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Has romance lost its flavour?

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MISSING READERS Generation of 40 plus women wonder where romantic novels have gone
MISSING READERS Generation of 40 plus women wonder where romantic novels have gone

Dark, handsome heroes, eyelashes fluttering heroines and riveting love stories. Where have all the mushy romances gone?

Courtship has given way to seduction and sadly romance has lost its flavour Ty's eyes swept across the room and rested briefly on her... This was enough to set the 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 Daily, Lillian Peake, Anne Hampson and Flora Kidd? And the romantic novels we grew up with - MBs 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 in Bangalore. 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.

Tall, dark and handsome

Strangely few women want to admit they have read these mushy novels. But not Shanti. "Everyone has read these romances," she declares. "Anyone who says she hasn't, is lying!" Shanti once consumed over five MBs a day. "Of course somewhere along the way one out grew them, but I still do read them," she says. Swati, all of 40 and some more still sighs over the "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 MB 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.

Lost flavour

Strangely the entire MB 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 a diet of mush. While the well-thumbed last pages of those novels saw all the 'romantic action', 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. PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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