An Indian American's account of Spelling Bee

Try to get the spelling of googol without doing a quick search. This word is for the number 1 followed by a 100 zeroes. Did you just spell it as Google? You are not the only one.

At the local Spelling Bee contest in the US recently, my swarm of 5 teams also wrote Google on the dry erase board. (Groups of four or five teams are called a swarm, and the elimination is pretty much like play-offs; one error and the team is out of the competition). All of us were wrong, and the subject of much amusement for the audience.

It was a sign that with Google and Apple in my life, I should not have agreed to participate in the Spelling Bee contest. Thanks to them I don't 'write' anymore. My MacBook auto-corrects my spellings, 'googling' helps me find the right one as well.

Spelling is a matter of writing whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. In India, unlike the US, we write 'colour' instead of 'color and 'aluminium' not 'aluminum'.

In the US, the words are pronounced different too. Ever since I moved here, I have been grappling with the new way of saying words. I listen more carefully to understand what people are saying to me, and often I can see the confusion on their faces as they try to decode my accent as well! Is status pronounced as 'staytus' or 'stat-us', and is 'root' the right way to say route, or should it be 'rout'?

Interestingly Indian Americans win most spelling bees, or are the finalists in any case. Various theories have been put out there, including a suspicion that Indians have a special 'gene' for spellings, the Indian predilection for rote memorization, lack of analytical skills and even parental pressure.

None of the above, especially the 'gene' is true for me, so panic stricken, I began to look for fellow team members. My family refused to be the 'Singh Bees' or 'Bee Singhs', but two wonderful women agreed. We would be the ;Beedazzlers'. In the 1970s, Bedazzler was a hugely popular home device in the US; similar to a stapler, a Bedazzler fastened fake stones and studs to clothes and other materials to make them shiny and glittery!

After the 'google' mix-up, our swarm got 'azure'. Easy. Then came zori, a traditional Japanese slipper. We played around with zauri, tsori, and then wrote zori. We survived. Next was the Hawaiian dress, Muumuu. We had no idea what it was, and decided to write 'mumuu'. Who would have known that this word, spelled Muumuu, the bottom 40% of words according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, would stump us!

In the end though, I won because I learned an important lesson. I am not apologetic about my pronunciation any more. For the word 'jodhpur' we say johd-poo r, the British say Jodhpore and the Emcee at the Spelling Bee said jod-per. We are all good!!

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