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Last Updated: Monday, 22 November, 2004, 14:06 GMT
Indian 'child genius' beats the odds
By Amarnath Tewary
BBC correspondent in Patna

A 12-year-old boy from India's poorest and most lawless state, Bihar, is celebrating being named India smartest kid after winning a nationally televised quiz.

Shubham Prakhar
Poor download times and power cuts did not deter Shubham (Pics: Prashant Ravi)
Subham Prakhar won the title of "India's Child Genius" after several rounds of stiff competition between some 16,000 schoolchildren.

Both of his parents are currently unemployed and Subham had to depend on generous relatives and the internet to gain access to the books he needed to prepare for the competition.

Besides a glass trophy, an Encyclopaedia Britannica CD-rom and a pair of gold and silver pens, Shubham won a cash prize of one million rupees ($22,200).

Murders and kidnaps

Shubham Prakhar lives in the northern district of Muzaffarpur in Bihar - a state where police estimate that a murder takes place every four hours, a woman is raped every six hours, and kidnappings are a daily occurrence.

Muzaffarpur is considered to be the crime capital of the state.

He is an eighth-grade student in an area where kidnappings of schoolchildren for ransom is routine.

"We wish to send our only child to some other schools in Delhi as the situation here is frightening and not conducive," say his parents, Kumar Nawin and Archana Kumari.

It was a 10-month-long process running in 27 episodes to choose India's first child genius
Siddhartha Basu
Quiz show host
"But we can't do it as money has always been a problem."

The couple started a computer institute but were forced to wind it up in 1998 "as it failed to bring profit".

Rent provided by tenants has allowed them to keep living in the ancestral home in Muzaffarpur while they devote their time to their only son.

They got him his first computer when he was in the first grade and "since then he has been operating it like a true professional", says his mother, who trained as a computer engineer in Ukraine.

Beating the odds

Shubham had won every competition he entered before applying to take part in India's most prestigious and popular brain game show.

He struggled hard to download the application form in a town in which the internet connection trips every few minutes and there are frequent power cuts.

Shubham and his parents
Despite being unemployed his parents have stood by him
"I've never stood second in life and that's how I wanted to be," he says.

But he faced an uphill task in his latest challenge.

Contestants were required to be in the age group of 10-13, with an overall average of at least 80% in school tests and examinations over the past two academic years.

The top percentile of applicants from four regional zones were invited for a written entry test.

Among 16,000 students Shubham topped the written test by "a substantial margin", says competition host Siddhartha Basu.

Telephone interviews and more tests helped organisers whittle the 320 contestants down to 60.

Just 18 contestants took part in the final, which was televised nationally on the Star World television channel last week.

"It was a 10-month-long process running in 27 episodes to choose India's first child genius," says Mr Basu.

Family support

Shubham's family say living in a small town like Muzaffarpur has its limitations.

"But we managed through somehow with all our family effort," says his grandmother, Jayanti Devi, an economics professor.

Shubham prepared for up to 12 hours a day during his holidays, and five or six hours while at school.

"I read 70 books, including classics, between April and August - but not a single question was asked on them in the final," he says.

I'm just proud of my home state which of course has recently earned bad name for some wrong reasons
Shubham Prakhar
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the Charles Dickens classics, A Tale of two cities and David Copperfield, were among his favourite reads.

"I like stories written in [the classical style], but these days good classics are difficult to find."

Shubham's teachers say he is an extraordinary talent who is the pride of their school.

"Shubham is just an amazing blend of genius and talent. If everything goes right in future he will be a real treasure for India," says Manish Kumar, who has been teaching him for the past three years.

A fan of Bollywood stars Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta, Shubham also loves to play and watch cricket along with other boys his age.

He dreams of becoming a professor of computer or mechanical engineering to "serve his state and country".

"I'm just proud of my home state - which of course has recently earned a bad name for some wrong reasons - but I'd love to do something for it," promises Shubham.

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