A funny thing happened back in 2007, when my arranged marriage husband of 35 years, a diehard fan of thrillers and mysteries, started reading my debut romance novel, THE DOWRY BRIDE. He was unprepared for what was to come.
He turned to me with an odd expression when he came to the scene where my shy protagonist and the hesitant hero finally surrender to their mutual attraction and make love. “You have sex in your story!” my husband commented, his eyes round with astonishment.
“That’s why it’s called a romance, dear,” was my wry response. He was one of my first readers within the immediate family, and his reaction of surprised delight gave this anxious new author some much-needed confidence.
Nonetheless I chose not to confess that I had been plagued with doubts about introducing that scene into my book. Was I capable of writing convincing love scenes? Would Indian characters wearing saris and kurtas and indulging in carnal pleasures sound realistic to my readers? I realized I would never find out unless I tried to work in at least one incident involving sex.
I could envision the scandalized looks on the faces of my conservative family and friends when they realized that wholesome Hindu men and women were reveling in hot, glorious, mind-numbing sex in my tales. This, notwithstanding the fact that India is probably the only ancient culture that boasts a 1,700-year-old primer on the art of love-making, a sex education textbook known as the Kama Sutra. Erotic sculptures abound in centuries-old Indian temples, too. I wonder when Indian society turned prudish.
The literary world is full of talented, award-winning South Asian authors who write fiction in the English language. They pen the most beautiful prose that stimulates the intellect. And yet, I was always disappointed that not a single one of them wrote commercial fiction, the kind that provides lighter reading pleasure.
I had never truly enjoyed the slice-of-life fiction that I was forced to read for my English literature classes in college. Even the rare love scene was a work of lyrical beauty but sadly lacking in sizzle and passion.
As a teenager growing up in a small town in India, with no television or radio to amuse me, reading romance novels and going to the theater with my friends to see Bollywood movies were the two main forms of entertainment, the stuff of impatient sighs and sheer excitement.
In the movies, love blossomed between two unlikely people while a multitude of conflicts made it nearly impossible for them to be together. The end could be happy or sad, leaving me smiling or shedding tears. Nonetheless, the drama was supremely entertaining. And inspiring.
Much later in life, at the age of 50 and teetering on menopause, when I took up fiction writing, I decided to recapture that magic of Bollywood. By then I was also hooked on modern romantic fiction icons like Nora Roberts, Judith McNaught, and Karen Robards.
With my stories of tenacious women and strong men who live by the dictates of a conservative culture yet manage to find romance and love in their own way, I created a unique subgenre of ethnic fiction while introducing Bollywood to a non-Indian audience. And so began my adventurous journey to becoming a published author of romantic Indian fiction—a tricky path that very few, if any, writers have chosen to tread.
My novels are brimming with vibrant colors, hot spices, the travails of arranged marriage, taboo love, and controversial social topics like dowry and female-fetus abortion. I offer my readers a taste of “Bollywood in a Book”—Indian culture peppered with high drama, soul-stirring emotion, romance, and cultural detail.
Naturally, in the beginning, I had serious doubts about any reputable agent or publisher wanting to consider my stories, which did not really fit into any established genre. However, despite numerous rejections from agents, I persisted in writing my kind of ethnic romances. Ultimately, in 2006, I signed on with a highly reputable agent who represents a number of bestselling authors, and landed three consecutive two-book contracts with Kensington Publishing Corporation.
The unique Bollywood-in-a-Book concept seems to have worked for me, the hopeless romantic. At the heart of every one of my stories is the universal sentiment of love. My Indian characters, despite their old-fashioned ways, do enjoy love and sex, and they keep my readers entertained. They add a unique element to the odes and love songs written over the centuries, and heroes and heroines dying in the name of love, combined with the colorful modern-day Valentine’s Day celebrations that pay homage to eternal love.
Info about the author:
Besides authoring six novels, Shobhan Bantwal is a freelance writer and award-winning fiction writer featured in publications such as The Writer, India Abroad, Little India, India Currents and New Woman India. Her short story was featured in a charity anthology titled Dreams & Desires, the proceeds from which were donated to a battered women’s shelter. Bantwal regularly donates a portion of her book earnings to women’s charities. Visit her website at www.shobhanbantwal.com to learn about her books, contests, photos, recipes and contact information.
And to buy her latest book, ‘The Full Moon Bride’, please click on the cover below: