“Once upon a time in Goa, a lovely maid dreamed of finding romance and adventure, just like in her beloved Bollywood films. Khushi longs to escape the boredom of her life as a hotel housekeeper, but she learned long ago never to believe in dreams. So when she stumbles-literally!-upon a handsome Australian tourist with flashing eyes and a way with words, she knows the sparks between them can come to nothing. With one week left in his yearlong tour of India, Harrison Rayne is not looking for romance. But he can't deny the special connection he feels to the beautiful Khushi, and soon he knows they are meant to be together forever! Can he convince her that love at first sight happens in real life, too?”
I read the summary of the Harlequin story with a sardonic expression, flinching at the number of ingenuous clichés. So Harlequin and Mills & Boon go local? My obsession with writing and referencing Mills & Boon has not gone unnoticed in the past. As a teenager, learning Southern European and Mediterranean Geography was much more bearable because of the Jakes, Lukes, and Nicks residing in Sicily. Even today, in the process of planning a Eurotrip, I asked my friend if a visit to Italy or Greece would ensure eyeing the most handsome men with sculpted bodies and chiseled features straight out of Mills & Boon. Talking of associations, I’ve always associated the men in Mills & Boon with power, great looks, and
anything but an Indian Mediterranean origin.
My romantic conditioning was shaped by these novels (I refuse to call it soft porn for the female teenager) with clichéd happy endings and repetitive storylines. The men were all self-made, fighters, tall, dark, brooding, broad, angry, and testosterone-fired versions of Greek Gods. A good character, high paying software employment or a secure government job was not their forte (unlike many Indian men). The men were devoted to their family of four generations, usually Greek or Italian, usually called Lucio or Antonio or something akin to the label on an expensive perfume bottle. They were ruthless men on the prowl, owning art galleries, driving expensive cars, sleeping bare-torso in boxer shorts, with no pot bellies or receding hairlines and absolutely no experience of changing diapers or doing laundry.
That was the general picture, with minor and statistically insignificant variations. No wonder I could never picture a Veereshwar Mudipally, Lucky Singh, or Somnath Chaddha to fit the role of these men. No, that would be sacrilege. Veereshwar could be a genius from IIT, Lucky could be an entrepreneur, and Somnath could be a rocket scientist. But they could never be characters out of a Mills & Boon novel. Hence the synopsis of this story amused me greatly.
First, the writer has probably chosen the right location - Goa. I haven’t skimmed through the chapters (no one “reads” Mills & Boon, we “skim through” them as surprises in plotlines are rare) but something tells me it could never have been Calcutta, Kota, or Kanya Kumari. Khajuraho, maybe. Andaman, probably. Stereotypical India being the land of exoticism, mysticism, fantasy, of buxom women slithering like snakes from the land of Kama Sutra. The name of the woman had to be something sassy, like Khushi, Neha, or Simran. Not the religious kinds like Lakshmi, Parvati, Aarti, or Pooja. Not the complicated ones like Madhusmita, Mukteshwari, or Sanghamitra. Not the boring ones like Hema, Lata, and Jaya.
“Once upon a time in Goa, a lovely maid dreamed of finding romance and adventure, just like in her beloved Bollywood films.”
So she has to be the one doing a relatively unimportant and menial job of a maid. Now please do not get me wrong, I am not looking down on any job. But the segregation of jobs based on gender seems a little disturbing. He is usually the doctor while she is the nurse. He is the boss while she is the secretary. I do not know what does this “he” does here other than tour the world, but I am sure he is definitely not a chef in the neighborhood breakfast café. The reference to Bollywood is stereotypical again, given the general idea “foreigners” have of India and Bollywood (Anyone seen the show Outsourced?). Ever heard a conversation where India is all about Bollywood and Bollywood is all about Bhangra?
Lastly, the man could be European, American, even Australian in this case, but never ever an Indian. So what if the plot is in Goa? The chick might be named Khushi but the Indian man has to be “dukhi”. Indian men seem to have a low reputation in terms of their prowess and their capabilities, not considered worthy of a male lead role in a romantic fantasy novel of British origin. He might have come a long way from being mumma’s boy and is not a dowry hog or a wife beater anymore. He might be the best coder or programmer you can find. He might be the brains behind launching spaceships and doing complex math algorithms. But he cannot be trusted ‘manhandling’ a woman being thrown into a frenzy amidst passion churning on the beaches of Goa. He is the curious spectator of the events unfolding in this story. Sorry, he can see, but not touch. The Indian male still has miles to go before he can be considered worthy of a male lead in a Mills & Boon.
For he might have mastered the ability to add to the population and reproduce, but he still needs to go a long way before he can master the art of seduction.
Photo credit: novalorsten.co.uk