“Maggi”, “ kuruvi koodu ” (bird’s nest), “ baal ki dukaan ” (shop of hair), “spring mudi ” (springy hair)…these were only some of the names that Divya Anand was teased with for her “thick, frizzy, unmanageable curly hair. I was in my late teens by the time Hermione Granger came on the scene and even she was described as having ‘bushy hair’. You aspired to be as smart as her, not look like her” she says, as we discuss her latest picture book, I Hate My Curly Hair (Puffin).
- Like most Indian children at the time, I was a huge Enid Blyton fan. My favourites were the school stories: Mallory Towers and St. Clare’s. I also liked the Chalet School and Angela Brazil’s school stories. All these inspired so much that I wrote a school story of my own when I was 13. Unfortunately, I was so scared that someone would discover it that I password locked the manuscript and can no longer get into it, even for nostalgic purposes!
- I related to ‘Matilda’ because of her love of books, and she was my gateway into Roald Dahl and spending innumerable summer afternoons inventing new words and trying to move pencils with the power of my mind.
- I had a membership at the British Council Library through which I discovered and read all the works of RK Narayan. The English Teacher was my favourite. As a pre-teen, I discovered Judy Blume and fell in love. Deenie and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great were some of my favourites.
- I also liked the Babysitters Club series and the Sweet Valley series (which probably lead to my love of romantic comedies and dramas).
- Lastly, when I was around 12, I read To Kill a Mockingbird , which remains one of my favourite books of all time. Incidentally, my parents didn’t check or censor my reading so I may have been reading well ahead of what I was ‘supposed’ to be reading!
Divya didn’t think she could write “anything in verse because I had always heard of how difficult it is to write good verse. But when I first began writing, it somehow came out in verse and I realised this story was well suited to be told in verse. Every round of edits was challenging because I had to make sure that the rhyme-scheme was maintained and that you could read aloud without tripping over the words.”
The idea for this picture book came at a workshop held three years ago. “My initial idea got rejected and had to come up with a new one overnight. The first thing I thought of was a book for curly-haired Indian children to find what I didn’t: a curly haired character going through the struggles of dealing with her hair. My aim was to create a spunky protagonist who goes from hating her hair to accepting herself the way she is, through a fun incident.”
The book’s protagonist tries every trick and “every claim there ever was” to straighten her hair. Divya says she did the same. “Some of the methods in the book are drawn from my experiences, though I will caution anyone from trying these unscientific and wholly creative ideas! However, my journey to self-acceptance was a lot more gradual (and longer) than hers. I’m hoping that children who read this book are able to accept themselves (and others) for what they are, without needing the wisdom of their twenties to get there!”
The illustrations in the book stand out, with the hair dominating the pages. The text is often in reverse in the huge mop that draws one’s eyes in. This was the result of a close collaboration with illustrator Rujuta Thakurdesai, says Divya. Rujuta “incorporated some of my experiences - for instance, the spread with two people trying to unsuccessfully comb the curly girl’s hair into submission. She also added her own vision to many of the spreads; the one featuring all the children in the playground is one of my favourites!”
What’s next? Divya is working on a few more books: a romantic comedy for grownups and “some mysteries and a learning-filled series that’s close to my heart” for kids. But all these are “in super early stages. But I’m using the lockdown to write more.”