Spelling champ Arvind Mahankali talks win, first taste of knaidel


| mchan@queenscourier.com |

THE COURIER/Photos by Rosa Kim
THE COURIER/Photos by Rosa Kim

Victory is as savory as a k-n-a-i-d-e-l.

Teen whiz Arvind Mahankali tried his first Matzo ball after correctly spelling the above synonym for the dish to win this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“It was actually very good,” said the 13-year-old from Bayside. “It tasted excellent.”

Arvind, who swallowed the whole bowl, has been eating up national stardom since his live televised feat on May 30.

“There have been some people on the streets in New York City who actually recognized me,” he said. “They say congratulations. It feels weird. It’ll take some time getting used to.”

This was the M.S. 74 eighth grader’s fourth and final try at the prestigious contest. He placed third at the last two Bees.

“I’m glad that I at least was able to be consistent the past few times,” Arvind said. “All I wanted this time was to get to the finals.”

He exceeded that goal, beating 281 contestants and winning more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.

Arvind has been on an endless media tour since he took home first place.

“There have been a lot of interviews,” he said the night before being honored back to back by his school and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s actually been somewhat tiring. I haven’t had the opportunity to just rest.”

Not that he is used to resting.

Arvind started prepping for this year’s spelling bee almost immediately after being booted from the competition last year, when the German-based word “schwannoma,” meaning a type of cancer, eliminated him.

He would come home from school, finish his homework and read the dictionary as long as four hours a night until lights out, according to his mother.

“I’m very proud of him,” Bhavani Mahankali said. “He was so composed. He worked so hard.”

Studying certainly paid off. The smooth speller had come across his final word “knaidel” before.

“All I thought was that I knew this word and that I had to spell it right,” he said.

The aspiring physicist will enter Stuyvesant High School next year.

His father, Srinivas Mahankali, said the victory was “like a dream come true” for the family.

“It’s totally unlike anything,” he said of the national spotlight on his humble son. “The experience so far is unbelievable. It’s a blessing for us. We’re enjoying the moment right now.”

As for studying the dictionary, Arvind is more or less ready to put away his lexicon.

“I will sort of miss it,” he said, “but I will have some more free time to study physics and math and play some more tennis.”

 

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