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Rediff.com  » Getahead » V-I-C-T-O-R-Y: 14-year-old Indian wins Spelling Bee

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y: 14-year-old Indian wins Spelling Bee

July 04, 2014 12:29 IST

V-I-C-T-O-R-Y: 14-year-old Indian wins Spelling Bee

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Arthur J Pais

Winner of 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee Sriram Hathwar in conversation with Arthur J Pais on the challenges of winning the competition.

Life is coming back to normalcy," Sriram Hathwar, the co-champion of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, said last week in his house in rural Painted Post in upstate New York. "Almost," he added, as he was getting ready to go the Hindu religious class conducted by his mother Roopa, who like her husband is a doctor.

With a whirlwind of television appearances including the Jimmy Kimmel show and a raft of media interviews, Sriram, who wants to be an ophthalmologist, is getting back into the studies mode. He had to forego attending the star-studded red carpet invitation for the Fox melodrama The Fault in Our Stars in New York City because he had to take a competitive exam the next day. The film is No 1 at the North American box-office and its author John Greene watched the Spelling Bee.

But celebrations continue for Sriram, 14, who shared the award with Sujoe, 13.

Sriram was felicitated by the New York Senate and Assembly, which passed a resolution. His parents took another day off, and drove for hours to Albany with Sriram’s grandmother Bhageerathi Hathwar for the event.

Sriram, an eighth-grader at the Alternative School for Math and Science in Corning, was joined in the Senate gallery by his brother Jairam, 11, who has also been competing in the regional bee.

"Last year, he came second in one contest and I came third," said Sriram, who has been contesting in the national bee since age 8.

'It's an honour to have you and thank you for representing us so well in the National Spelling Bee contest,' New York State Senator Tom O'Mara was quoted as telling Sriram.

O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, both Republicans, sponsored a Joint Legislative Resolution honouring Sriram's achievement, which was presented to all members of the State Legislature.

"We had to forego couple of felicitations in New York City (at least four hours' drive away) because of this event," Roopa Hathwar said.

Sriram was recognised in person by each legislative house.

'Sriram Hathwar, in achieving this high honour, may take just pride in the inspiration and contribution to the spirit of excellence he brings to his family, friends, school and region,' the resolution said. '... His achievement stands as a testament to his abilities, his perseverance and his commitment to success -- all of which signal a bright future.'

This year marked the first time in 52 years that there were co-champions of the bee. It was also the fifth time that Sriram has participated in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In 2008, as an 8–year-old second-grader, he was the bee's youngest-ever competitor. Last year, he finished third.

Sriram is the first champion from upstate New York since 1976, when Tom Kneale of Syracuse was the champion.

This was the fifth time Sriram had contested, and as per the rules regarding age, the last. He said in his home chatting in a relaxed atmosphere that he called his Ajji (grandmother in Kannada) to come to New York and go with them to Washington, DC for the competition as this was going to be his last attempt.

The grandmother, always seen in a bright and colourful sari, recalled how she used to play scrabble with Sriram and how she learned many new English words from the game.

Sriram said some people think that the Spelling Bee is all about memory and if you get the 48,000 words in the official Spelling Bee dictionary (the Webster), you cannot lose.

"They think this is not like math which has infinite theories," he said. "But you cannot memorise every word. And then there is a written test and you are also challenged on the meaning of words."

Sriram said he was "thrilled" to win with a fellow Indian American, and was glad that they made history.

The Hathwars maintain a traditional vegetarian home, and Sriram whose favourite foods include simple dishes such as anna and saru (rice and curry), is well versed in Hindu lore and religion. Both the brothers can recite the long litany of mantras as the Lalitha Sahasram, their grandmother said.

Sriram said he prays all the time, and whispered Om Nama Shivaya often during the nail-biting part of the competition.