Books

The many shades of love

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“E veryone knows that a wink typed at the end of a message isn’t just a wink. It is a complex code signalling anything from ‘I might not mean that’ to ‘I am horny’.” This is an excerpt from Preeti Shenoy’s non-fiction work, Why We Love The Way We Do . In the age of virtual communication and fluid narratives on gender and sexuality, romance fiction writers are re-conceptualising love.

Romance post the Tinder and OkCupid phase is a completely different ball game. There isn’t a man who hasn’t gone through a break-up, says Ravinder Singh, who has a huge fan following among the young. “Very few people have their first love as their last love now. Twenty years ago, love marriage was a new concept. People fell in love, got married and then came sex. Now, it’s the other way round. Modern couples give a lot of importance to physical compatibility.” Ravinder’s latest, This Love That Feels Right , dwells on physical attraction.

Decoding Romance: Durjoy Datta

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Preeti’s books are contemporary fiction, where technology plays a huge role. Her characters text each other and use apps to call cabs. “It is just as challenging or non-challenging as placing your characters in the 15th Century, where there are only horse-drawn carriages,” she says. And, it would be a mistake to say that just because there are virtual hook-ups, people aren’t willing to enter committed relationships, she adds. “Maybe the way they court has changed. Instead of love letters, we chat on apps, and instead of flowers, we send emojis.”

The authors also break a few norms, even while writing to please the vast youth readership. Ravinder’s latest, This Love That Feels Right , is about a young married woman, who is drawn to her gym instructor. The book discusses the validity of open marriage and infidelity. He opened a Pandora’s box when he started talking to married couples about the subject, says Ravinder. “Most of them loved the idea of freedom within marriage, but were uncomfortable about their spouse enjoying the same freedom. All of them said they liked to have a platform where they could discuss these matters openly with their partners.”

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Publishers are open to exploring these grey areas, “as long as the story is relatable. The book got a great response from youngsters in their early 20s. They are more open and logical than those beyond 30, who build boundaries around them.” Preeti’s The Secret Wish List also dealt with love outside marriage, and is one of her highest-selling titles. “It has been translated into several other languages as well. This means the publishers are very receptive. Love outside marriage has existed as long as the institution of marriage has.”

Most romances are still heterosexual. However, Durjoy Datta’s Our Impossible Love had a parallel story that talked about it.

“Indian publishers don’t make a distinction on the orientation of the protagonists,” says Durjoy. Ravinder agrees. “If I write on homosexual love, I do not want to write about something evident; I would like to go beneath the layers, talk to people and see how we could make the story relatable for readers.”

Many of the writers use a breezy narrative to strike a chord. “This style goes with the kind of stories romance writers like to tell. No one intentionally dumbs down their language. It has to support the story telling,” says Durjoy.

Decoding Romance: Preeti Shenoy

Decoding Romance: Preeti Shenoy

 

However the sales of books in the romance genre have not hiked drastically, says Durjoy. “We haven’t found enough authors in the commercial genre. Since a lot of authors, whose books you might see in shelves, came at the same time, it looked like there was a boom.”

However, Ravinder is a lot more optimistic. “In the last few years, there has been a big demand and supply of these books. I think Indians have a thing for romance in their DNA. Youngsters identify with our stories because they step into a relationship at a young age.”

Be it in Bollywood or romance fiction, writers and filmmakers are addressing the grey areas of love — dangerous obsessions, pain of being ‘friend zoned’ and possessiveness in relationships. “It’s chaos out there. People are experimenting with and interpreting relationships in their own way. Love has become a lot more complex,” says Ravinder.

Modern love is conflict-ridden and Indian writers are waking up to that. “I can’t think of a single Indian author who writes about the eternal, undying type of love. Romance fiction in India is not conventional at all; the grey area of romance is what Indian romance is all about. Rejection, loss and tragedy and unrequited love are easier to write about than a story with no conflicts,” says Durjoy.

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