Jagdeesh Hathwar: Ancient rishis could memorize the whole veda— “the Spelling Bee is nothing for these kids.”
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD: Indian American spellers have built a dynasty at the Scripps National Spelling Bee by winning nine titles in a row. Since 1999, the community has produced 17 champions.
Why does the community have such a grip on the Bee?
Jagdeesh Hathwar, father of the 2016 co-champion Jairam Hathwar, thinks it has to do with the community’s emphasis on education, its mastery of the process and, of course, the cultural DNA.
“[We] value the education,” the elder Hathwar said, speaking to the American Bazaar. “[Most of the people who have come from India to [the United States], they are all educated and they know the process: how to get a degree, how to pass an exam, how to compete. It’s in built. And this one requires memories. So we are good at it. It’s in our DNA.”
Hathwar pointed out the rich history of memorization that people of Indian origin has dating back to the vedas. “All our ancient rishis, if they could memorize the whole veda, the Spelling Bee is nothing for these kids,” he said. “It’s a system plus the inherent talent [for] memory.”
Of course, Jagdish Hathwar should know a thing or two about what it takes to win the Bee, having raised two children who went on to scale the Mount Olympiad of the Spelling Bee. His elder son Sriram was a co-champion in 2014.
Balu Natarajan was the first speller from the community to win the competition in 1985 at the age of 13.