‘Deepika thinks nerds are cool’
And knowing that all this studying will pay off later, she doesn’t mind being one, her parents tell P Rajendran.
Deepika does not mind being a nerd. She thinks
nerds are...” mother Meena laughs and hesitates, searching for the right word. And Pradeep
interjects with suitable language: “They’re cool.”
Over the last few years, their home has been
witness to long-drawn abstruse discussions, involving both
Deepika and Pradeep.
Does Meena feel befuddled with all the science about her?
“I definitely do. I’m the odd one out here. It’s always science.” She laughs, and adds, “My younger daughter (Anjali)
is more like me. She likes to have fun and she’s not too academically motivated. She likes playing with her friends,
watching TV, going out and things like that...
“I like science, too,” Anjali protests in an injured voice.
“She likes science, too,” Meena repeats, conciliatorily, ever
the peacemaker. Her own degree, in home science, is from
the Women’s College, Thiruvanthapuram.
The couple is product of an arranged marriage, the result of
a matrimonial advertisement in the Mathrubhumi
newspaper. It helped that their grandparents knew each other as
They were married in 1994 in Thiruvananthapuram.
Meena came over two weeks later to join Pradeep, who was
doing a PhD at Louisiana State University.
Deepika was born in 1998, and Anjali in 2001.
Deepika was a fast learner, talking at 18 months and reading by age 3. By kindergarten she was into Harry Potter, but
has not outgrown that, her parents said.
Family friend Joydeep Mukherjee learned how little
Deepika thought by eavesdropping on her conversation with
his own children when they were just six or seven.
“She was straight and sharp with her answers. And her
interests did not always rhyme with other girls of her age at
that time,” he says. “She was always clear... always able to hold
a conversation at that age when other children are shy and
tend to hang around with their own age group.”
That difference endured as Deepika grew older and
Mukherjee drove them all to taekwondo classes.
“When you have a bunch of kids in the car, they keep
talking. You hear a very different conversation with
Deepika than with other children,” he says.
By middle school, when Deepika was in the eighth grade,
Pradeep had helped her start the first national science
bowl team at Fairgrounds Middle School, Nashua. He was
also the coach for the team, though all the students worked
on their own, he says.
The team competed at the state, regional and national
level, winning third place in the regionals. Deepika captained the team.
Maternal uncle Girish Nair describes Deepika as a
“always a very good kid,” but also as “very determined, very
“Anything she went for, she would be in the top three or
four.” he says. “She was very interested in science and
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math. And then when she started this exercise (working on
the Discovery 3M project), I did not think it would go to the
length it did. I saw it happen before my eyes.”
“I didn’t tell my colleagues (of Deepika’s success). The only
time they came to know was this year,” says Pradeep, speak-
ing of how he basked in reflected fame when John Ting, the
vice provost for enrollment, asked him about it.
Science has held deep fascination for Deepika from childhood.
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