Mills and Boons made an appearance in my life around the same time my parents discovered their daughter's rebellious streak. It started with saying no to pig-tails, frilly-frocks and the hair oil my Mom lovingly plastered my hair with and progressed to a war of egos. It was a phase of life that also came with the realisation that boys were not that disgusting and annoying and could make me blush with their strange glances. I was afflicted with an awareness that made me check myself in the mirror again and again, hoping that the gawky girl staring back at me would transform into a comely maiden capable of making men collapse with ecstasy with just a flick of her hair.
For me, it was a natural progression from Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. Mills and Boons was the holy grail of romance that teleported me to the world of Virginia as she sat beside Damien Savage, his chiselled, tanned features expressionless, his deep-blue eyes hidden behind Versace sunglasses. Still shocked at the intensity of her physical reaction to him, Virginia longed to be undressed by him; to feel his skin against hers ... As she moved her body closer, her leg brushing his muscular thigh, she felt his heat.
Many tiny explosions of pain later, where Virginia gets kissed, mauled and manages to see all the stars and constellations, Damien the brute, who treats her like his sex slave admits that he'd been in love with her from Page 5 but took 300 pages to confess so that the author could pay for her vacation in the Bahamas.
I was hopelessly lost in the world of the lean and hard muscled hero, who was tough, brooding, single and insanely wealthy. His bed would unvaryingly have black satin sheets, which the object of his lust would discover on page 65. But underneath that scowling, tough as a coconut shell demeanour lay a softie, tortured by a secret past, waiting to be reformed by the slavish love of a virginal damsel with long legs and cascading blond hair.
Didn't we all wait breathlessly for the dashing Damien Savage with a taut torso and tanned arms to sweep us off our feet, wilfully ignoring the awkward advances of smelly Shomit and buck-teethed Manish! How could we, they were nowhere near the fantasy we'd fallen in love with! Instead we chose to have a boulder sized crush on the unattainable school hottie, who couldn't be bothered by our presence. We loved wallowing in misery because that's what Virginia would have done!
We religiously hid these paperback fantasies in our Chemistry books, inexorably drawn to a world of never-ending love, where the men were strong, rough and hopelessly romantic, the women virtuous. It was our drug of choice, an escape from the world of math, exams, demanding parents and "I hate myself, I'm so ugly" angst.
Strangely, these mythical creatures were nowhere to be found in real life. If they were silent and brooding, they were mind-numbingly boring. The strong-silent type was emotionally challenged. If he was drop-dead gorgeous, he fancied himself as God's gift to mankind and they were all broke and Mama's boys. You wanted to be treated like a Princess, instead he wanted you to treat him like a King.
The first kiss was nowhere near what you'd imagined it be. Your kissing captor had too much saliva and didn't taste as sweet as he smelt. You strained your ears for the orchestra that was supposed to play but all you heard was his breathing. You waited to be consumed by tiny explosions and all you felt was his bristling moustache.
I feel our loss of innocence coincided with the realization that a Mills and Boons hero exists only on paper. Maturity descended upon us with the discovery that the euphoria of new love comes with an expiry date and the happily ever after requires understanding, compromises and mutual understanding of each other. Black satin sheets look sleazy and there's more to life than being his object of fantasy. If he's short of breath, it's not you in your slinky green skirt but his asthma playing up. It's not desire but his sore throat that makes him raspy. And, he'd rather have you tied up in knots than get tied down.
If you ask me, today's generation is no different. Their heroes are as dark as they are brooding, only this time they are the underdogs, hiding their extra-long canines and their love for fresh blood. The women are still willing to go any length to rescue these lost puppies with their unwavering love, even if it means turning into a sexy vampire.
If there's a girl in us that wants to be cherished and protected, the evangelist in us wants to alleviate the fallen with our affection. This is why generations after generation of women fall for the bad boys because deep inside we think that our pure love will be enough to turn them into a new leaf. But that's not the truth, is it? In real life, they hurt you, make you cry and leave you broken. And the nice guys are left wondering why they always end up getting friend-zoned.
But nice guys should thank this much envied species for making us realize their true worth.
Trust life to instil in us lessons that no pulp fiction can. It teaches us that the only thing that comes in between us and our chance of romance and happiness is our unrealistic expectations.
Real life heroes are the ones who brighten us and not blind us with their halo. They are protective but not possessive. They make us soar and not tie us down.
And if he's lean and hard muscled, tough and tigerish and makes you laugh in his deep baritone, simper, growl whatever and grab him with both hands. Just make sure he shaves his moustache.