Earlier this year, in April, Delhi-based graphic novel publishers Campfire, had announced the winners of their annual Young Writer of the Year contest. Five thousand entries flooded the jury’s inbox and the all-India winner was 13-year-old Sahir D’Souza from Bandra’s Shishuvan School.
“He began writing early, as soon as he was familiar with the alphabet; I recall from 7-8 years back, when Sahir would fill up diaries and books with his stories,” says Dilip D’Souza, Sahir’s dad, a celebrated author himself. He adds how Sahir would create book covers from empty sheets of paper where he would add elements like ‘Other titles by Sahir D’Souza’ (all imaginary, of course) as part of the book jacket design!
The pan-Indian title win sits comfortably on the talented teenager who is unperturbed about the buzz — “I had written The Spirit and the Tree (his winning story) two years back. When my dad had heard about this contest, he suggested I send in my entry. I changed the original ending and had it ready in two week’s time. I was a bit reluctant, initially, but dad urged me to give it a shot.” In fact, Sahir’s parents — Dilip and Vibha were more ecstatic about the win, the senior D’Souza admits. In course of our chat we also learn that the family doesn’t keep a TV set at home, and are hoping that Surabhi, their 8-year-old daughter, isn’t bitten by the telly bug.
In the same breath, Dilip plays down his role in his son’s progress as a writer, “I cant take any credit. He loves reading. The only feedback I gave him (for this story) was to avoid making it too dialogue-driven, which was the case in some of his earlier writing.” By now, Sahir’s mum joins in. Vibha Kamat is
co-founder of the MCubed Library, a space for kids to read and borrow books. Reminding Vibha of Sahir’s genes playing its role in his twin passions, she laughs it off, “My son is his own man; reading and writing comes naturally to him.”
Sourav Datta, senior editor at Campfire Graphic Novels tells us that Sahir's story caught the jury’s attention because of his effortless creation of a fantasy world: “His story stood out from the rest in the way that the fantasy world faced issues that are relevant to us today, and Sahir had managed, admirably, to maintain a slightly quirky and deeply human tone.”
Sahir, whose reading ranges from Anthony Horowitz to Roald Dahl and Satyajit Ray, is happy that his story —about a spirit, who lives inside a tree, will be adapted into a graphic novel. Andy Dodd, marketing head at Campfire elaborates, “Sahir’s story, as well as the stories of the four other class winners, will be adapted into the graphic novel .format, and published as a collection by Campfire. We are currently in the very early stages of adapting Sahir’s story, but he will be involved at every stage of the process.” He explained that initially, the editor working on his story will co-ordinate with Sahir over (over phone and
e-mail) for his thoughts on aspects of turning it into a graphic novel. This will continue throughout, so Sahir is in the loop with the process, as well as the artworks.
Amid this, Dilip is happiest that young writers like his son now have a platform as a result of such open contests, “A published graphic novel will do wonders for his confidence. Especially since he had entered in writing competitions before.” Dodd adds, “Campfire wants to encourage young people to discover the joys of reading and writing, and books and storytelling. All of these are connected, and while some kids may be avid readers, they often don’t get the opportunity to put their own ideas down on paper, without any restrictions. We love to see ideas that kids and teenagers are capable of, and if we can offer a channel for young people to express themselves freely, we’ve achieved our objective.”