October 28, 1996 12:00 PM

HERE’S WHAT 21-YEAR-OLD COLUMBIA University senior Gautama Chopra did on a recent summer vacation: wrote Child of the Dawn, a debut novel with a first printing of 82,000 copies that earned him a $15,000 advance. “That’s more than I ever made on a summer job,” he says.

But why wait on tables when your father is Deepak Chopra, the self-help guru whose 16 books have sold some 7 million copies in 25 languages? “I’m not dumb,” says Gautama. “I know this is primarily because of who my father is.” His first novel is a parable based on Deepak’s bestselling The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, but the plot—an Indian orphan’s search for enlightenment—is his own. “My father didn’t help me write it,” says Chopra, who is studying English, religion and film. “He wanted this to be mine.”

Gautama “has been a storyteller all his life,” says his dad. “I like the way he paints images.” Raised in Lincoln, Mass., after the elder Chopra and his wife, Rita, left India in 1970, Gautama and his sister Mallika, now 24, were taught early to follow their bliss. Gautama took his first creative writing class in high school and soon began writing short stories.

When his father’s editor asked Gautama to help publicize Seven Spiritual Laws two years ago, he told her he was “more interested in doing my own thing.” His proposal led to a book contract and, he admits, some heavy editing: “They did a lot of work on it.”

Yet the guru-in-waiting, who sports a diamond earring and a tattoo, has more than book signings on his mind: His steady girlfriend, for example—schoolmate Candice Chen, 21—and studying for exams. “There’s all this stuff going on,” says Chopra, “but I still think of myself as a student.”

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