It is possible that if Rakesh Menon's car had not broken down on the New Jersey Turnpike, his son Karan may never have won the National
Geographic Bee this year.
Karan, 14, an eighth grader at the John
Adams Middle School in Edison, New
Jersey, fought his way up through the
competition, keeping his head down
when things got really hard, to finally go
on to win the contest.
But again, all that would not have happened if their car had not broken down.
“Typical of all of us (Indians), we sent
him to a spelling bee contest. We accidentally found his geography knowledge
was a lot,” says Rakesh.
Karan's parents were taking him to
Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for a spelling
bee organized by the redoubtable North
South Foundation, when the mishap
Karan's father got his friend Mahesh to
take Karan and his mother Manisha to
the contest. They reached the venue too
late, so Manisha asked the organizers if
they could allow her son, then about 5, to
participate in one of the other contests
The organizers agreed, but pointed out
that, since Karan was not registered, he
could not win a prize. Karan had not pre-
pared for a geography bee, but came sec-
After that, despite winning a school
spelling bee, and being part of a team
that made it to the state level in
Mathcounts, Karan knew his strength lay
Actually, the family did know that
Karan loved geography, thanks to an
interactive globe given to him by a family
friend —Rakesh hazards it was possibly
one Manish Sharma.
“It intrigued him and he spent hours on
it,” says Rakesh. And when the family put
up a map in the basement of their then
home, Karan spent still more hours contentedly studying it.
As he grew older, Karan found his way
into Wikipedia, whereon he searched up
the detailed histories of countries, cities,
capitals and presidents.
As his interest grew the family got in
touch with Krishna Nandur, the geography coach who has prepped many a contestant for the NGS contest, including
four Florida state champions and one
national champion, Aadith Moorthy.
Still, the contest, was no breeze for him.
The World is his Oyster
2015 National Geographic Bee winner Karan Menon of New Jersey, left, and second-place finisher Shriya Yarlagadda of Michigan high-five their success as Bee moderator and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien smiles.
The top three, from left: Karan Menon of New Jersey took first place, winning a $50,000 college