Singapore-born Indian-origin Czaana Saxena, aged 11 years, has won the gold finalist award in the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2020, which saw the participation of 13,000 students from 58 countries.
Run by the Royal Commonwealth Society since 1883, the Commonwealth Essay Competition is the world’s oldest and largest school level international writing competition. Past winners include the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong and author and journalist Elspeth Huxley.
Connected to India sat down to interview her about the award and her essay, titled 'Intimations of Immortality', offering realistic solutions to the worsening climate crisis.
Connected to India: Tell us about your journey to winning this award.
Czaana Saxena: I’ve been always fond of reading, especially Enid Blyton books, and I have always loved writing. In school, whenever the teacher announces its composition day, the rest of the class is annoyed, but I am elated. Teachers have always praised my work and read my compos to the class.
During the circuit breaker, we did some research and came across this competition. We thought it would be a big deal if I could ever win this. But we said, let’s give it a shot anyway. I did not write this essay in one go but did it over two or three weeks. It took up a lot of time but was quite exciting. I’ve written earlier, and have been published as well, and that really boosted my confidence. So I guess it was a logical next step to get more ambitious.
Connected to India: What was the topic of your essay? What message did you want to convey in writing it?
Czaana Saxena: My main objective was to share a simple truth. If we humans change our lifestyles even by a little bit, we can make the Earth so much better in the future. But if we continue how we behave now, then the Earth won’t be liveable soon.
I wrote about how amazing the Earth was in the future when kids decided to build real solutions, instead of watching TV and playing video games. I hope this essay inspires people to work towards taking care of nature, just the way nature takes care of us.
Connected to India: Could you tell us about your other writing work and your plans for the future?
Czaana Saxena: When I was eight years old, I was really overjoyed when my Suppandi story was published in Tinkle magazine. It was huge for me at that age. That’s how the magic started.
Since then I have represented the school team in debates, loved doing theatre, have done voice-overs, co-authored a children's book that’s actually available in Singapore’s libraries. When awards like the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Contest or Gold at the Singapore Performing Arts Festival come by, it just gives me the boost to do more.
Singapore has an amazing spectrum of schools. School of the Arts (SOTA) is a dream to explore your inner artist alongside academics. Others like Raffles Girls School have a broad spectrum of activities to choose from. It isn’t like what my parents tell me about their time. I hope I can pursue my love for writing, debate and theatre in secondary school too.
Connected to India: What inspires your writings?
Czaana Saxena: My parents and teachers always encourage me to read and write more. As a family, we don’t believe in tuition or enrichment classes, which leaves me with plenty of time to write.
I have read many of my dad’s articles. I don’t understand the topics he writes about, but I like his style. He makes boring topics seem interesting. I’m also inspired by women like Audrey Hepburn for her generosity and elegance, Dorothy Vaughn for her perseverance, and Amelia Earhart for her grit. Oh, and the one and only Jhansi ki Rani. I actually look up to so many people that I couldn’t list them all here.
Connected to India: What are the main topics and subjects for your work?
Czaana Saxena: I am too young to be fixated on a specific genre or style. Having said that, I like writing about the future as I can be as ambitious and crazy as I want to. I don’t have to limit myself to reality.
Connected to India: How does your family feel about you winning the award?
Czaana Saxena: My mother has always kept us excited about stories from India and the world, and my father is involved and encouraging me to write and debate more often. My brother is quite a funny and annoying character, the stereotype you find in books, but I know he is elated when I do well. You know, my Babbaji (grandfather) gives me actual cash if I do well in school. So yes, I’m lucky to have people around me that encourage me. They are all so elated that I have won this.
Connected to India: Your essay was about the future. Where does your love for words take you from here?
Czaana Saxena: With automation, AI, and machines taking over, human progress will be dependent on our ability to think differently, and convincing others of cool and progressive ideas. That is where the power of writing and debating comes in. Being good with words is not just fun, but a real skill for the future. You can’t lead if you can’t persuade.