New Delhi: Contemporary Indian popular fiction that narrates "desi" cosmopolitan stories has been mirroring the changing man-woman relationship in a more open and accepting urban India, a leading literary agent says.
Even 10 years ago, romantic novels spun stories about a man and one woman, whose sacrosanct monogamous love twisted and turned its way to the altar after epic struggles. Brazen romantic love as a subject of mass fiction was considered audacious in the middle-class conservatism of the 1970s-1980s.
However, when the globalised 1990s began to creep into "desi" books, the floodgates of love opened to include more complex themes with "emotional riddles, tangled relationships and even same sex love". In the decade of 2000, the cast of the tales grew younger in years as dark passionate secrets came tumbling out of cupboards - but with an essentially Indian feel.
Quite a lot of books are reflecting the changing romantic relationship in India, says literary agent Mita Kapur of Siyahi, which promotes contemporary young Indian literature.
"It came to my mind when I was reading 'Zoya Factor' by Anuja Chauhan and 'Piece of Cake' by Swati Kaushal. It also comes through in the way Advaita Kala (almost single) handles her relationship or Anita Nair addresses relationship. Namita Gokhale also reflected upon the relationships in her book, 'Priya'," Kapur told IANS.
"Complex relationships have always been there in society - in a particular class in the urban areas which were developing faster than the rural areas.
"I read a lot of new manuscripts by young writers. Though I do not always approve of their writing, I have noticed a certain openness in the way they talk of relationships in their books," Kapur added.
Difficult relationships, jealousy and triangular love no longer shock readers; rather they make powerful plots like in cinema and television.
A new book by Nirupama Subramanian, "Intermission", follows in the footsteps of John Updike to paint the changing face of Gurgaon suburbia, the dazzling face of modern India.
Varun and Gayatri, an NRI couple returns to India after several years abroad. Varun is glad to be his own boss while wife Gayatri finds readjusting in the traditional Indian family difficult. Life changes insidiously for the family when Varun meets Sweety, a single mother of two, in a dream of a nuclear family.
It is a far cry from Rabindranath Tagore's "Nashto Nir" or "Ghare Baire" or Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's "Devdas" - tales of unconventional and heroic love.
Tracing the history of romance in literature and its assimilation from the society, Dipa Chaudhuri, the chief editor of Om Books International, says 35-40 years ago love stories in books were built in the mould of Mills & Boons and Barbara Cartland romances which began with difficulties in the beginning and resolved in the end.
"For me it was a bit of an illusion because the books were written in a certain time period which played on what love ought to be for women. The presentations were stereotypical. What I find today is a demystification of love in actual life and yet the upholding of the emotion and connecting with realities. It is no longer the ideal emotion that you can reach out to touch. Contemporary romance is a surprise to me because so many things (options) are coming out of Indian contexts," Chaudhuri told IANS.
Chaudhuri said: "Interestingly, more men are also writing about love now. Everybody needs to evolve. Men are talking about love, loss and longing - difficulties in negotiating relationships," Chaudhuri said.
Two new best-selling mass-market works, "I Too Have a Love Story" and "Can Love Happen Twice" by Ravinder Singh addresses the progression in Indian love stories through the life of its young protagonist Ravin, who finds love through a matrimonial site and loses it, only to give another shot at it.
Books like "Boy Meets Girl", "There is No Love on Wall Street", "The Great Indian Love Story", "Marrying Anita", "Nick of Time" and "Scandalous Secret" have been powered by the Indian reader's undying passion for love stories with a tweak.
On a parallel note, a spate of books have been addressing forbidden love like gay and alternative sexual passion.
According to writer Namita Gokhale, the author of contemporary novels like "Paro: Dreams of Passion", "Priya: " and a new anthology of short stories, "The Habit of Love", modern fiction mirrors the anxieties and aspirations in relationships.
"There can't be any single Indian reality as societal constraints are changing and opening up. It is the need for love stories - the writers - to understand real kind of love. Writers are projecting different emotional and social situations... After all, literature helps make sense of our lives," Gokhale told IANS.