Is it because of India's colonial history with Britain or is it something at the level of genetic programming? Whatever the explanation, there is no denying that Indians have a penchant for the English language, a trans-generational, linguistic love affair that gets transmitted even to far-flung diaspora.
This week, the Scripps National Spelling Bee in the United States was — for the third consecutive year and for the eighth time in the last 11 years — won by an Indian-American, Anamika Veeramani of North Royalton, Ohio.
Anamika won after nine nerve-wracking rounds culminating in her correctly spelling “stromuhr”, a device used to measure blood flow velocity. She fought her way through earlier rounds successfully spelling words like “foggara”, “osteomyelitis”, “mirin”, “nahcolite”, “epiphysis”, and, in the penultimate round, “juvia”, a term for a Brazilian nut.
Anamika, an eighth grade student at Incarnate Word Academy in Parma Heights, Ohio, was competing in her second consecutive Spelling Bee, after tying at fifth place last year. This year’s competition began on Wednesday with 273 competitors who qualified through locally sponsored bees in their home communities.
Rich Boehne, President and CEO of sponsor E.W. Scripps Company, said, “Congratulations to Anamika, who triumphed over some of the most challenging words in the English language to emerge as the 2010 national champion.”
And Anamika was not the only Indian-American in the limelight this year: in joint second place was Shantanu Srivatsa of West Fargo, North Dakota, who fought valiantly before misspelling “ochidore” — a shore crab — as “ocodor”.
String of Indian-American Bees
Their dominant performance follows a string of Spelling Bee victories by children of Indian-American origin, including Nupur Lala in 1999, George Abraham Thampy in 2000, Pratyush Buddiga in 2002, Sai Gunturi in 2003, Anurag Kashyap in 2005, Sameer Mishra in 2008 and Kavya Shivashankar in 2009. Kavya’s 8-year old sister Vanya also showed tremendous promise in this year’s competition, and made it as far as the pre-semifinal round.
For her win Anamika will receive a cash prize of $30,000, according to a press statement by the competition sponsors; she will also get an engraved cup, a $5,000 scholarship from Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, a $2,500 U.S. Savings Bond and a reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $2,700 in reference words, and the Britannica Test Prep Precocious Package from Encyclopædia Britannica.
Reports quoted Anamika as saying, “It was too surreal… It was an amazing experience. I usually have a poker face, so that's what that was.”
Reflecting on the mystery of the enduring Indian passion for all things English Anamika's father, Alagaiya Veeramani, said to the Associated Press, “This has been her dream for a very, very long time. It's been a family dream, too,” adding, “I think it has to do with an emphasis on education.”
And that might well be the answer — that Indians are simply a people who believe that hard work, a rigorous education and familial support are the keys to their dreams. It would certainly appear that Anamika would agree — she hopes to attend Harvard University and become a cardiovascular surgeon.