On November 5, six million copies of ‘The Diary of a Wimpy Kid — The Long Haul’ hit bookstores across the globe.
The ninth in the popular series of illustrated children’s fiction authored by American game designer and cartoonist Jeff Kinney, the new book carries an unusual dedication — to Pranav Gupta, a 12-year-old Delhi boy who passed away on February 6, 2013, after battling with dysmotility of the intestines.
‘To Pranav,’ reads the first page.
In an e-mail to The Indian Express, Kinney explained, “In 2011, Pranav’s family had reached out to my publishing company in hopes of helping boost his spirits. Pranav was a huge fan of the series and he was ill with a rare intestinal disease which required him to undergo a major surgery in 2011. Upon hearing of Pranav’s illness, our team worked on having a video chat with him. I finally spoke to him on December 25, 2011. We talked about the series and shared our stories.”
Kinney said he was “always touched by the incredibly positive spirit Pranav maintained during the battles with his illness”.
Echoing this thought is the dedication note, which reads, “Pranav’s time on Earth was short, but in that time, he touched a great number of people with his unfailing positivity, his courage, and his amazing spirit. I’ve dedicated this book to Pranav in the hopes that a bit of his spirit will carry on in the pages of a series that he loved.”
Priya Gupta, Pranav’s mother, said Kinney had grown to be a friend to her son in the short span of time they had known each other.
“A family friend, who works with Penguin (the publisher), had introduced Pranav to the Wimpy Kid series, and Pranav fell in love with Jeff’s stories,” she said. “They were initially supposed to video chat on December 24 but there was some problem. Jeff was so humble, he took time out for Pranav on Christmas. Pranav was really excited about the whole thing, we had just brought him home after almost three months in different ICUs. They spoke about Pranav’s interests and Jeff’s stories.”
Even after Pranav’s death, Kinney stayed in touch with the family. This October, Kinney, who writes one book per year, announced that this year’s edition would be dedicated to Pranav, a student of The Mother’s International School in New Delhi.
Gupta added, “After Pranav passed away, his doctors and teachers suggested I put together a book on Pranav, talking about the lives he had touched. I thought it was just a way to comfort a grieving mother. It was Jeff who suggested that I start a Facebook page to keep Pranav’s memory alive.”
Called ‘Inspirational Pranav,’ the page, started in May 2013, shares letters and conversations Pranav had had with the people around him.
Gupta said, “In August 2013, a lady came all the way from Singapore with her two daughters. She said she had to meet me in person and tell me how much Pranav’s attitude towards life had helped her when her own husband was critically ill. A few months ago, I spoke to an 18-year-old boy, a stranger, who confessed that he was contemplating suicide when he chanced upon Pranav’s page. ‘Aunty, I don’t want to kill myself anymore, I want to live my life,’ he told me.”
A voracious reader, Pranav would regularly devour encyclopaedias, was very good with Maths, and would even solve parts of her elder son’s BBA question papers, his mother said, adding, “Pranav had wanted to be famous, and Jeff has made his dream come true.”