Meet The Blind Teenager Who Stole The Show On "Indian Idol Junior"

Prerna Agarwal with Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan
Prerna Agarwal with Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan
Jasvinder Sehgal

VAPI — Teenager Prerna Agarwal is autistic and blind. She also happens to be one of India's latest singing sensations, thanks to a 2013 appearance on Indian Idol Junior, a popular television show that gained her international attention.

When reporter Jasvinder Sehgal visits the young singer at her home, he finds her listening to a classic Hindi hit from the 1970s while cuddling her favorite soft toy. "My Teddy loves singing songs," she says. "He loves eating pasta and drinking orange juice. He wakes up earlier than me and also wakes me up every morning."

Prerna then excitedly introduces her family. "My mother’s name is Punita. She is always in the kitchen busy cooking tasty food for me. My father is Umesh, he's a businessman and manufacturer of pens, and this is my brother Piyush Agarwal, an engineering student," she explains.

Prerna's father says he noticed her talent three years ago when one of his friends asked her to perform at a local event. "He was very confident that Prerna would steal the show," says her father Umesh. "She sang a popular religious number. That was her first performance. She sang it so beautifully that she got a thunderous applause and a standing ovation."

Her mother is certain that Prerna will become a professional singer. "She is obsessed with music," her mother Punita says. "You could say that she "eats music" and "drinks music." When she is singing she neither feels hungry or thirsty. The other children demand breakfast when they wake up but my daughter just wants to turn on music."

It was her appearance on Indian Idol Junior that really marked the turning point. She was eliminated in the early rounds but the producers asked her to sing at the closing event. "She performed in front of the star guest judge, Bollywood Actor Amitabh Bachchan. She performed in front of him and sang beautifully," Umesh says.

Prerna says she wants to sing for her country and for the continent she lives in. "It's an honor to be part of Asia," she says. "The people of my continent will always move forward and will always accept challenges and never be defeated."

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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