Mothers and their treasured romantic novels
Why do mothers love romantic novels? We look into the endearing relationship older women share with love.
Between the urgent whistles of a pressure cooker, through solitary afternoons, when the husband’s at work and the daughter’s tiffin box has been packed and dispatched, some mothers finally sit down to do what they love; read. More often than not, these solitary pursuits begin with a romantic novel, a love story, an idealistic fantasy far removed from reality. But what charm do these romances hold that every day banalities cannot dim?
We attempted to understand the lure of the romantic novel, by asking mothers about their favourite love stories. And quite by accident we stumbled upon a treasure of evocative stories that cover a spectrum of romantic genres, from the epic historic novel to an insightful collection of regional short stories. And thereby we found depth and nuance in love. Yet another thing to learn from our mothers it would seem.
Mrs Uma Gandhi – Former Librarian
Book – A stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins
“Had I met Danny Fisher, I’d fall in love with him immediately.”
Somewhere between sharing her insights as a librarian and talking about her favourite romantic novel, Mrs Gandhi observes, ‘Romances build a bridge between early cartoons, fairy tales and serious reading. You can’t go from one to another without this bridge...’
A: Tell us about your reading habits.
U: I am a serious reader. When I read, I read. The best are mornings with a cup of tea or afternoons when everyone's sleeping or when I’m alone. Of course, once I was married, I didn’t have the time to read so often. There was a long gap of 15 years where I didn’t read anything apart from short stories because one could easily finish reading a story in between chores.
A: What’s your favourite moment from the book?
U: There’s a very poignant moment between the two protagonists when they lose their first child. The moment of closeness amidst this tragedy is appealing.
A: Is there a quote from the book that has stayed with you?
U: The story starts at the tomb, and from then the protagonist observes his life. There’s a very beautiful paragraph there that begins like, “I was not a great man whose history has been recorded for children to study in school. No bells will ring for me, no flags descend upon their mast…” so on and finally, it reads, “…I was the ordinary man about whom songs are never written, stories are never told, legends are never remembered.” I just love this paragraph.
Mrs Shubhada Rajadhyaksha – Homemaker
Book – Short Stories by Vijaya Vad
“Many a times I pick up the phone and I dial the number mentioned as author Vijaya Vad’s contact on her books but I hang up thinking what will I say?”
While we make photographs of Mrs. Rajadhyaksha, she reads her book, looks at us and translates a Marathi quote in English. Love, she says, is about compromise and supporting your partner to grow, personally or with respect to their career. Stories by Vijaya Vad speak of such ideas of love, marriage and relationships and I just love her writing.
A: When and how did you start reading?
S: I lost my husband when my son was 6 years old. I was 39 at that time and that is when I started reading. Reading helped me to cope with this drastic change in my life. Along with me, my son also developed a habit of reading during those years. Since then, I keep 1000 bucks aside every month especially for buying books.
A: When do you read during the day?
S: In the afternoon and bedtime. Before sleeping, I have to read a book and solve a sudoku puzzle.
Madhuri Askhedkar - Accounts and Administration
Book – Yugandhara by Dr. Sumati Kshetramade
“…actually, my husband teases me saying, ‘रद्दी असेल तरी तू वाचशील…’ (even if it’s scrap, you’ll read it) and well, it’s true. I do read everything and a lot.”
Madhuri Askhedkar abruptly stops summarising the book to ask us for coffee or tea and continues with a parallel story about how her mother bought her a library membership once she was old enough to select her own books. She carried the tradition forward and got her daughter a library membership too when she old enough.
A: Tell us a little bit about the book and why you like it
M: Yugandhara is a mix of romance and sacrifice. The language used for narrative and simple philosophies is beautiful and the reasoning behind all the acts of friendship, sacrifice and hatred is well interpreted.
A: What do you like about the male protagonist?
M: About Abhijeet? He’s very sympathetic and careful. In reality, had Yungandhara requested Abhijeet to wait, he would have waited for her. He introspects, later in the book, and understands Yungandhara’s situation too. And he allows his wife to be friends with Yugandhara although they have had a history.
A: Any particular line or quote from the book that you like
M: There are so many but one of them is, सुख कधिही मागवून मिळत नाही. त्याला घारीच्या नाझरेने टिपयला लागत (one can’t just find happiness, it has to be caught with eyes as sharp as those of a Kite)
Kala Samuel - Ex Headmistress
Book – Ponniyin Slevan by Kalki Krishnamurthy
“I’ve read Ponniyin Selvan at the age of 16, 27 and 48…”
With a spark in her eyes, Kala Samuel, begins to speak about her favourite character to us. She’s read the 5-part series thrice and can start reading it anytime all over again.
A: What would you if you’d met the male protagonist?
K: I would hug him.
A: When did you read Ponniyin Selvan?
