs 50 - Rs 60 for a crossword.''

How did this penchant for composing crosswords start for Rao? ``It was during my college days -- in 1974-75 -- that I was a major crossword buff. At that time, I only used to solve them. Later I started creating them just for the lark of it.''

In 1983, when he joined the Karnataka Information Department as an Assistant, he decided to take up his hobby seriously and then there was no turning back. Rao now doubles up as a quiz master for many of the magazines that he creates crosswords for.

In an age when everything is computerised, does he not feel the need to use a PC or have a Web site of his own? Rao agrees, ``Definitely, my job will be easier if I possessed a PC, but I need to garner enough money for that.''

Currently, he makes a draft crossword, and then most of the times, makes the artwork himself. This is handed over to the newspaper for printing. Then he composes the clues. ``All this will be saved if I could obtain a PC.''

Initially, Rao used to take about two hours to prepare a crossword. Now the master that he has become, it's not more than 20 minutes. ``My wife also helps me in composing the clues, especially the cinema related ones,'' he says proudly.

Rao has indexed and maintained cinema-related topics which act as reference material to many producers and directors. ``I have details of about 1,000 films, such as who's the producer, director, music composer, lyricist, playback singers, actors, etc. Al l the small details are listed here.''

Rao also has plans of putting up a Kannada dictionary on his Web site so that it's easier for crossword buffs to solve them. Rao has also tried his hand at conducting a crossword for a video magazine which, however, could not be sustained. A local electr onic media once approached him to conduct a live show, but nothing happened after that.

When Rao invited us to his home, the only clue he gave us was that right at the entrance of his home, there's a huge crossword. And nobody can goof on that one.

Pic.: Mr A.N.Prahlada Rao

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