“AVANTI’S LIPS ARE NOT ONES that you can look at, ignore, and move on,” her boyfriend, Devrat, thinks as he considers his next step, sitting across from her in a pub. Around them couples are getting drunk and making out. “He has wondered about how it would be like to kiss them. Not the carnal I-eat-you-you-eat-me way, but something more tender, that tells her he likes her but it’s not sexual. It would be tender and lovely and awesome.” Later, in the most intimate scene in When Only Love Remains, the latest novel from India’s favourite romance writer, Durjoy Datta, we see Devrat inside Avanti’s luxurious bathroom, she naked beneath a layer of soap bubbles, he sitting on a stool at a safe distance and saying sweet nothings.
There can be no better publicity for the Indian man than male characters in the current crop of popular English-language romantic fiction written by Indian men. He will cook you dal and chawal if you’re homesick in a foreign country; he’ll remind you that you’re drinking way more than you should, but still carry you home after you’ve thrown up all over the bar and wrap you in his soft blanket; and he’ll tell you that no matter how little you care about following rules, he will only marry you with your dad’s permission. In short, seemingly every hero in these books is a version of Raj Malhotra, Shah Rukh Khan’s character from the Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhaniyan Le Jayenge—the perfect mix of tradition and modernity.
He is also, it seems, increasingly monogamous. Datta’s heroes have gone from regarding every girl as a sexual object to believing in everlasting love. If Devrat were to meet Deb, the protagonist of Datta’s 2008 debut, Of Course I Love You! … Till I Find Someone Better!, he would faint from revulsion. “Sex was engulfing every part of Delhi,” as Deb describes it. “It was everywhere, schools, office, backrooms, movie halls and parking lots. Secluded places were paradise. Tinted glasses were in.”