Why Indians Win Spelling Bees & in Silicon Valley? – An Underlying Historical Advantage?


We hold this truth to be self-evident – that our Creator is a statistically fair distributor of talent. The gift of God-given talent, especially intelligence, is delivered to all races & ethnic groups in a statistically fair distribution. Humans then do the rest, either positively to build on the Creator’s gifts or negatively to squander them. A society or ethnic group that manages to build technology to amplify specific aspects of intelligence succeeds more than others, thus building a reputation for innate or God-given ethnic or racial superiority.

Such a reputation is now developing for intelligence-based talent of Indian Americans in America. Take Spelling Bee competition for example. It has become common for Indian-American kids to win this competition. In fact, the last seven competitions have been won by Indian-American kids. Why? Is there something more than God-given memory combined with hard work & practice?

1.Memory & Random Access

What leads to a win in a spelling competition? Memory for one and secondly fast, random access of that memory triggered by a spoken word. In a spelling bee competition, the examiner says a word aloud and the contestants have to access their memory, the collection of spellings of words stored in memory, on this speech trigger. The ones that have the fastest speech-triggered search & the most memory stored should win and usually do. 

So the natural question is – do Indians have a unique advantage in such memory storage & speech- triggered search? The answer, we think is Yes. And that advantage is Sanskrut.

2.Uniqueness of Sanskrut – Verbal Learning 

Sanskrut is, probably, the only language in today’s world that was fully developed & deeply enriched with literature BEFORE writing became commonly used. Actually, the creation of Sanskrut texts that form Indian Culture & Thought precedes the invention of writing.

So the verses that formed Sanskrut texts had to be composed and stored in memory. They were propagated & transmitted to students via recitation. This is why the traditional method of learning from a Guru was the Upa-Ni-Sad or Sit-Near concept. Students would sit in front of the Guru and recite the verses that the Guru taught. This is not merely an ancient phenomenon. Such studies were common till the beginning of the 20th century in India.

How was this tradition of content creation-propagation maintained? First be devising proper phonetic methods of recitation that facilitated easy storage in memory and fast access. This required a formal development of stages of intelligence/memory and breakdown of stages of content creation. 

Imagine the enormity of this achievement. A successful practice of speech-based learning handed down form say 2,500 BCE to today’s modern age. Yes, including today. Sanskrut remains a “Mukhot-gat Vidya” – a language especially geared towards memory based verbal learning. Try teaching Sanskrut verses to a young kid by visual technics of reading and by verbal technics of recitation. You will be amazed how fast the kid will learn by audio recitation method.

This was not easily accomplished. Technics were designed to ensure the absolute purity & rigor of Sanskrut recitation that kept the texts safe & intact over the 4,000 + years. When Max Mueller, the 19th century German Indologist, travelled through India, he was stupefied to discover that the Ved & other Sanskrut texts were recited in an identical manner through out that vast land.

Take the example of Veer Savarkar, the great freedom fighter whom the British imprisoned, mostly in solitary, for years in a remote jail in Andaman islands. He used this period to compose a poem of 882 verses that he called Kamala. The only way he could do so without paper or ink was to compose one verse, memorize it, then compose another & so on. He did so for 882 verses and then put it to paper years after upon his release. This is a monumental achievement. He could accomplish it because of the Sanskrut education of his childhood and his Sanskrut heritage.  

But memory is only one part of the story. Storing content in memory is not useful unless you have methods of accessing it in a fast random manner via a speech-based trigger. Sanskrut is structured to facilitate that. Even in our own simple case, a mere trigger of one word is often enough to bring to fore verses of poetry or Mantra that we used to recite at home with parents during our elementary school or middle school days.

How does Sanskrut enable that? Via a formal recognition of the stages of content creation.

3. SanskrutStages of Content Creation/Storage/Access in Memory

Indian scholars also developed a formal recognition of the three levels of earthly content creation/management inside Buddhi (intelligence is the closest English term in this context):

  1. Vaikhari – tangibalized content
  2. Madhyamaa – either the medium or middle stage
  3. Pashyanti – the comprehension or “got it” stage

The first stage, Vaikhari, represents content expressed verbally or in writing – tangible content that can be transmitted via speech or script. The second stage, Madhyamaa, is the stage where content is formed in thought with language. When you are asked “in what language do you think?”, this is the stage they are referring to. 

The third stage is pre-language, pre-word in which content is formed inside your Buddhi without words or language. This is why it is called Pashyanti – or “I see it” or “I get it” stage. It is almost 100% conceptual.  This is the 3rd level where hard thinking gets stored in some manner until, at one moment, it descends down into levels 2 & 1 in a moment of stupendous clarity, a moment of sudden, instantaneous clarity. This is the instantaneous clarity that made Archimedes shout “Eureka”, the instantaneous moment of realization in which Henri Poincare got his solution as he was boarding a bus.   

At a far more trivial level, this is how the articles on this Blog are written. Thinking & then writing is foreign to us. That would be like rowing upstream or skiing uphill. We sit down at our desk with a cup of coffee on early Saturday morning, open a web-browser and thoughts flow down from level 3 to level 1 into articles like this one. Whatever has been forming inside our level 3 or Pashyanti level during the week descends down into our article without any pre-determined access on our part.

4. Some Indians are blessed with this advantage

It should be easy to see from the above that Indians, especially Indians with a Sanskrut heritage, may possess a unique advantage in competitions like Spelling Bee where storage of content in memory and speech-triggered fast search of this memory is the key to winning.

But the advantage is deeper than that. It extends to all disciplines where thinking is important, cross-referential thinking or pattern formation/recognition. – in short, Mathematics, Science & Engineering.  This may be a hidden, unexplored reason why a heritage of Sanskrut learning is an important reason for success of Indian Americans in Silicon Valley.

A quick empirical search of successful Indian Americans in Silicon Valley would show a preponderance of people from the Braahman or Dvija (Twice-born) communities – communities which, in the preBritish days, sent their kids to a decade of Sanskrut-based learning at the home/school of a Guru.

Perhaps, such an empirical search might also show that, South Indians tend to succeed more and in greater numbers than North Indians at least in Silicon Valley. This may be because South India has had an uninterrupted tradition of Sanskrut learning while the similar tradition in North India was severely impacted by Muslim occupation & subjugation. The search might also reveal that the successful Indians in Silicon Valley are predominantly of Indian Dharma (also called Hindus) and that Indian Muslims, kept away from Sanskrut-learning, have not succeeded to the same extent.

If true, this would solve the mystery of why Indian Americans do so well in Silicon Valley? Because they come from a sliver of Indian Society that has been blessed with an uninterrupted tradition & practice of an  advanced form of learning – learning that integrates memory, fast random search of memory and use of memory in pattern recognition or cross-referential analytical technics.

Is this America’s gain & India’s loss? America’s gain for sure. But India’s loss? Not really. Today’s Indian economy offers maximum benefits to a different class of Indians blessed with different talents – ability to build & manage retail businesses or businesses that demand excellence in distribution. That has been the province of a different class of Indians – the merchant class. It will take another 10-15 years or so for India’s knowledge economy to be large enough to keep Sanskrut-heritage Indians in India. 

Until then, the Indian-American diaspora will keep growing and succeeding. As long as this diaspora delivers to their children the Sanskrut heritage they received from their Indian ancestors.



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1 Comment

  1. A thought provoking article indeed !
    Sanskrut is so rich that it has to be gain for everyone ; and your gain my loss situation
    will not arise .

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