In the midst of editing novellas for Indireads, it occurred to me that one of the biggest differences between South Asian romances and Western romances is the conflict a writer must create in order to add spice to a story.
Western romances are often built up around external conflicts, like ex-girlfriends (or exes in general), step-children, distance, work, or misconceptions. There are standard romance stories where the hero thinks the worst of the heroine when the novel starts off, only to fall in love as he gets to know her; once they’re past this first stage, there’s usually an ex lurking the background, ready to make mischief. There are, no doubt, many exceptions to this broad generalization (have at it!), and top romance novelists continue to prove their talent by coming up with new scenarios for their unique characters.
I think, however, that South Asia has a HUGE advantage over the West when it comes to obstacles that our storybook heroes must overcome. Romantic conflicts are built into our lives.
Let’s start with the very first obstacle in many of our societies—where, oh where, do our protagonists meet? Just getting them alone in a room together is potentially a series of hurdles and undercover maneuvers. Then, there’s the problem of them continuing to meet—our authors have to be extremely inventive (and sometimes, coincidences just have to take over) in order to circumvent public taboos on dating (which reminds me of a particularly nasty anchor on a Pakistani TV channel who made it her mission to expose young couples hanging out in public parks. Thankfully, after immense public pressure, she scrapped that mission).
There are extended families to be worried about, meddling mothers-in-law, jealous sisters-in-law (referring to the spouse’s sister, or nand and sali), pesky neighbors and righteous religious figures. Our issues span a vast range of possible sources of conflict, including cross-community relationships, sex outside of marriage, single women living alone, relationships without parental consent, forced marriages, ‘green card or no green card’—which has its own dilemmas—and the expectations of an entire nation on how a relationship should be conducted.
We have all the ingredients available for epic love stories. Now all we need is our own Shaikh Peer to hit the jackpot!