Sunday, June 7, 2009

How to win the Spelling bee? Be born Indian American

How to win the Spelling bee? Be born Indian American. Or so the the writer of a recent article in Wall Street Journal would have one believe. The author begins by writing "When 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar calmly spelled "Laodicean" this past Thursday to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she became the seventh Indian-American to take the title in the past 11 contests. As the Times of India boasted, at this point an Indian-American win at the Spelling Bee has "an air of inevitability." So Indian kids must have a natural advantage, right?" ["How to Win the Spelling Bee . . . You don't have to be Indian. But it seems to help"(WSJ June 3rd ]

The American Spelling Bee seem to have a strong global connection, more so a strong Asian / Indian connect. Years ago when I was living in Colorado Springs, I recall the local Indian American community get excited when Pratyush Buddiga won the 2002 National Spelling Bee . Though I shared excitment, I didn’t quite fathom the significance of the win till a few years later when my wife and I watched the holywood flick Akeelah and the Bee, a story about a young (black) girl from South Los Angeles who makes it to the finals of National Spelling Bee. (Inspiration to watch the movie came thanks to Starbucks, which was promoting it big time that year.)

James Maguire, in his WSJ article says "Though they were from all kinds of backgrounds, virtually all the families were bookish, even wonderfully old-fashioned in their tendency to limit TV in favor of studies." This echoes what many Indians, and Indian Americans have long known and practised: the strong emphasis on education during the formative years.

Reading the article took me back to my childhood in India (even though I was not India American or my parents in America). My mother would insist on no-TV-or-entertainment and only home-work during school weekdays. Like most middle-class parents, she was especially strict when it came to studies, textbooks and grades. This may be the key reason I would grow up in middle-class India and be equipped with the skills to travel and live in countries and continents across the globe. This is a trend also observed by NYT columnist and writer Thomas Frideman who is quoted saying "My mother used to tell me, 'Tom, finish your dinner; there are children starving in China and India,'" he says. "Now I tell my daughters, 'Girls, finish your homework because there are Chinese and Indian children hungry for your jobs.'

The Indian media and bloggers are naturally gung-ho about this recent achievement by an Non Resident Indian (NRI) kid. A few links: