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Lavanya Bahuguna


JWB Speaks To Author Who Got Published At 18 & Approved By Ministry of External Affairs

  • JWB Post
  •  June 11, 2016


Divyasha is another Engineer-turned-Writer. Not.

At 16, she was already the young editor for Hindustan Times. She began writing in her mid-teens and got her first book published before she bid goodbye to the teenage.  The book’s name is ‘A 20-Something Cool Dude’.

Her book has been selected by the Ministry of External Affairs, as one of the titles that best paints the vivid picture that is India, in the MEA library, and to its 200 missions abroad.

At 18, what inspired you to write a book?

It never began as a book. It initiated as a storm of thoughts I remember breathlessly telling my best friend a year before I began writing it.  ‘Do you know what occurred to me last night? I imagined meeting the perfect stranger and running away with him on this perfect journey.’ I couldn’t write it down just yet, but the cogwheels of my mind were stuck on the idea. I would spiral into this journey each night – the characters becoming clearer in my head, their odyssey became a surreal train of thoughts. Everything became alive.

When I finally sat down to write it, it was a release like no other, and I couldn’t pull my hands away from the keyboard until the book was done.

Are you and the character Ayesha similar by any chance?

It might sound silly, but I never realized how closely I resembled Ayesha until some readers pointed it out to me. I never intended for it to be this way. But I guess it is near impossible to distance your first few central characters from yourself. Maybe in my future writings, my skills would evolve enough to allow me to create a completely different – yet convincing – the central character. I can only hope!

How did you come up and pen down the intense emotional scenes in the story?

As I mentioned, a few chapters down the line, I became a part of the journey. I was the writer, the reader and a character in that story. I became Ayesha – immersed in an exploration beyond her understanding, with a man she barely knew but loved hopelessly, in places she had never been before.

So every intense emotion described in this book is real. I have felt it. There were some scenes I wrote with a wet keyboard. There were some during which I stopped writing, unable to go ahead. There were some I wanted never to end.

If you were in Ayesha’s shoes, would you trust a stranger and take up the travel challenge?

Back when I was eighteen? Hell yes! I was young and naïve, and I couldn’t wait to explore. I wanted to be everywhere, know everything and believe anyone. I was a Lana Del Ray disciple.

I have grown to be a little skeptic in the last few years. But even today, I trust strangers. Maybe not enough to take up the travel challenge! But, definitely enough to sit for coffee or discuss an idea or watch a sunset. In fact, strangers have been kinder to me than most people I know.

I sometimes wonder how connected we could all have been if we had not been terrorized by the media, ‘protected’ by the ideals of the society, misguided towards the stranger, hating by a few wrongdoers. How much we could have discovered, how much knowledge we could have exchanged and cultivated, how ‘A 20-Something Cool Dude’ would not have been tagged as an ‘unrealistic’ book by some readers.

Who is ‘A 20-Something Cool Dude’ for you? Describe him.

My idea of ‘A 20-Something Cool Dude’ has changed through the years. From a tall, mysterious stranger (Vikram!), to a caring, loving boy-next-door, to a raging alcoholic who would bring out my Savior Complex, to an officer serving the Indian Forces… well. It’s hard to keep up a strict definition, right?

How has the book evolved you?

I might never be able to answer that question in bullet points. From its inception in between the turmoil of my entrance exams, to falling in love with a character that doesn’t exist, to the struggle of finding the right publisher, to finally forcing myself to leave my introvert shell in order to talk about it with people I barely knew; the book has nurtured me in infinite ways. It’s almost the same as how having a baby evolves you.

Who are your readers?

I have been read by a weird demographic. There are old uncles and teenage girls, avid readers and I-have-never-read-a-book-before’ers. So I guess pretty much anyone. Anyone who believes that everything is possible, that nothing is out of reach. Anyone who is not afraid to soak in newer perspectives, whose mind is not rigid. Anyone who never gives up on love. Anyone who is willing to give me a chance!

How was the struggle like when it came to publishing the book?

I think the struggles began with being born a girl who was destined to look five years younger than her age for the rest of her life! Jokes aside, things were tough. I tried following the formal procedure of mailing sample chapters, but responses were rare.

I tried to reach out to editors of major publications, persuading them to at least read the work. But it was hard for me to convince them to take me seriously. Thanks to my age!

There were leeches I thankfully avoided, ‘agencies’ that smell your desperation and reach out to you promising enormous publicity, returns and of course, fame! (Because that’s what every wannabe author is really looking for). So yeah, it was pretty much tough.

Your book has been selected by the Ministry of External Affairs to be promoted in various countries. What was your reaction when you received this news?

It was nearly a month back when I got the call. I was ecstatic, of course. When they told me the book would be accessible in 200 countries, I was like, “200? I have barely covered one!”

All in all, I am glad. Nothing makes me happier than the idea of someone far away, in a country I am not even aware of, flipping through the pages and connecting with Ayesha. Connecting with me.

Do you look forward to having a full-fledged writing career that will support you financially?

I am not a professional writer. I, perhaps, can never be. Writing is my release, my stress-buster. It is something I look forward to doing every evening when I come home, after college or work. I will always look forward to writing this way. I have tried writing non-stop too, but it drains me completely.

Can you spill the beans about your next book?

I am working on a draft these days about a Delhi girl who turns into a serial killer. I plan for this one to grow along a somewhat mature, darker theme since I am writing a manuscript after a four-year break. I want it to include some of my own experiences from the past few years. I can only hope it works out and doesn’t end up in the graveyard folder among other Word Documents I stopped caring about after a while.

How are you handling the success and criticism?

I feel I have been terrible with both, mostly because I have not been consistent towards my reception of either. Sometimes the achievement or the criticism would overwhelm me and keep me up at night. Sometimes I would just grab a donut and be like ‘bleh’.

I hope to get better at this soon!

One mistake you will not repeat while writing the next book.

However long it takes, whatever mountains I have to cross, I will NOT make the central character EXACTLY like me!

Which current book is kept by your bedside?

I am currently reading three books together (so much for multi-tasking!)- ‘Veronika Decides To Die’ by Paulo Coelho for bedtime reading, ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler to read during my commute and ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari which I have been reading during tea breaks for the longest time now.

Best compliment so far?

One night, I got a message from someone on Facebook, who had read the book in one go. He told me how the book made him re-think his choice for post-graduation. He is now planning to take up a different post graduate course in some other country, a different path – a path that will allow him to travel more, meet more people, learn more about himself.

What are you currently thinking?

Wondering what to eat. There is a bag of chips in my cupboard screaming my name. No, seriously.

Who do you think will fit the role of Ayesha if it’s turned into a movie?

This is tricky, but since she is the right age and everything, maybe Alia Bhatt!

If you were to write a book about your life, what title will you give it?

‘Oddballs, Queen Bee’s and Girls Next Door.’

Lastly, do you still want to go to NASA?

Why not? I am in, with my suitcase and favorite teddy bear and everything, and on whatever mission they might have next!

JWB believes that this new stream of young authors is truly inspiring as they are never too shy to address their shortcomings and learn from their mistakes. Divyasha is one of them.

Got a question for her? Write in the comments below!

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