The Wonders of Writing

Aalia Chondamma, a class 12 student at Bethany High, Bengaluru, is an author and poet. Her book titled ‘The Lost Heroes of Kodagu’ was authored under the Prime Minister’s Young, Upcoming and Versatile Authors (YUVA) scheme. The scheme was one of the initiatives undertaken to celebrate 75 years of India’s independence. SCARLETT RODRIGUES interviewed Aalia to find out more about her writing journey.

February 01, 2024 

What inspired you to begin writing?
I was introduced to many books at an early age. My grandfather and parents encouraged me to write and assured me of their support throughout my journey. My writing skills blossomed at my school, Karaumbiah’s Academy for Learning and Sports (KALS), Kodagu, during our creative writing periods. My teachers were very supportive and as a result, I began writing for the school magazine and eventually, RobinAge. I proceeded to freelance for an online publishing site called ‘Book of Achievers’ before being selected as a YUVA author. I love RobinAge and believe that its content inspired me greatly and influenced my writing. Writing for RobinAge made me the coolest kid in class!

Tell us about your book, ‘The Lost Heroes of Kodagu’. 
As this book was for the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ initiative, the theme was based on India’s unsung freedom fighters. I loved this theme because Kodagu, in Karnataka where I come from, has a long list of revolutionaries who are sadly unsung. I wanted this book to be an ode to their struggle. I wrote the freedom fighters’ stories from their perspectives. Initially, the book was based on Mallengada Chengappa, but as my book progressed, the number of freedom fighters I included increased. ‘The Lost Heroes of Kodagu’ is a book about multiple revolutionary stories. Most of the fighters were young and audacious but have sadly been forgotten. I hope that my book does them justice! 

RobinAge Cover Story - The Wonders of Writing

How did it feel to be chosen as a YUVA author? 
It was phenomenal. The decision was made on December 25, 2021. I was overjoyed when I got the news. As I was the youngest author to be selected, there were many people to look up to. I had just six months to conduct research and write the stories of these inspirational freedom fighters. The process was intense, with monthly reports and mentorship sessions. But the National Book Trust team, our editors and mentors helped us a lot! 

How was your experience at the New Delhi World Book Fair 2023? 
I had the best experience at the fair! As we celebrated 75 years of India’s independence in 2022, there were 75 authors ranging from 15 to 30 years of age selected under the YUVA scheme. We met for three days, but by the end of the event, it felt like we had known each other for years! The fair itself was simply top-notch. We had interactive sessions and panel discussions and of course, browsed through books! Numerous publishing houses participated in the fair, which made me feel like a kid in a candy store! 

RobinAge Cover Story - The Wonders of Writing

How does writing help you? 
I always write when I experience strong feelings and emotions. RobinAge has been an important part of my journey. I remember writing to draw attention to the rampant tree felling in the Western Ghats, which was published on RobinAge’s ‘Wall of Fame’. I write most often when I’m stressed, which may be before or during my exams or when the results are near. It helps me put my thoughts into words. As I grow older, I realise that art and literature don’t necessarily have to be for others. They can also be something very personal to you. 

What challenges did you face while writing? 
I was anxious about balancing my class 10 board exams and this book, but I got through it. There were many deadlines to meet, which was overwhelming. I received tremendous support from my family, friends and teachers. My institution, Bethany High, gave me a week-long break so I could work on the final draft. My loved ones continued to believe in me, which was very helpful, especially during my long phases of writer’s block. 

Who is your favourite author? 
My favourite authors are Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Ruskin Bond. I love Ruskin Bond’s writing style as it is detached, yet emotional. His writing portrays the quintessential spirit of India. I feel Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton’s work appeals to the child in us at any age. Who wouldn’t want to walk into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? The books of these authors transcend the ages. 

How have people reacted to your book? 
People’s reactions have been amazing. My community is a tight-knit one and word travels fast, so I had people congratulating and giving me reviews, both online and in person. My classmates and teachers were my biggest supporters, buying the book and reviewing it on Amazon. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that they felt involved in the story, which warmed my heart. 

RobinAge Cover Story - The Wonders of Writing

How do you handle feedback? 
I value constructive criticism. Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in what you’ve created to the point where you shut yourself off from well-meaning feedback and I’ve been there a few times. But if the feedback is encouraging your art, it should be considered. When people share their thoughts about my work, I take time to reflect on the genuine feedback and work from there. 

What are your future plans? 
I want to continue writing as I have numerous ideas. I also dream of becoming a diplomat and serving India in the foreign service. 

What is your advice to budding authors? 
DON’T STOP WRITING. Put your ideas on separate documents, pages or folders. Scribble them down. The world needs more authors today who will take a stand for what they believe in and who aren’t scared to bleed their hearts out onto a page and bare it to the world. The power of artists is underestimated to a great extent, but the pen is still, in many ways, mightier than the sword. So, pick up that pen and let it blaze! 

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