Recently, I found a blog on eHarlequin titled “10 Reasons Why I Love Romance Novels” and felt that that was as good a topic as any to pursue on a blog site dedicated to writing – and, especially, about writing romance novels. I have included “Chick Literatures” in my title because there is, indeed, a difference in my mind between the two, albeit by a very fine line. But that is a topic requiring its own post. For the time being, let’s move on to what this post is about. Where was I? Oh, yes, 5 VERY GOOD reasons (equivalent to 10 satisfactory reasons) why I love romance novels and chick-literatures, henceforth, generally referred to as romance novels:
1. My parents. My grandparents.
No, my parents did not enter into a love marriage. And yes, despite conventions and the era, my grandparents (here, I speak of my maternal side) did fall in love and convince their parents to let them marry. (I am about to tell their stories and, hereby, claim all proprietorship to any scenes as materials that may be used to propagate any romance novel unless written by me.)
Let me begin with my parents. It was an arranged marriage, where my parents met only a couple of times and always in the presence of minimum three chaperons with never the opportunity to say more than a few sentences to each other until their wedding. And then, once they were married, it took them only a week to fall in love. Much of which was probably nourished by their acceptance of this conventional way of acquiring partners – but also because, to Dad, Mom was beautiful and, to Mom, Dad was absolutely charming. And they must’ve been extremely sweet together because my grandmother (maternal again) often repeats the story about the first time Mom went to her parents’ house after the wedding. Apparently Dad had gone over to collect her after work and wouldn’t listen to the pleadings of her sisters to allow her to stay back the night. When Grandma tried to cajole him into acquiescing, his exact words were, “Ma, if I could, I’d fit her in my pocket and take her to work with me and set her down on my desk and get no work done all day! One day of separation is too much; one night would be the end of me.” Now my mother is what they call the petite waiflike woman, but really! I applaud my father his romantic genius.
Now my grandparents’ story is not to be out-shined. Theirs was a love at first sight. Yes, you read correctly. But never mind what sceptics you all are – I wager I’ll have you all converted by the end of this tale. Bangladesh, c. 1956 and Grandpa, a tall dark and handsome young gent of all his 17 years of life, is visiting with an out-of-state friend. He and his friend spend the holidays in theaters, parties and race courses. And during one of these days, at the race course, Grandpa notices a beautiful young maiden of cheerful and witty disposition, laughing and making her friends laugh along with her, just a few rows down in the stadium. He has to know who she is. He has to be able to engage her notice. He sees a flower vendor and instantly calls him over. He is going to send her a rose – no! he is going to send her the petal of a rose. With his name on it, literally. The vendor reaches the girl (yes, readers, you’ve guessed right – my then to-be-grandmother) and hands her the petal. She is intrigued as she reads the name penned into its delicate form, “Shahjahan”. She searches the aisles for the sender until her eyes rest on him and he taps the brim of his bowler in greetings. And oh! He is just so handsome! She shouldn’t reply – all decorum forbids it. But she must, she must! She does. And sends back the vendor with the rose petal, now bearing her name on the opposite side. He is ecstatic, he is triumphant. He reads her name, “Mumtaz”, and finds it amusing. He thinks she’s being humorous. [For those of you who aren’t aware of the history, Shahjahan was the emperor who had the shrine Taj Mahal built as an ode to his love for his empress, Mumtaz] He finds her witticism charming but propriety dictated that their correspondence must cease for the time being. They part, accepting the probability that they may never meet again.
But as Grandpa returns to his home at the end of the holidays, he cannot forget her. And another week passes as he grows more and more restless. And he confesses all to his father. Yes he realizes that he is too young and that he has his exams (for crying out loud!) were ahead of him and that she is probably more than too young, but he must marry and he must marry her! And they inform his out-of-state friend about the dismal state of his mind and they search high and low for a nameless maiden until Alas! they learn her identity. She comes from a respectable family of reasonably high rank and her name is, indeed, Mumtaz! It is fate, they were meant to be together. And despite the hesitation among all adults present, marry they did because even Grandma was in love by that time with the handsome stranger who went to so much trouble to propose to her. And though it was a decision made in youth (and would’ve been illegal in this era), Grandpa and Grandma never regretted it. Even today, after Grandpa has long since passed away, Grandma’s eyes shine with joy and pride as she speaks of the man who stole her heart and guarded it with all that he had. Sighs…
2. I was brought up on an audio-visual diet of Hindi movies.
For those of you who are familiar with Hindi movies, you must already know what I’m talking about. For those of you, who have never had the sometimes-privileged sometimes-dreadful experience, let me explain. These Indian flicks are peppered with romantic stories. No matter what genre (action, horror, social drama, etc.) the main plot claims to be, the underlying plot is always about a boy and a girl, or a man and a woman, finding love, requiting love, trying to overcome the obstacles keeping them apart, trying to make the relationship itself work for them, etc. etc. Really, even if the romantic angle is only a subplot, it is always simmering and then boiling to come to the foreground and claim the film as its own and overwhelm the audience to the point where everyone watching is cheering more for the hero and heroine to achieve a happy ending than the villain or demon receiving their just punishment.
And the producers, directors, scriptwriters, lyricists and musicians (did I forget to mention that all Hindi movies must be musicals?) tend to egg the audience on by releasing the songs in audio cassettes and CDs and also in separate DVDs and Blue-rays or whatever the new medium is, where the album must include minimum three hit romantic songs, of which one must hit the Indian Billboard Charts, so that listeners can replay them and reminisce about how the songs were filmed and sometimes even place themselves in those scenarios to at least be able to participate in such romantic overtures in their imaginations (guilty as charged, where Salman Khan is concerned).
