It is a simple story: boy meets girl on a matrimonial site, they exchange numbers, they have long conversations, they fall in love, they meet, they get engaged. But she dies in a car accident. Her fiance, Ravin, dumbstruck by the tragedy, writes a book to keep her memory intact.
The girl on the Delhi Metro had reached the end of the story, the last few pages of the book resting against her index finger. Her eyes began to fill quickly, brimming with tears that would slowly course down her face; she didn’t notice the man sitting across her, watching her intently. “I knew she’d reached the part where Khushi died,” says Ravinder Singh, the author of I Too Had A Love Story, a title that continues to stay on bestseller lists six years after it was published. That was not the first time he had encountered somebody reading his book on the metro, but it was the first time he watched a reader cry.
“It was a different kind of a love story. It didn’t have a happy ending. The reality of it connected with the readers,” says Singh. The book was first published in 2008, but by 2009, Orkut community groups sprang up.
Readers from Bhubaneshwar, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh and Jaipur were joining the page, requesting Singh to share a photograph of Khushi and write another book. Singh quit his job with Microsoft to write full-time for readers across India who live vicariously through his love stories, write to him every day on his Facebook fan page and throng to book launches in hundreds. They are evangelists who seek to convert everybody into a “Ravin” follower.
Sanmeet Kaur in Chandigarh describes meeting Singh as one of the best days of her life. “I cried for a week after reading his first book, he presents love stories so accurately. I love Ravin so much because he is a good person, he actually replies to our wall posts,” says Kaur, 19, a first-year BCA student at Punjab University. Ask any of his readers why Singh is “the best author in the world” and they will tell you because he is so “down to earth”. “When he writes about love, it touches my heart. I feel like I am living his story, walking in his shoes,” says Pinaki Sahoo from Bhubaneshwar. Singh’s protagonists are young, Punjabi by nature, and touched by the simplicity of the world they live in. They hum film songs, wait for phone calls, stay up nights to chat, and love fearlessly, without apology. There is no sex in these stories, the lovers hold each other tenderly and coax a kiss or two. His readers are like his characters, not the sort of people who read books. Fed on a diet of Bollywood films and music, they hope that some of that magic, the fairy dust that can change lives, will lightly fall on them.
But in the bigger cities and metros, a different kind of a love story is being played out. A world inhabited by Durjoy Datta’s characters, some of whom are awkward, some fast thinking, others smooth talking, four-letter words flying in the air. In Datta’s lovescape, fingers entwine under the sheets and people kiss with tongue. But his readers don’t care too much for that kind of action. “It’s the setting. Durjoy has such a way with words… I feel that a person, though imperfect, is always perfect for one right person,” says Aditi Jodha, a 19-year-old law student in Jaipur. In her spare time, Jodha is the administrator of a Durjoy Datta group on Facebook. At 26, Datta confesses to having his share of relationships and love affairs but is careful to slot his books under the Young Adult banner. “YA American books are unrelatable because they don’t speak the way we do, readers in India don’t always get their pop culture references,” says Datta. But, at the heart of every novel, is the love story.
“I’m intrigued by romance, falling in love changes you as a person, every single time. I model some of the men on myself,” says Datta, whose male protagonists are mostly goofy and quite sceptical of any kind of romance in the beginning. The women in his books are smart, funny, but like the men, they are open about their insecurities, eager for approval and sometimes, courageous enough to look into the mirror and face themselves.
Singh and Datta’s success has encouraged their fan base to write their own love stories. “I get so many emails from readers telling me their stories and asking me for help,” says Singh. Rekha Mishra, an ardent “Ravin” fan, recently won the most popular story entry on a story blog for Lost Inside Your Love, a short story about two Ravinder Singh fans who meet online and fall for each other. “It is my first attempt at writing. But I’m already blessed, Ravinder read my story and liked it,” says Mishra. At the end of the day, say what you will, you can’t lose with a love story.