Motihari Millionaire

Motihari Millionaire

It was over a decade ago. Harshvardhan Nawathe,the first Indian to win one crore rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati,stuttered a little as he faced the last of the 15 questions that stood between him and the jackpot.

A data entry operator from Motihari,Bihar,becomes the first Indian to win Rs 5 crore on Kaun Banega Crorepati. After years of struggle,Sushil Kumar has written his own fairy tale,but he is still looking for more answers

It was over a decade ago. Harshvardhan Nawathe,the first Indian to win one crore rupees on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC),stuttered a little as he faced the last of the 15 questions that stood between him and the jackpot. [Q: Who among these does the Indian Constitution permit to take part in the proceedings of Parliament? a) solicitor-general b) attorney-general c) cabinet secretary d) Chief Justice of India

Glued to the television,engaged in a contest with himself,was an 18-year-old

in Motihari,Bihar. “I knew answers to all the questions Nawathe had been asked till then. But I struggled with this one!” he says.

Nawathe “locked” the right answer


(attorney-general),and unlocked the celebrations. But that teenager looked beyond the confetti and cheer of the nation’s first KBC crorepati and went on to read and learn the Constitution of India by heart. “I couldn’t sleep. It kept pricking that I did not know that answer. I knew I was

hooked and had to be on KBC some day,” says Sushil Kumar,now 29,and the

first Indian to win five crore rupees on

the show.

The path to Rs 5 crore,from a crumbling house in Motihari,was paved with that kind of curiosity.

It took many more years,and many defeats,before Sushil Kumar finally settled into the hot seat,and faced Amitabh Bachchan with native charm and humour.

But all along,he had been priming himself for this day,as well as preparing for a string of competitive exams. He says he doesn’t remember a time when he had not read a newspaper the first thing in the morning,scouring it from front page to back,even if his hands turned grubby with cheap print. His quizzing bibles were English-language dailies and civil service guides,but also NCERT textbooks (prescribed for Classes 8 to 12) and lesser-known magazines targeted at mofussil readers,like Shukrawaar and Yojana. Whether he was reading Competition Success Review or Phanishwar Nath Renu,news channels would always be on mute at home. The in-depth analysis he

missed in sound bytes,he would look for

in weekly magazines .

But before he could try for KBC,this Master’s in psychology had to buy a cellphone. He could do so only last year,when he got a job as a data entry operator with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA),with a salary of Rs 6,000 at nearby Chanpatia town,and saved enough. He nearly didn’t make it,having lost the phone while candidates were being shortlisted,and can’t thank his luck (or Sai Baba) enough that the calls from KBC went to a back-up number. Sushil is one of five brothers,and the only one who took his education seriously. No one in the family earned enough to sponsor his journey to Mumbai,and it was a relative who stepped in to fund his travel,and a new wardrobe.

On his way to Rs 5 crore on KBC,

Sushil Kumar recalls being as scared as he would be on an exam day. (Confidence is an old problem,and his nerves have tripped him in many job interviews). When we meet him at a hotel in Mumbai,he admits to being confused when asked on the show if Madhubani was a form of painting or sculpture,and relives the glee when Computerji threw him an easy one: the author of Andher Nagri,as he knew from his study for the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) mains,was Bharatendu Harishchandra.

He was paranoid,though,about being asked questions related to his profession. “Things change so fast in computers,it’s quite scary,and hardware is not an interesting subject at all,” he says,crinkling his nose. But he had decided he would opt for a “lifeline”,sure that “Mumbai’s smart-public” would bail him out. They did.

He was endearing on the hot seat,thanks to his chatty,think-aloud methods of problem-solving,his ready self-effacing laughter,his untutored reactions and his insistence on counting the zeroes on his cheques. KBC,which this season has committed itself to giving underdogs from lesser-known places on the map a chance,could not have found a better aam aadmi as poster boy.

