Flirting with romance, desi style

Last Updated 08 October 2010, 13:29 IST

Abhimanyu Sreenivasan is a man renowned for being arrogant and seemingly emotionless, both in business and in his private life. He never combines work and pleasure, and steers clear of any woman who doesn’t play by his rules…

Rule 1: he doesn’t bed virgins.
Rule 2: he doesn’t do Diwali.

Sucheta Nair loves the festive season, and she’s as pure as the snow white jasmine flowers growing in Abhimanyu’s manicured garden. But by Diwali she might well have Abhimanyu breaking every rule in his book!

At the risk of having all 720 of Harlequin’s yearly Mills&Boon titles flung in this direction, I try my hand at writing some Indianised romance, and admit I fail miserably. Leave alone write, I wouldn’t be able to read one either. However, cynics who would regurgitate their breakfast at the thought of reading a romantic novel are in a minority. The world belongs to the romantics who listen to love songs in the moonlight and believe their Prince Charming is sailing somewhere in his luxury yacht, shaking the thick dark hair out of his icy blue eyes. And if you fall in that category, it’s time to put on your rose-tinted reading glasses because, Mr TDH (tall, dark and handsome for the ignorant) is  headed this way. Mills & Boon is launching an India series and come December the first Indian author’s book hits the stands.
Naturally, it is making the heart beat faster for Indian girls (both young and old) who have been hobnobbing with grim demeanoured millionaires in personal yachts and monogrammed robes, morally robust (also, achingly beautiful) heroines and passionate fantasy for a long time now.

“I remember my school days when we used to go to Delhi from Mathura only to hit Janpath and pick up as many as 20 second-hand Mills and Boon novels at a time,” recollects Amita Waring, Delhi-based businesswoman. “There would be a mad scramble to read them because we had to finish one a night and then pass it on to the other girls. And, of course, we had to hide it from our parents as well,” she laughs. The dalliance evidently continues over the generations. 

School-going Nikita Gupta (14) is a young reader. “I love M&Bs because it’s nice to see people in love and everything is always right at the end,” she says, adding rather wistfully, “I know these things don’t usually happen in real life but some people do get lucky.”  Nikita was introduced to M&Bs by her mom Dr Anamika Gupta (39). “I read my first M&B when I was 15 and she got her first M&B as a birthday gift when she was 13. I let her read the romances but I do tell her it is fiction and she should not gauge a man by M&B parameters,” Anamika smiles.  

But there are others who find similarities between the paper heroes in that virtual world and real life. Bangalore-based Saudamini Singh (30) says she used to read a lot of romances in college and when she ended up getting married to this smart young Army officer who just walked into her father’s house one evening and was smitten by her, she found shades of an M&B there. “I wouldn’t say he’s tall, but he is certainly dark and handsome like a typical M&B hero,” she giggles, adding, “though he’ll be wild if he reads this.” 

Milan Vohra, India’s first writer for Mills & Boon, whose  book ‘The Love Asana’ will be out in December admits to being a “complete romantic” herself. She says she never lost touch with M&B romances, which holds true for her older target audience as well. Readers, she promises, can look forward to an Indian feel, Indian characters and home-grown settings and sensibilities.

“We are emotional, family-centric people,”  she says. And that will reflect  in the way characters react to situations in her  story. While Milan’s fiction talks of a romance between a yoga instructor and a guy who comes into her class as a student, her real life romance is quite M&B as well. “I was 16, he was 18. We dated for seven years and we’ve been married for 22 years,” she says.

While Anamika says she has moved away from the romantic novel, there are others for whom the habit lingers on. Take Uma Rawat, a very young 60, who still likes to get dinner out of the way and then curl up with a Mills&Boon almost every night.  “I like romantic stories and happy endings,” she confesses. “The novels are based in different countries that I have never been to, like the African jungles, or beaches in Greece, and it’s fun to read about those.”

“M&Bs are relatable,” says Milan, “the people are believable. A reader’s real-life hero might not own a jet,  but as long as he believes in her and has the other qualities she’s looking for, it’s fine.”

Uma says her daughter stopped reading M&Bs a long time back, but she looks forward to sharing her golden collection with her granddaughter when she is older.  There might be a long wait there because, the M&B reader seems to have matured quite literally.

According to Krishna, proprietor of The Bookworm, Bangalore, 80 per cent of M&B readers are housewives (age bracket 25 to 50) who carry 30 books at a time from his shop, and come back to exchange them for a new set every month-and-a-half. So, many of the ladies getting wide-eyed and breathless over those dark barons with white villas in Greece are not romantic school girls but women with diamond nose pins and coconut oil in their hair. They are the ones  eagerly  devouring  titles like ‘The Duke’s Virgin Bride’, ‘Public Marriage, Private Secrets’, and ‘Bedded for Pleasure’. The last, certainly doesn’t look like fare for the faint-hearted!

 Fifteen-year-old Vani Faundh, a ninth standard student of Sapphire High School, Bangalore, says she is reading the Twilight series. A Mills&Boon? “Aren’t they for older people? I find my mom and aunt reading that a lot. Maybe I’ll read them a few years from now,” she says. 

Richa Vora (40), who reads a lot of M&Bs, says they create a fantasy world for her. “I’m not married and most of the men I’ve met in life are complete villains. But still, when I get back home tired and lonely, have dinner alone, put my head on the pillow and get absorbed in a Mills&Boon romance, it’s like going into another world. It is escapism but it makes life so much easier, ” she says.

With more home-grown romances to follow, we can look forward to hawk-nosed dukes and barons and villas in private beaches getting replaced by young dashing CEOs and maybe film stars with royal backgrounds and magnificent havelis in Rajasthan.

It might be considered the lowest form of novelising and bashed by critics for supplying non literary readers with oppressive stuff, but statistics say that a Mills & Boon is picked up every few seconds and devoured by millions of readers worldwide.  As many as 140 million Mills & Boon books are sold every year.

And, as long as there are girls who believe in romance, the love affair shall go on.

(Published 08 October 2010, 13:23 IST)

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