City Library – Rakhshanda Jalil’s Mills & Boon Collection, Central Delhi
Part of her past.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
How could any man be so mean? Could Kate really bear Adam long enough to discover the gentleness he apparently possessed? More urgently, did Rakhshanda Jalil really care?
Turns out the highbrow Ms Jalil devoured Adam’s Law with unadulterated pleasure. Now, decades later, the acclaimed author of 30 books outs herself as a devotee of Mills & Boon paperbacks.
“Millsies were my escape into romance, travel, and new places,” Ms Jalil, 58, gushes in a voice not at all hoarse with passion, totally unlike the slushy Mills & Boon heroines. Here she pauses, and murmurs more softly—“I haven’t read a Millsie for 30 years.”
This afternoon the writing room in her central Delhi home is dignified with classics by Urdu and English literary giants. Poet Ghalib’s portrait hangs on the wall. The room’s heirloom bookrack originally belonged to her legendary grandfather—Professor Aley Ahmad Suroor, poet and Urdu scholar in Aligarh Muslim University.
And then there’s the elephant in the room—a row of tatty MBs, each as slim as its female protagonist.
“I began reading the Millsies in my final year at school and read them all through BA and MA,”
Ms Jalil discloses this side of her past with a slight smile playing enigmatically on her lips. She stayed loyal to the “Millsie” girls even while wading through Chaucers and Spensers in Delhi University’s Miranda House. Living with parents in Nizamuddin East in the early 1980s, the young “Rakshi” would daily walk to the neighbourhood market to borrow a Mills & Boon from the Bawa (lending) Library & Stationers. They charged 60 paise for each novel, plus extra if not returned within 24 hours. “So I would read each book at a gallop!” Subsequently she built a private collection of these romances. Her present-day stack shows creased covers bearing pretty damsels in a variety of situations—receiving a french kiss on one, getting embraced by a shirtless dandy on another. In many homes, such novels were hidden from mummy-papa. In Ms Jalil’s case, the mother herself handed her the first of the Mills & Boon. “Mummy rescued me from being an awfully earnest person. She was a librarian and thought it was important to read all kinds of things.”
In time Ms Jalil grew out of these pulpy escapades. But by then she had been affected enough to walk down the aisle with her own handpicked TDH—the romance novel speak for a tall, dark, handsome man.
Recently, she culled her library collection by giving away 500 books, but kept the romance stash. “Out of pure sentimental attachment,” Ms Jalil declares in coy defiance, her gaze possessively turning to the Millsies in her hands.
Out of the closet