Indian-Americans Riot in Chicago, Houston and Atlanta

Workers in several cities around America, including Chicago, Houston and Atlanta, are picking up brokenSameer1

glass and other debris after thousands of Indian-Americans rioted over the weekend, celebrating 13-year-old Sameer Mishra's win in the National Spelling Bee.

"We've waited three years. Three long years," said Raj Bompalli, a 22-year-old college student who, along with four friends, set fire to a car on Devon Avenue in Chicago. "I just can't describe how happy I am."

"The spelling bee is our Super Bowl," said Abraham George, 27, who was so overjoyed, he ran through downtown Atlanta wearing nothing at all. "And we won it for the sixth time in ten years. Can you spell 'dynasty'?"

A large group of Indian-Americans gathered outside the Grand Hyatt in Washington D.C., where the spelling bee was held. They waved pictures of Mishra and past spelling bee champions, while singing, "We are the champions! We are the champions … of the world!"

A young man named Mike Reddy took off his T-shirt to show his back tattooed with the names of former spelling bee champions. One name, that of 1988 winner Rageshree Ramachandran, went all the way around his body. On the left side of his chest was a drawing of 1999 champion Nupur Lala. "I love Nupur," he said. "As you can see, she's close to my heart."

This was the second time Indian-Americans have rioted to celebrate a spelling bee victory. They also rioted in 1999 when Lala won, ending a 11-year drought. "That's why we love Nupur so much," Reddy said. "She is the one who brought us back to the top. She's the one who returned us to glory."

Indeed, Lala was the first of six Indian-American winners over the last decade, with the biggest gap coming between Mishra and 2005 winner Anurag Kashyap. "We've really been spoiled," said Dr. Anil Jain, an ophthalmologist in Houston. "Every year, we expect to win. We're like the Kenyans in the marathon."

He noted that after the 2006 spelling bee, CNN ran a crawl that said: "Breaking News: Indian-American Doesn't Win Spelling Bee."

Chicago Police spokesman David McLoud said the riots would have been worse if the police hadn't been prepared for it. "We remember what happened in '99," he said. "That's why, whenever the National Spelling Bee comes around, we have a police presence in all the Indian neighborhoods."

Even so, police had to arrest more than a hundred Indian-American youths for vandalism. They used tear gas to break up a group of elderly women who were causing a disturbance at 1 a.m., banging chapathi pans together.

"It may look bad," McLoud said, "but let me tell you, the Spelling Bee Riots of 2008 were nothing compared to the Spelling Bee Riots of '99."

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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