Romance: doing it by halves.

No, this has nothing to do with my personal quest to find a soulmate via the IntarWebz or some other means, but is rather a post about romance novels set in India. I really have no general preference when it comes to my romance protagonists. I’ll read just about anything, white man/white woman, interracial, etc. But when it comes to historicals set in India –or even some contemporaries featuring characters of Indian descent– I just can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. Because romance authors seem to like “doing it by halves.” You will never, ever find a full-blood Indian character in a romance novel. Much in the way of sheiks being blue-eyed, blond and seldom actually Muslim, Indian male heroes in novels like Meredith Duran’s Duke of Shadows or Barbara Dawson Smith’s Fire on the Wind are just brown enough to be exotic and just English enough to be acceptable.  They’re half or one quarter or one eighth. They can speak Hindi and wear a dhoti but do the waltz and enter any gentleman’s club in London. While Indian heroines, of course, don’t even exist. Heaven forbid a romance reader want to step into those particular chappals, hmm? It’s just enough to put on a sari or wrap a dupatta in fair hair and play pretend.

It honestly comes off as such a fetish, the Not Quite Indian. Men who are exotic but somehow accessible. They’ll carry the blushing, milk-pale English maiden off for some kind of adventure but ultimately be folded in to some sort of acceptable social arrangement.

And then there’s Max Bhagat, from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. Since it’s a contemporary setting, there’s no carrying off and adventuring and ravishing, but there’s also nothing of his Indian-ness. Barely anything of his background at all. He’s ethnic in name and skin tone only — both of which are watered down through a few generations. Again, heaven forbid he actually be fully Indian. (Of course, this could just be attributed to Brockmann’s inconsistency with fleshing out her characters rather than any glossing over of his heritage or laziness about researching it.) 

I’ve read a few books with completely Indian characters, like The Golden Fire by Jonathan Fast, but that’s considered a mainstream historical novel and not a romance. And then, of course, there’s emerging South Asian “Chick Lit,” which I’m hesitant to read lest it unconsciously influence my own writing.

You’ve got to love that ethnicity is “sexy” enough to warrant inclusion in romance novels and yet not legitimate enough to warrant being handled to its full and logical extent.

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