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Star Indian spellers aim for US title

Last updated on: June 01, 2006 16:02 IST

Bonny Jain, fresh from winning the National Geographic Bee top crown, got the spelling right for such words as 'lipothymia' and 'mustelidae' on Wednesday at the 79th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Bonny, who came 24th in last year's spelling bee, says this time he wants to take home the crown. He was among the 275 spellers who came to Washington DC on Wednesday for the competition that has been attracting significant number of Indian students from across America.

The winner will rake in more than $42,000 in cash and prizes.

Some words this year like 'basmati' were easy targets to many, but a word like 'makara' scared Keegan Dunnagan.

Contestants are allowed to ask a word's pronunciation, definition, usage in a sentence and etymology.

When the word was repeated and Dunnagan was told its origin was in Sanskrit he groaned softly, saying: "That doesn't help me."

While Bonny is going to get a lot of attention because of his Geo Bee win, the star of the competition this year is Samir Patel, according to his hometown newspaper The Dallas Morning News.

"One of those celebrities is Samir, arguably the most famous non-winner of the spelling bee, who has enjoyed the spoils of being a successful contender," the newspaper wrote. "He finished third and fifth, respectively, in the 2003 and 2004 bees. Last year, the Colleyville resident placed second." He lost to Anurag Kashyap of San Diego whose winning word was 'appoggiatura'.

This year there were at least 30 students of South Asian origin at the start, with names such as Vikas Vavilala, Nandhini Sundersan and Shruti Sharma who spelt, among others words 'acescency', 'cadastral' and 'Ailurus' respectively.

Many hopefuls faltered in the fourth round when they had to decide if a given spelling for a word was right or not.

Shruti, for instance, thought 'Quonset' should be spelt 'Quanzite'. And Nandhini thought 'thyleian' should be spelt 'thalian'.

Though the competition is drawing hundreds of Indian American students each year at the very beginning of the selection process in their school districts, just about half a dozen Indians have become the champs till now.

And the small group includes two girls --- Rageshree Ramachandran (winning word, 'elegiacal') and Nupur Lala ('logorrhea').

The first Indian to win Balu Nataraja made headlines in 1985; his winning word: 'milieu'. He went on to become a successful physician with tremendous leadership skills.

Out of the 275 participants right at the start this year, there were 139 boys including Rajdeep Chahal of New York. Spellers range in age from 9 to 15.

After the first three rounds on Wednesday, Samir (who spelled words such as 'adiaphorism') and 45 others remained in the competition, according to the news services.

The final championship rounds will air live 8-10 pm Thursday on ABC-TV. This is the first time the bee's gone prime time on a major network, and newspapers point out how the national obsession with the bee has led to 2002 documentary Spellbound that grossed about $5.7 million.

Among the eight teenagers the Oscar-nominated documentary followed on their quest to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee, a quest that was often agonising and at times exhilarating, were Nupur Lala and Neil Kadakia.

The recent feature film Akeelah and the Bee has grossed a modest $15 million. But the Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a smash hit and has grossed  $23 million since it opened May 2005.

Samir and Bonny were among the more assured of the competitors.

Samir told Dallas Morning News that while he enjoyed "the attention and the theatricality of the event", he also tries "not to psych myself out or to be too serious because that actually is detrimental".

About one-fourth of the spellers were making repeat appearances.

Among them was Maheen Rana who was competing in the national bee for the second time. She got the spelling for 'hyphaeresis' correctly but lost on the word 'papeterie'.

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And the winner is Bonny Jain 

Arthur J Pais in New York
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