Rabu, 05 September 2012

My Romance With Mills and Boon

This morning I was quite thrilled to note that Mills & Boon will be releasing a book with Indian characters. I presume it was a final acknowledgement that India is a big market for western publishers. I will come back to M&B a bit later.

My early life in Delhi was in the tony Chanakyapuri area, with predominantly children of senior central government officers as gang mates. Added to that was my schooling in an Irish Christian brothers school. This skewed my reading habits completely towards books written by British authors aided and abetted by British publishers who made sure that their books were prominently placed in well-known book shops,including the leader of the pack, B D Galgotia & Sons in Connaught Place.

My first memory is of being addicted to Noddy books by Enid Blyton. I followed his adventures in Toyland along with Big Ears. I then graduated to The Five Find-outers, Famous Five and the Adventure series. This ended my 'kid' phase. I loved the misadventures of "William" by Richmal Crompton, closely followed by "Billy Bunter." A little later I got hooked on to "Biggles" by Capt. W E Johns.

By this time I was big in to American comics, particularly the cowboy ones like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen and the Lone Ranger. As my comic reading habit ate a lot in to my school homework time I used to hide them under my pillow so that my dad wouldn't find them. My friends and I would also exchange comics regularly. I remember reading my first Beetle Bailey comic on the train from Delhi to Bangalore at the beginning of my school summer holidays. Travel time was good fun as we would be allowed to buy comics for the journey. In the north the station bookshop would be run by A.H. Wheeler while Higginbothams took care of the south.

However, I was not very fond of American authors. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were just names to me. Even in later years Mark Twain came in to my life as only a college quiz question when I correctly answered the question, "By what name was Samuel Clemens better known?"

America came back in to my life via Erle Stanley Gardner. I devoured Perry Mason books till I finished every one of them. I remember once I was traveling alone by the Deluxe Express from Madras (Chennai) to New Delhi. There were two anglo Indian women (they looked like school teachers) in the seats next to me. When I took out three Perry Masonbooks they looked pretty disapproving. Presumably they thought that these books were not suitable for someone as young as I was. This was also the time for "The Saint" series by Leslie Charteris. I was not too fond of Agatha Christie as I thought the pace was too slow

When I was in Senior Cambridge I started a love affair that continues till this day, even though my 'partner' has been dead for several years. I am, of course, referring to P G Wodehouse. I have his complete collection and every time I get bored I take out a tome from my book shelf and read it at one sitting.

When my father was based in Guwahati our bungalow was inside the office campus. The library there per force had to stock English books of Indian authors. My reading list got upgraded to Manohar Mulgaonkar, Anita Desai, and Raja Rao.

Over the last several years I am hooked on to Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon,Frederick Forsyth, and John Grisham. They are comparatively easy reading and required very little intellectual calisthenics to understand, unlike Robert Ludlum whose books are beyond me. For quality literature I turn to Asterix and Iznogoud comics.

Now back to Mills & Boon...

Till I got married I had never heard of them. One day I saw my wife reading a book published by M&B. As I was comparatively free I decided to give a shot at reading the book by some unknown author called Penny Jordan. It was like opening a Pandora's Box. I got sucked in to a whirlpool I have not been able to get out of. There was a circulating library near Commercial Street which stocked the complete series of M&Bs. I knew the kind of stories each author would write. The scenario would shift from England to Greece to Brazil to Spain and Italy. Sometimes to the US and Australia. I knew that Betty Neels would write Doctor/Nurse stories based in Holland.

The heroine would generally be a self-sacrificing virgin of modest means whose first boy friend would be a good-natured blonde. The hero would be older, rich, mostly dark-haired with graying temples and a rather disapproving type. In the Italian setting the hero would say 'cara' instead of 'darling'. The European setting ones would generally have a grandmother who controls the family and is the first one to realize that the heroine is the perfect choice for her grandson, irrespective of the social mismatch. The 'villi" would be modeled on our Hindi film Bindu type. In the early years sex was a no-no. However, to keep pace with modern times the Victorian attitude has made way to ground reality in the recent books. They now come with such alluring titles as "Lessons in Seduction", "Revealed: His secret child"...

Just like Jeffrey Archer has realized that his future millions will be earned from India, Mills & Boon have also joined the bandwagon. Their books are now available for less than Rs 100 through online stores.

I need to find more place in my book-shelf.

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