Studying in an all-girls’ convent school, we grew up devouring classic romantic novels and Mills & Boons stolen from older sisters’ well-guarded libraries. The bathroom at home became a dream world to drown in those books, or we’d hide them between the covers of our Chemistry course books. Class breaks were spent debating and defending our favourite male protagonists or exchanging novels with friends.
During those rebellious years, no matter how hard our parents and teachers attempted to paint for us a picture of reality, we always brushed their advice rudely aside, preferring the rosy romances that we fantasised about.
I had grown out of frocks, long braids and spectacles myself and whenever I looked into the mirror with ‘my tresses falling loosely on my cheeks, lips plumped with gloss and eyes done up with kohl’, I saw looks that could flatten my classic hero in the very first glance. By now, I had almost framed my own definition of a dream hero.
I had almost sworn to myself never to fall for a man who didn’t look like the drop-dead handsome Heathcliff, wasn’t as wealthy and dignified as Mr Darcy, didn’t have the attitude of Howard Roark, or couldn’t make passionate love like Rhett Butler!
Meanwhile, when a slouching Rakesh from my neighbourhood who topped the IIT entrance at his first attempt smiled at me, hoping for a response, I found myself murmuring, “Smelly nerd! What does he know about true love?” Boys hovered in hordes but nowhere did Rakesh and his like satisfy my exhaustive checklist for Prince Charming.
Meeting boys in college took me by complete surprise. Those who looked handsome like a Mills & Boon hunk appeared to exhibit values like those of the same novel’s villain. Those who looked rich had an utterly and shamelessly poor attitude. The chocolate-faced lad of the class turned out to be not-so-chocolatey when it came to conversing with girls and within seconds descended to snide remarks. One guy who looked mature became an overprotective buddy who’d have made a hopeless boyfriend.
Getting close to someone would have meant resting my head on a wild bear’s hairy chest and breathing in stinky body odour overlaid with strong perfume, while getting kissed would have meant mortal combat with bad breath or yellowing teeth. Staying single seemed a much wiser decision than rushing into an unhygienic love saga.
As days passed, I gradually realised that the dream heroes of novels do not exist in real life and even if they did, they’d have made truly despicable partners.
Out of the many people I was growing up with, the one with whom I spent most of my happy days was, strangely enough, the boy next door. In times of anxiety, my eyes would hunt for him even in a crowd of hundreds. His deep voice made him handsome to me and his kiss on my forehead felt far more reassuring than a preacher’s sermon. His wit was his wealth, and integrity his charm. He never tired of my asking him repeatedly, “Do I look fat in this dress?” and was not annoyed by my hopeless culinary skills. He knew how to escape a party for a street-food indulgence; he’d wink at me when other guys checked me out, to laugh at it later together.
I came to realise that the reality of a soul mate is far more interesting outside the fixed ideological frame of books. True love is not about someone who has special powers but someone who helps us find our special powers.
The man in my life, fit and disciplined, not only buys me books with my favourite heroic characters but also brings me tea in bed every morning to wake me up to a happy day. Nowhere have I read about the joy from the first sip from that small cuppa made by him, day after day. This is true love…. Isn’t it?