22 school students pen candid letters to historical figures and recall challenges faced during Covid-19 lockdown, in newly-released book

While some school-students express gratitude to legendary entertainers like Charlie Chaplin for adding a dash of humour to their lives, others inveigh against fascist despots like Benito Mussolini.

Sachvir Singh Baidwan, a student of class sixth, boldly asks in his missive directed at German dictator Adolf Hitler, “How were you so cruel? How could you kill people who had contributed to the German economy?” A few lines on, he delivers his most scathing indictment, “You did not have pity for anyone. I find it very repulsive,” he writes, calling out the dictator for his unbelievable antipathy towards the Jewish community.

The newly released book, ‘Unlocking Minds: Covid 19’, is a compilation of twenty-two candid letters, all penned by children and teenagers, addressed to some prominent figures who have shaped the course of world history. From the deceased Basketball player Kobe Bryant to late Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, youngsters remember the newsmakers who have influenced them deeply.

While some school-students express gratitude to legendary entertainers like Charlie Chaplin for adding a dash of humour to their lives, others inveigh against fascist despots like Benito Mussolini.

The book has been edited by Dr Kanwalpreet, an author and Political Science professor, at DAV college, Chandigarh. “Simply because I teach Political Science, many often expect me to stick to my subject while putting pen to paper.” But she says she does not want to be pigeonholed into a certain category. “I like experimenting with different genres. I would not confine myself to only certain serious issues. If given a chance, I would also love to write something in Hindi.” She has previously written four books, ‘Looking Back With A Twinkle: A biography of Oshima Zarenghez Samandari Raikhy’, ‘Rings of Life- 13 Short Stories’, ‘A Magic Combo- 31 poems and 13 short stories for Children’and ‘Pathmakers and Protectors’. She has also been felicitated by the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi. Upon the release of her debut book in 2017, the first ever Ru-Ba-Ru literary interaction was organised. Besides, she was given a grant for her second book, which came out later in 2019.

Aishwarya, a student of class 11, in her letter to Bhagat Singh, waxes poetic about his legacy as a valiant freedom fighter. “When you sacrificed your life for your nation at the mere age of 23, probably, you did not know but you became the idol of many, including me.” On the other hand, Abheet SinghDhillon, a student of class fourth, fascinated by space, quizzes Neil Armstrong, “How did your journey start in the first place and was it always your dream to go to space since you were a child?”

When asked about what prompted Dr Kanwalpreet to give a voice to the young minds, she said, “Everybody has got something to say. I wanted to amplify the voices of the younger generation. Last year, while we were all holed up within the four walls of our house, it simply occurred to me one day, how fun it would be know what youngsters have got to say about all these historic figures. I had first opened up about the idea to my sons who sounded rather skeptical…but I forged ahead with the idea by reaching out to schoolkids.” She says she was heavily impressed by the creativity, imagination and incisiveness of young minds. “Those youngsters are very analytical. They have written about the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx.”

Asked about her inspiration to write, an emotional Kanwalpreet shared, “My elder son was born with hole in his heart.” She had slipped into a quagmire of despair, and turned to writing as a form of catharsis. “While I was always passionate about writing, but it was during that dark phase in my life that a good friend suggested me to write more in order to keep away from depression.” She has contributed several columns and has written over a hundred book reviews for various newspapers.

The book also touches upon the plight of the Covid-19 frontline fighters, who have been thanklessly working around the clock. “It was the children who profiled these Covid warriors for the book.” While businessman Ashish Jain opens up to daughter Shreya in the book about overcoming hardships faced during the Covid-induced lockdown; Vishal Aggarwal, who deals in pharmaceuticals, explains to his children, Sanaya and Aarnav, the tremendous role of pharmacies in this drawn-out fight against the pandemic.

Teachers and school students also recount their struggles amid the unprecedented nationwide lockdown, in the book. Anushreya, a student of the Laureate Public School, Shimla, rues in her account, “I actually missed school. We all had so many plans to make the most of our last year at school, to cherish and enjoy every moment of this last year.”

Ira Singh, who studies at Carmel Convent School in Chandigarh, recalls her apprehension, writing, “I used to check the number of cases on a daily basis. This was also the time where we were extremely careful about going out.”

Deepinder Mangat, an English teacher at St John’s High School in Chandigarh, admits, “I do miss the hum of our class and the live interaction with my students. But this pandemic has made us wiser, that no matter how advanced our science is, and the forays man has made in the field of medicine, we are putty in the hands of nature.”

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