So yes, I declare, I love these movies with their song-and-dance numbers and the colourful clothes and their running around the gardens and coconut trees that so many (even a few hypocritical Indians) mouth off derisively and… and… I love romance novels!
3. The Heroes and Heroines are essentially that – good people who deserve to find true love and a happy ending. And frankly, when pitted against those characters from other genres…
Let’s get this straight – I hate stories where the main character cheats on someone or another or is a lying scumbag who deserves nothing but a Pandora’s Box without a lock on it handed to them with a note that reads, “Open lid to find your winnings!” Really, there are too many of those dark tales that begin with the character fighting his demon and ending up no better and meeting his downfall. I hated Othello (not the play, the character) for his culpability to believe a third person over the woman he claimed to have loved. Hah! Instead I rooted for Iago (despite finding him a despicable representation of humanity) simply because he was brilliant at his villainy and because to himself, he was always true. I really dislike thrillers with a gory plot because they creep me out. I once was handed a book by a very good friend of mine that, in the opening chapter itself, had a husband and wife nailed face to face by the hands and feet to their living room by this demonic serial killer, who murdered their children before their eyes and then raped the wife in front of the husband before killing them also. Makes me shiver every time I remember it and now you can join the club too. I never got beyond chapter one so I didn’t discover if the main character was a demon or just a serial killer or both. Mysteries I can handle – I found The Da Vinci Code brilliant even before I turned around and saw it being ruined as a movie. I own an illustrated copy of the novel presented to me by the same friend who had introduced me to the demon-serial killer. Same as social dramas, which are relatively good and certainly make me take a philosophical turn from time to time but they are so often without a happy ending. And while all that is good enough to excite my mind, clearly romance novels are the winners.
Which brings me to the Rake and the Damsel. Your average hero and heroine of a romance novel obviously have their own dilemmas and inner-demons to fight against. But they are essentially good human beings with a strong sense of moral integrity. Your rake may enter the story as a womanizer and a scoundrel with a devil-may-care attitude, but he has never veered from his moral code (or a male code) that binds his actions and obligations. Your damsel may have to stoop to a level at some point in the story previously unperceived by her but she will do so virtuously to save and lend credibility to what she believes is right. Both are good people who deserve to love each other and unite in a happy ending.
4. To live off the characters vicariously.
This is really self-explanatory. However, allow me to still put in my two-cents’ worth. There are just so many wonderful ways to fall in love! And romance novels are the only medium through which you can try them all out without being promiscuous or unfaithful to your own true love. You have your cowboys and society butterflies and tycoons and school teachers and firemen and journalists and widowed dads and homeless pregnant ladies all falling in love left and right and finding their happy endings despite all odds against them. What could be more inspirational? What could be more charming? What could be more gratifying? It is the best that mankind has to offer. The essence of what makes mankind more intelligent than other species and encourages all that is good and pure in every other aspect of our lives. It is called love. And romance novels honor and rejoice in it and their characters are consumed by it and so am I. And I want to be Elizabeth Bennet and live happily ever after with Mr. Darcy on the pages of Pride and Prejudice.
5. The irrevocable happy ending.
Duh! Obviously this is a reason – and how can it not be a VERY GOOD reason? However, despite my romantic notions and ideals of what human beings should be and what should be the driving force in all of us, despite witnessing the success of my ancestors in this vein, despite revelling in romance novels, I am a sceptic when it comes to love in real life. Or perhaps, I should say I am a sceptic when it comes to believing that I will be successful in love. I think I can blame the very ancestors I speak of here and romance novels in general for setting my standards so high for what I believe true love to be. And it seems that in reality, they don’t make heroes like they used to. So I have denounced romance and the hope of finding true love in reality and have decided to occupy my ideas of love essentially in what these novels boast of and delve into the guaranteed happy endings they meet. At least I can count on the pages of a romance novel not to disappoint me.
After telling you 5 VERY GOOD reasons why I love romance novels and chick-literatures, I feel it would be very amiss if I didn’t admit 1 ABSOLUTE aspect of such novels that I hate: Book covers depicting men and women entangled in compromising and clandestine positions. I find them annoying not because I’m a prude but because they can create the misrepresentation that romance novels are all about the sex scenes. I mean the steamy scenes are wonderful and all and romance novels need them to a great extent but romance novels, and I quote, are not to be misconstrued as erotica (which may also be very well a good thing depending on the individual). And especially addressing those who sneer at my section of the library, let me tell you, romance novels are not masturbatory mediums for the unfulfilled lives of women who lack a love life or are too timid to read, watch, listen or participate in pornography. They are stories of love that may or may not include sex scenes. In fact, Pride and Prejudice, the mother of all chick-lits, doesn’t have a sex scene at all (though that wasn’t a deciding factor inclining me towards it either). Like I said, romance novels and chick-literatures are essentially about the journey to requited love and that is what should be depicted on their covers. If someone fell in love every time a pant dropped, then our rakes and damsels would have many stories to tell indeed. And therefore, I prefer cartoons and abstract paintings and collages on the cover of my romance novels that provide a clue to the story within the pages rather than an illustration of one hot steamy sex scene that may have only served to propel the plot. However, that is not to say that I am so prejudiced as to proverbially judge a book by its cover and thereby skip it or pick it (a romance novel is a romance novel, after all). I depend on the synopsis instead!