Letter from Mangesh Ghogre
A crossword enthusiast from India, Mangesh Ghogre, is coming to the ACPT this year as an official. It's his first trip ever to the U.S. And to my memory he's our first participant ever from India, as either a judge or a contestant. Below is a short piece he just wrote about crosswords and his forthcoming trip. –Will Shortz
For someone like me, who has come all the way from a small town on the outskirts of Mumbai in India, attending this occasion is close to attending the Oscars of the crossword world. Though my heart is beating at twice the speed, my chest today swells with humble pride. Being the first from India to be a part of this tournament as one of the judges is not just a milestone in my life. Back home, number of souls has taken inspiration to dream big and achieve even bigger. Allow me to present couple of thoughts to put this in perspective.
Fifteen years back, in the summer of 1997, when I intently saw a crossword for the first time in a national daily, little did I know that the black and white grid was actually going to be a vast kaleidoscope of my life. Back then, I would religiously solve the LA Times syndicated crossword in the Times of India every day and note each answer. Many a times, the answers would not make sense — or should I say, I was at sea! Primarily set for an American audience, the crossword fumbled me on almost every second clue. So daunting was the activity at first that it took me 6 long months to actually start using a pen — apart from filling the S for answers indicated in plural. Eventually, the jigsaw puzzle started to fit in and it took me couple of years to fully solve a crossword — unassisted.
When I look back at those times, I sometimes wonder what on earth must have kept me going. Neither did it help me better my academic grades nor did it earn me a few extra bucks. But what it definitely had done was given me a window to peek into the US. For the last decade or so, every morning I have virtually visited the US through the bioscope of an American crossword. By understanding the clues and the answers, I have closely experienced the daily grind and rigmarole of an average American commuter who solves the crossword on her way to office or while breaking fast every morning. Until internet arrived in India in 2000, I had always wondered what an oreo was. Typical US slangs like dough for money, scads for a lot, egad for oath of yore, mybad for pardon me, sellout letters SRO, sawbucks for tens, et al — which are now familiar to me like the back of my hand — were once crosswordese to me! I vividly remember that through crosswords I had got used to following US holidays and festivals than those in India. Puzzles with themes on thanksgiving, Independence Day, presidential election runs, anniversaries of famous events or personalities are still fresh in my mind.
But here is where I wish to bring out the beauty of solving a crossword. We have always read that it is one of the best ways to improve vocabulary, reasoning ability, et al. To me, however, the biggest learning has been the splendid and intricate view it provided of the minds of those who not only set it but also who solved it. The openness of American culture, respect for commemorating eminent personalities, maturity to keep it non-controversial and witty humour were a strong underlying theme of the crossword.
I must also mention, on the other hand, the crossword also showed me how the crossword world viewed my own country India. It was amusing to find fills which were associated with India in the crossword. Nan, raja, rani, sari, delhi, sitar, ravi, Nehru are usual suspects by now. But as an Indian, I always felt there was much more to India than just these words.
Another point I wish to highlight is to thank the crossword for teaching me a whole lot of things on a whole lot of subjects under the sun. From rivers to festivals, celebrities to gods, animals to birds, foods to drinks, places to persons, fashion to films — I think there are few such activities which teach you so much about so many things in life. What’s more the crossword also gave me wise sermons on leading life by having meaningful quotes as its theme. Frankly, I have spent 16 years of my life watching a blackboard trying to get educated, but believe me; some of the best learning of my life has actually come from solving the black-and-white board instead.
Finally, I wish to bring out the spiritual perspective crossword has brought to my life. I look at my own life as a crossword puzzle. Clues in crosswords are guiding posts which direct our thinking and eventually help us solve the complete grid. In life too we encounter such clues — we usually refer to them as omens — which play a crucial role in driving our decisions; thereby shaping our lives. No one can, beforehand, know the answer to each and every clue. The way to perform better is to keep learning and keep solving. Similarly, in life, we need to regularly retrospect in order to improve our understanding of signs — a skill we usually refer to as experience. The most important aspect of solving life’s crossword is that each short answer plays an integral part in completing a longer answer and, eventually, the whole grid. We therefore must keep an eye on the bigger picture in life.