Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  An Atlas of Love | Straight from the heart

It may be the annual vandalism fest for the custodians of so-called “Indian" culture, but Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion for Indian publishers, especially the English-language ones, to inundate their readers with love stories.

Almost every year a handful of mass-market titles, edited by the stars of commercial fiction, is released around this time. These anthologies are usually the outcome of online contests, to which submissions pour in from across the country. Tales of love—lost, found and revisited—are never in short supply. There may be only that many ways of getting one’s heart stolen, or broken, but nothing is too banal to be put in print. One of the most successful novels in the genre, by Ravinder Singh, bears the title, I Too Had A Love Story. What better cue can there be for a generation that is becoming bolder by the day, indulging in public displays of affection, as this report last year told us? (https://nyti.ms/1lIzBAF)

In 2012, Singh, one of the most popular English language novelists in the country, edited an anthology for Penguin Books India’s Metro Reads imprint called Love Stories that Touched My Heart, featuring two dozen entries selected from the hundreds that had been sent in for a competition. This year Rupa Publications has followed suit with An Atlas of Love, edited by Anuja Chauhan.

“I’m not Spiderman, but I do believe in the line ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’", Singh wrote in the introduction to his selection, “This anthology is my way of using my power and moving a step towards accomplishing my responsibility to create a platform for many of the upcoming debutant authors". Chauhan does not claim to have any grand delusion of saving the world by adding to the existing deluge of romantic sagas. She came on board for this project, as Chauhan says, simply for the chance “to read lots of love stories".

Chauhan’s unfussy introduction, and her good taste, is by and large reflected in the 16 stories she has compiled. Although the bulk of the stories end in the customary lived-happily-ever-after mode, albeit after striking twists in some cases, there is much else going on in the volume. Pitiful stalkers, couples with a taste for kinky sex, psychotic cross-dressers, lonely widowers, inter-generational romance, even a tale of gay love (though with a tragic ending)—you get the whole works.

If the style is uneven, the variety in the themes keeps you engaged. The literary aspirations are not to be trifled with either. Aurodeep Nandi’s Phoenix Mills, which won the first prize in The Rupa Romance Contest 2013, ends with an uncanny echo of James Joyce’s classic Araby, from the collection Dubliners. There are multiple instances where the protagonists, once bitten in love, refuse to surrender to the same old torments; in fact, a couple of times, they avenge themselves with panache. The lovers are usually competent flirts, with a healthy sexual appetite, and not afraid of some fun in the dark in a movie theatre. Occasionally, the Mills and Boons mood slips in—“‘Make love to me,’ she whispered in his ear at the bar one stormy night"—and in one instance, there is a nod to Fifty Shades of Grey, though resolved in an amicably desi manner.

Whether legal or cultural pundits like it or not, the inhabitants of the land of the Kama Sutra will continue to love in their own different ways.

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