K: I read it first when I was 16. At 16, I liked how powerful it was while drawing me into its world. I was so engrossed in it. Then I read it again at the age of 27. 27 made me notice how beautifully the author had described romance as well as political issues. The third time, at 48, I noticed, the author, although he writes about many interesting women characters, they always are the ones who sacrifice themselves for the nation, family or a lover.
Dr. Jagmeet Madan – Nutritionist, Principal
Book - Triveni by Gulzar
“I first met Gulzarji at a tennis court…”
There are around 4-5 books written by Gulzar on her desk and she opens two of them revealing to us that they are signed copies addressed to her unofficial name, Neerum as coined by Gulzar, from her pet name Neeru. Dr. Jagmeet Madan says she’s sometimes found lyrics which she could recall the backstory to, having been so well acquainted with the poet over two decades. In her signed copy of Pukhraj (one of Gulzar’s work which was in Hindi) Gulzar writes, “हर गम निचोडके हर एक रस जिये, दो दिन की जिंदगी में हरज़ारो बरस जीए… नीरम, तुम्हारे लिए मेरा हिंदी |”
(May it wring out every sorrow, live its every flavour
in this short life, may it live a thousand years….
Neerum, for you my writings in Hindi)
A: What about Gulzar's work personifies the romantic ideal for you?
J: He conveys sentiment in such a beautifully layered manner and with so much grace. Everything can't be described in words because some things to be experienced and his idea of romance is more of that, an ‘एहसास’ (feeling)
Gulzar is the definition of love. I like how, in his work, things are not black or white or obvious. There’s always a lot which is unsaid and that appeals to me.
A: You happen to know Gulzar…
J: Yes, since more than two decades now. Our first interaction was at the tennis court. During that time, I was learning to play tennis and he would play at the same Gymkhana. I could not relate to him as a serious writer, playing tennis and being so casual. His sense of humour is also extremely good. Even when you talk to him, he can rhyme anything in no time which leaves you in awe. Interacting with Gulzarji was quite interesting because that got me reading his books and then knowing him more as a person.
A: How did you start reading?
J: I think I was reading all my life. I read more academics than other books. My father was a voracious reader. He wrote a diary everyday in which he wrote about his feelings and made a note of the quotes that he would like. On days when he would feel low, he would read those lines and feel rejuvenated. Once when I was going through a tough time in my life, he wrote to me and the letter only had the quotes from his diary which he had gathered for years.
Rupal Chheda – Homemaker
Book – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
“I’m a very fast reader. I can go through a book in a day…”
Mrs. Chheda, tells us that she’d bought a new copy of Pride and Prejudice for her elder daughter because she wanted her daughters to be sensible in their choices. She does not want them to compromise. We find this easy to believe, as Mrs Chheda sports a tattoo of a crown on her middle finger to covey that in her house, she’s the Queen.
A: When during the day do you like to read?
R: I read in the afternoon or in the night. I am a homemaker so I’m alone at home all day and I’m not a cleanliness freak so I have enough time by myself to read. At night though, I like to read something light. So I read books by Nora Roberts or something similar and when I feel sleepy, I can easily put them down and go to bed unlike thrillers that you can’t keep away easily.
A: Why do you like Pride and Prejudice?
R: The book is relatable at all ages even in today’s world. Situations may differ but the structure remains the same. While there are some like Elizabeth, there are others like Elizabeth’s sisters who only fall for money and good looks. I also like how Elizabeth and Darcy are different from each other. Their characters seem very blunt but both of them love their families. And even when they are poles apart, in a way, they are good for each other.
Mrinmayee Ranade – Editor
Book – Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
“These characters are never fun in real life. But in fantasy, I would have fallen for Captain Butler, I think…”
In between the years, from when Mrs. Ranade had read the book earlier and now, she says there’s a new perspective that she has acquired. While earlier everything seemed ‘La vie en rose’, she now notices the social construct and identifies the feminism, slavery and racism in the book.
A: When during the day do you read?
M: Morning time. I don’t like to talk to anyone in the morning and because no one leaves the house early, I don’t even have to worry about cooking and chores. So, from 7.30 or so, the next hour I read all the newspaper we have subscribed to with a cup of tea.
A: What do you like about the book?
M: I’m in awe of the author for creating such a beautiful representation of that time. I like the end mainly, because both have come to a realisation that they love each other yet they can’t stay together. And though she says, “Tomorrow is another day” and he says, “I don’t give a damn” you feel very bad because after all this struggle, when she has had two three marriages, lost a child and a mother and he’s also gone through so much, they have realised their love for each other but they can’t be together.
That’s the beauty of it. Had they come together, it would be no fun, you know!
A: Any quotes from the book that you like?
M: ‘I don’t give a damn’. At this age, I have stopped bothering about certain things. I know I couldn’t say I don’t give a damn at twenty but at 47, I can and to many things…now that my daughter is also old, I can work flexible hours, I have more space in my mind and I quite like that.
Writer: Aparna Varma
Photographers: Ashiq MK and Meera Ganapathi
Editor/Creative Director: Meera Ganapathi