I’ve confessed this before: I read Mills & Boon. The ones with the blue covers, to be precise. I have no time for the purple ones (“Nocturne”, involving werewolves and vampires), the pink ones (“Tender” or something like that, which is, I suspect, code for “only foreplay”), the red ones (“Desire”) or the brown ones (“Historical”). Those are properly crap. The blue ones (“Modern”) are also crap, but as far as I’m concerned, they are endearingly crappy. Thanks to them, I’ve discovered words and phrases like “dushka” (spoken by the Russian hero with piercing blue eyes), glikia mou (breathed huskily by Greek hero with sharply aquiline nose) and “anisah” (uttered in a guttural tone by the sheikh of a fictitious place called Khayarzah who has burning black eyes). Nothing makes me giggle as delightedly as a Mills & Boon story. They’re so delightfully outlandish.
Earlier this year, I found one title that suggested the world of Mills & Boon isn’t entirely disconnected from real life. It was a “Mad Men” version of a Mills & Boon, with the heroine time travelling to the ’50s and ushering in rights for women in the workplace. She worked in an, you guessed it, advertising firm. Her boss sounded like Don Draper, just without the lies, psychological tangles, affairs or wife. This month, reality intruded the Mills & Boon world in a big way, as far as I was concerned. Lynne Raye Harris’s November 2011 title “Captive but Forbidden” had a hero named Rajesh. Rajesh Vala, if you please. I thought Vala was Harris’s way of modernising the “wallah” that has been associated with many Indians (it is a “Modern” romance, after all) but I’m told Vala is actually the name of a not-so-well-known Rajput clan. So there it is, the greatest proof that India really is getting attention from the world at large: Rajesh Vala shares the romantic stage with Russian billionaires, Argentine rascals and other international men about town.
Rajesh Vala is half American, half Indian (desis of America, rejoice). He’s “Bollywood-handsome”, whatever that means. And, perhaps in an ode to the Romantic poet William Blake, has “honey-gold” eyes that remind the heroine of tigers. He has a mysterious background that involves the military in some capacity and he owns an elite security firm, which is supposed to be explanation for how he ends up being the heroine’s bodyguard. He also has a house in Goa, where he spirits said heroine for her safety and where he has dosa for breakfast (so much for realism). He does not murmur Hindi sweet nothings into his lady love’s ears, thank god.
In case you’re curious about what an Indian Mills & Boon hero murmurs in his lady love’s ear, allow me to point you towards “His Monsoon Bride” by Aastha Atray. Atray is one of the first Indian authors to write for Mills & Boon because she won a short story competition that the company held in India last year. Her hero’s name is Mehtab and “even though he looked mean, Amrita’s heart went into a spin.” Amrita is the heroine, obviously. She lives in a flat and has her own “red velvet lined” private elevator (because that’s what rich, classy people do: have bordello-themed lifts). Being “a fat heiress”, she’s too curvy for her Chanel LBD (I have only recently learnt that this is a widely-known acronym for “little black dress”) and has to attend “shin digs”. Not shindigs, but shin digs. Just the thought makes my legs quiver with empathetic pain.
And now for the description of Mehtab. “Dressed in a black shirt and moss green corduroys, his lean physique was enhanced by his wavy, sexy hair that ended just below his ears in soft waves. His 2-day stubble was the only accessory he wore, along with that menacing grin he wore, of course.” He wears Davidoff Cool Waters, which makes Amrita swoon. The endearment he prefers is “baby doll”. The line that wins Amrita over: “Ladies and gentlemen, this girl is so sweet even chocolate can’t resist her.” He says this while fishing Amrita out of a — wait for it — chocolate fountain into which Ms. Heiress tumbled while trying to escape the party.
I don’t care how unpatriotic and anti-postcolonial this makes me, but I prefer the objectified stereotypes of European and South American men, thank you very much. Not only do they dress better and have better hair stylists, their murmurs are nicer. Even “dushka”, which sounds like it belongs with “biff” and “pffft” in a comic book, is better than “baby doll”.
On the plus side, I know that next month there will be five, instead of six, new Mills & Boon titles to buy.