Indian American boy fails to spell his plight

By Arun Kumar


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Washington : Kunal Sah, the 13-year-old Indian American boy who hoped a strong showing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest might somehow reunite him with his deported parents, was eliminated in the preliminary rounds.

Sah, one of the 29 spellers of Indian origin among a record 286 contestants, tripped up on a written test after correctly clearing the first "hurdle" – his oral word – as the 80th edition of the contest kicked off here Wednesday.

But seven other Indian American kids were among the 59 survivors who will participate in the semi finals and finals Thursday of the contest that attracted 10 million contestants at the state level this year.

The champion will be crowned on prime-time national television. The winner receives $35,000 cash, a $5,000 scholarship, a $2,500 savings bond and a complete set of reference works.

Sah lives in Green River, Utah, with his uncle, who runs the hotel his parents built before they were forced to return to India after an arduous fight for political asylum on the ground that tension between Muslims and Hindus in his hometown could put his family in danger.

But Kanhai Lal Sah had been part of a Hindu group that had persecuted Muslims, making him ineligible for asylum, the immigration judges ruled. The ruling was appealed, but upheld, including by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among the Indian American survivors is 13-year-old Samir Patel of Colleyville, Texas, who is back for the fifth year after placing third, 27th, second and 14th. But a first-place win has eluded this year's favourite.

With his grandfather from India – visiting the US for the first time – Samir breezed through "decor" in the preliminary round, and "trumpery" (of low quality) and "sunglo" (a green Chinese tea) in the quarterfinals.

"I'm a lot more prepared than I was the first year," Samir said. "I'm not as nervous, and I already know sort of the routine, so I'm not so much worried about 'Am I going to be there on time?' 'Am I going to make a mistake in walking down the stage?'"

Four years ago, Samir finished a stunning third. But in 2004, he stumbled on the word "corposant" and tied for 27th place. He came close in 2005 but was flummoxed by "Roscian" and placed second. Last year, the audience gasped in shock as he failed to spell "eremacausis", forcing him to settle for a tie for 14th.

Also eliminated Wednesday was Aishwarya Pastapur who wore a T-shirt with the words "mishpelt werds eeritate me." She displayed no irritation whatsoever by correctly spelling "enumerated" in the preliminaries, but she was stumped by "coadunation" (union of a large body) in the quarterfinals.

Children of Indian origin have figured prominently in the contest since 1985 when Balu Natarajan, a 13-year-old son of Indian American parents, won by correctly spelling the word "milieu."