An immediate plan for spending Rs 5 crore isn’t ready,though it’s the only question everyone wants an answer to. “Meri toh aukaat sirf Rs 25 lakh ki thi. I haven’t thought of what I could do with such a huge amount. From where I come,we don’t think so big,” he says in a moment of unambitious candour. But getting all his brothers and family under one roof is top priority. Getting them started in business is another. Gold ornaments for wife Seema,who has so far sneaked glances at the local jewellers’ without ever making demands,and a library to stock his magazines and books make up the rough wish list.

In Motihari’s street corners and tea shops,all talk is now of Sushil Kumar and how to dream big,KBC-jackpot size. His home in Hanumangarhi lane is the new landmark. It’s a house brimming with happiness and visitors,despite the plaster peeling off walls and a gaping hole in the tiled roof,which family members cover with a bedsheet as camera crews keep pouring in. Sushil’s sister-in-law Rina Devi remembers that the happiest day for the family before his win was two years ago,when the family bought a tubewell. Till then,the women of the house would have to walk with aluminum utensils or plastic containers to get water from neighbours’ taps. “I used to feel bad when the children didn’t have money even for chocolates. But they say uparwaala jab deta hai toh chhappar phaadke deta hai. Tabhi toh mera chhappar (roof) pura phataa tha!” Sushil says with his trademark 10-second wink,as he is overwhelmed by his own humour.

Money,though,will buy him the freedom from a computer operator’s job,fund a shift to Delhi to resume studying for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams or become a writer. He also has plans to set up a civil services training centre for aspirants,as he starts living some of his dreams. “I don’t much care about cars or big bungalows,but I love studying,” he says,recalling the days when his appetite for books couldn’t be matched with enough money in the household. That was also a time when fried papad was a feast. “Even the movies I watched were rationed,so I’d watch only Aamir Khan films since I found them educational,” he says. There’s much of the utilitarian still in him. When he finally gets permission from the PR for a toilet break after five hours of back-to-back interviews,he walks around looking for the washroom,and chuckles,“Itna paisa decoration pe kharch kiya,ek bathroom bhi fix kar dete.” He obviously misses his cup of doodh chai,having gulped a cup of milk-less brew in distaste.

He is patient in answering questions but the 15 minutes of fame have had their pitfalls. “I like my quiet,private life and want to return home to my family where nobody tells me what to do,” he says,adding that simply accompanying his friends for chai round the corner should help restore peace in a life that has churned unbelievably and yielded a fortune.

Life in pre-Rs 5 crore days,was about the basics,where failure was more commonplace. He flunked the Central Police Forces Exam by a couple of points four years ago. That crippled his confidence. He vividly remembers his last visit to Mumbai when he’d shared a room for Rs 600 with three others at Mumbai Central,while appearing for an exam. “A shave for Rs 20 had appeared so expensive,I regretted getting it done for days after that,” he says.

Sushil also believes he is part of the new Bihar story. “There’s too much negativity about the state,but in the last few years everyone has been working on improving that image,” he says. It’s the Bihari doggedness at competitive exams,and respect for knowledge and academics,that he believes he is part of. “There are many people more intelligent than me in Champaran,and Bihar’s always produced great writers,journalists,teachers,and students who do well in competitive and entrance exams,” he says. “People here put a lot of stress on reading,and poverty is such that education is the only way out. We still prefer government service. We’d be happier in a Rs 10,000 government job rather than running a Rs 1 lakh business.”

Those who watched him empty a glass of water on his head and hug his wife in joy,watched a fairy tale come true,a real-life Jamal Malik in his moment of victory. But Sushil Kumar is not content to be only a Motihari millionaire. He is also,at heart,the never-say-die-quizzer in love with facts and factoids,and the maze of trivia. “A good question is something that seeks to connect with people in some way,that everyone has heard about but only a few bother to put together. Sometimes I drown in good questions and forget who’s around,” says the man who routinely sets quiz questionnaires for a group of IAS-aspirants. He confesses it happened twice,and there was Amitabh Bachchan sitting across him in KBC.


We put him through a rapid-fire of our own,and he scores 9 on 10,missing out on the correct name for traditional green tea from the Kashmir Valley. The man’s just won Rs 5 crore,but he can’t wait to read all about qahwah now. A tea guide to recommend to the newest crorepati in town,anyone? p