Tall, dark, handsome heroes, eyelashes-fluttering heroines and riveting love stories. Where have all the mushy love stories gone, wonders PANKAJA SRINIVASAN
Ty's eyes swept across the room and rested briefly on her... This was enough to set her pulses racing (ours, too). Thank god, she had decided to wear the green silk that matched her emerald eyes, you think. It was the same when Seth, Cord, Case, Holt or Colter (you never encounter a simple John, or a Smith or a Robert here) looked at his woman. Hearts would thud, eyelashes flutter and lips quiver along with the heroine in question. Not any more.Whatever happened to Charlotte Lamb, Janet Daley, Lillian Peake, Anne Hampson and Flora Kidd? And the romantic Mills & Boon novels we grew up with - M&Bs as we affectionately called them?
"I used to read them, in fact I still do. But if you broadcast this fact, I shall deny it outright," says Mamta Dalmiya, a software expert. Mamta would save up her pocket money and go on an M&B binge when she was at school. She is still reluctant to part with these books. Strangely, few women want to admit they have read these mushy novels. But not Shanti. "Everyone has read these romances," she says. "Anyone who says she hasn't, is lying." Shanti once consumed over five M&Bs a day. "Of course, somewhere along the way, one outgrew them, but I still do read them," she says.Swati, all of 40 and some more, still sighs over "those handsome hunks." "Remember Roberta Leigh? And Violet Winspear? She was the one whose heroines always found their way into Bedouin tents and fell into the arms of Arab sheikhs," she recalls.Au contraire, Sumati is a confirmed M&B hater. "I always found it ridiculous that in order to be punished, one had to be kissed," she says referring, no doubt, to the number of `punishing kisses' the heroine got every time she crossed swords with the protagonist. "And, to a typically Malayali girl bred in the belief that `fair and handsome' were the magic words, I could never understand why these heroines swooned over these guys who were invariably dark."But these very same dark blokes have kept many women in a romantic trance. Take cousins Geeta and Janaki. "We used to exchange notes regularly about the books we read (Geeta lived in Chennai, while Janaki resided in Bangalore). Once it happened that we both read a Barbara Cartland novel called `Black Panther'. We hated the way it ended and decided we would write our very own ending for the romance!"
Apart from `literary pursuits' as these, Swati insists `her horizons were broadened' by reading these books. "It is not only about weak knees and bruised lips. One got to know so much about other lands. I came to learn a lot about history, geography and even ballet from these books. They are nothing to be sneezed at." For others like Sita Shivakumar, an ardent fan of all books mushy, there is something therapeutic about these romances. "They are happy stories. I do not have to tax my brains and it appeals to the romantic in me," she says."Hey, all romances are not bad," bristles Ahalya, and demands, "Have you ever read Georgette Heyer? She is smart, she is funny and her heroines are not sappy, weak-kneed, yellow-livered women. A Georgette Heyer heroine gives it back as good as she gets. Grand Sophy, Fredericka, These Old Shades are some of the examples of delightful romances. I read them time and again and am still not bored of them," she says.
Where love has gone
Strangely, the entire M&B genre seems to have faded away. Few young women seem to have read these novels that have kept an entire generation before them hooked on to a diet of mush. While the well-thumbed last pages of those novels saw all the `romantic action', sadly now everything is done and over with by page two. Delightful euphemisms have yielded to startlingly explicit prose. More than just smouldering looks are exchanged and more than just inhibitions shed.Courtship has given way to seduction and sadly, romance has lost its flavour.