I’ve been reading romance novels since I was young. Being from India, over the years, I often wondered why the men and women from my country were not represented in romance books. Why was the hero not a dashing billionaire from India? Why was the heroine not a spunky, successful girl who reminded me of me? Why was the Duke not falling in love with an Indian girl? Why were our men and women not on the gorgeous covers of my favorite books? Why were we not reading romance novels completely based on diverse characters set in our own country? Would that not work?
These questions bothered me so much that when I wrote my first novel, Take a Chance on Me, I didn’t get it published for four years. What hindered me at that time was that none of the big publishing houses across the world were bringing forth books completely based on Indian characters in an Indian setting, or even if they were, it was so few and far between.
But while that may have been true at that time, my perception that this was happening because no one wanted to read such stories was incorrect.
Because after I finally gathered the courage to publish my first book, I realized that romance readers from India actually want to read books on Indian characters based in Indian settings. And after the success of my first book I’ve never looked back. I now have written several books in my Sehgal Saga, which revolve around Indian characters falling in love in an Indian setting.
Over the last few years, I’ve realized that there is a growing section of Indian romance readers who crave such similar romances not just set in India but representing other people and nationalities too.
This desire extends beyond India. Readers want to see POC of all backgrounds, people with disabilities, and queer representation in romance, and they’re growing more vocal about it. And publishers are finally starting to listen.
Romance writing has always been more than just a love story. It is about equality. It is about showing that the woman has a voice and her needs are equally important. The world as such has become smaller. We all have friends and even newer family members from different parts of the world. Romance writing is about being able to relate to issues faced by regular women from all walks of lives and from all countries. And what better way to showcase that than writing for an audience hungry to see diverse people represented in their favorite romance books.
Women today want to read about not just their own culture, but through the medium of romance books, learn about other cultures too. They want to read diverse romances about women like them, no matter their skin color or race or nationality—women who, like them, face everyday biases on gender, skin color, body shape, divorce, etc., which they themselves face or have faced at some point in their lives, and yet these book heroines come out stronger. Romance writing is thus all about hope and showing readers that there is always a big urn of gold at the end of the rainbow, no matter who you are or where you come from.
Romance writers not just in India but across the world are thus breaking stereotypes. They are taking chances, and successfully catering to an audience that demands more from them.
Diverse representation is what everyone is looking for across the world. Protagonists in romance books—or in any book—can be anyone from any community of the world, and readers are loving them. When I wrote Lara’s character in my first historical romance, Dare to be a Duchess, I wasn’t sure if an Indian girl would be accepted as the main protagonist in a historical romance. And now to see her on the cover of Dare to be a Duchess is a proud moment and a victory for not just me but for anyone across the world who dreams to represent their community in romance writing.
While there are a growing number of writers bringing out diverse romances, there is still more to be done in this decades old business of writing and selling romance books. And me writing an Indian heroine in a historical romance is just a tiny part in a worldwide phenomenon that hopes to change mindsets and beliefs and allows diverse people to be represented in all forms of writing.