Getting into a good book

Ilina Navani
Saturday, 17 August 2019

Two essays by Mumbai students have got published in the book, Pen To Paper. We chat with Oishee Banerjee and Yazhini Sathiamoorthy to know about their experiences.

Oishee Banerjee and Yazhini Sathiamoorthy have made their school and the city (Mumbai) proud as their essays have been published in a book titled Pen To Paper. The book, authored by 20 students from grades 9-12, brings together stellar essays on a wide variety of subjects. From writing on serious themes such as dealing with peer pressure to a well-researched piece on memes, these students participated in a nationwide school writing contest called Pen To Paper conducted by ICICI Lombard and EduPeer. The organisers received over 10,000 entries from all over India. The students had the liberty to decide the nature of their submissions, while undergoing an immersive writing workshop with established authors. 

Oishee, an aspiring physicist and philosopher, wrote an essay on the development of human consciousness over the last few millennia, linking it to our social identities. Talking about her essay, Oishee said, “My piece is based on a recent session I had in school with the members of my Mythology Club, which I founded two years ago. We had an incredible discussion on the theme of religion, and my essay is a documentation of our flow of ideas.” 

Oishee, who developed a habit of typing in various thoughts in her head with the hope of being able to connect them to create a story, admires Dan Brown, Sarah J Maas and Stephen Hawking. 

On the other hand, Yazhini Sathiamoorthy, an avid learner and lover of nature, centred her writing around wildlife conservation, and the steps taken to protect a critically endangered porpoise, the Vaquita Marina. “I have been collecting newspaper articles for two years. When I read articles about the rescue mission and how an animal discovered only in the 1950s was already on its way to becoming extinct, I wanted to spread awareness, and used them to write my story,” responded Yazhini when asked about her inspiration for her essay. 

Inspired by authors such as Ruskin Bond and Sudha Murty, articles by Janaki Lenin and Jane Goodall’s contribution to the environment, Yazhini aspires to follow in their footsteps. 

Both students highlighted that adequate planning and improvisation were key when it came to researching and finally writing their essays. “Since my essay was a cumulation of the genius of my peers, I already had rich material, which I then fact-checked and added concrete statistics to,” shared Oishee, adding, “I first put down ideas from a mind-map we created in Mythology Club, alongside relevant information that I had researched. After deciding how I wanted to structure my piece, I grouped the ideas logically and wrote my essay in a cohesive manner. Then, the only thing left was editing and polishing my piece to make it sound professional.” 

Yazhini followed a similar thought process by writing three drafts, alongside a skeleton and a mind-map. The narrator of her essay is a dolphin who was a part of the rescue mission, and hence she had to research both the species and the rescue mission extensively. 

The top 20 most promising young authors, who were shortlisted post the writing workshop to be published, had the opportunity to be mentored by eight published authors on a one-on-one basis. These authors came from four countries: India, Sri Lanka, Australia and Germany. “Kiran Manral was my mentor, and she was always a click away. She preferred to keep the originality of my essay intact, but at the same time she offered suggestions and improvements, which I really liked,” commented Yazhini.

Nonetheless, the objective of Pen To Paper is to give a voice to young adults. Three main themes emerged from this year’s contest winners — Peer pressure, Challenging gender boundaries and Body image issues. When asked if she sees a change in herself post the competition, Oishee said, “This might sound surprising, but the biggest change has been in my self-perception. It is empowering to know that I can achieve my dreams if I find the right platform. Prior to the competition, I had self-published a book of mine, which I now hope would be accepted by publishers. I am also going to start writing more non-fiction. I have always been a creative fiction writer, but I really enjoyed this experience and hope to apply my learning in future writings.” 

Yazhini emphasised on the surreal feeling of being introduced as a young adult writer at the book launch, and how she wishes to tackle the challenges faced by teenagers through her writings. “We have all become slaves to technology and breaking out of this illusion of a ‘technological paradise’ is our biggest challenge,” she said. “I don’t have a phone and I cycle to school every morning, which comes across as a joke to my classmates. However, whatever career the youth of this generation choose, we have to do one thing and that is to take care of the earth. Some teenagers like Greta Thunberg have already raised their voices and inspired many, and we need to do the same,” she said. 

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