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Romansang Pinoy: A day with Tagalog romance novels

June 12, 2010

I FORGET WHAT BOOK started me on the romance craze back in high school, but craze was an apt description for it. I’d spend almost all my allowance and time rifling through the romance section of National Bookstore, coming home with 5-10 romance novels at a time. I loved how the stories read like movies and I couldn’t get enough of it.

After reading a graphic scene which was de rigueur for such novels, my appalled parents forbade me from reading romance books. Naturally, that made me even want to read them more. Little did they know that I absolutely had no idea what was happening during those graphic scenes since romance novelists are champions at inventive euphemisms for genitalia and the act of recreational reproduction. It took me a quite a few books plus the letter S of the Encyclopedia Britannica to finally understand what was really going on.

After that romance novel ban, I began to realize that there was a stigma attached to reading romance novels. A guy classmate would sit next to me and tell me the cautionary tale of his aunt who read too much romance novels and ended up an old maid because of her unrealistic expectations fueled by thick tomes of torrid passion. A teacher passing by who caught me reading a book entitled “A Gentle Warrior” snatched it none-too-gently out of my hands and proceeded to harangue me in front of my classmates for reading trashy, immoral books.

That incident taught me to cleverly conceal my contraband books. I peeled off the cover of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and would tape it over my current novel so the teachers would think I was brushing up on Russian literature. I later switched my fake cover to “Snoopy & The Red Baron” after my English teacher asked me to do an oral report on Anna Karenina since I seemed to love it so much.

Despite my fondness for reading romance, no amount of love for it was going to make me pick up the local version of Harlequin & Silhouette romances. These thin Philippine versions would always be at the bottom shelf of the romance section, and had komiks-style illustrations on the cover of a barrio landscape with a badly dressed guy and girl locked in an embrace.

I thought it was going to be a cold day in hell before I picked up one of those.

Last week, hell must’ve frozen over because I didn’t pick up just one Tagalog romance novel but a whopping five. In the spirit of Independence Day, I decided to patronize our own and see for myself what was behind those cheesy covers.

Buying it was an adventure in itself. I kept circling the shelf where it was located, waiting for the crowd to thin lest somebody would see me. As irony would have it, the stock boy from the publisher’s office and flirted with the giggly saleslady, it was like watching one of the novels come to life (suggested title: Aklat Ng Pag-Ibig). I hurriedly chose five books, basing my choice on the silliest titles. I even chose one with a paranormal theme called “The Howling” which involved mysterious wailing dogs, and a girl who sold “Happy Dog Foods.”

‘Basta Driver, Sweet Lover’

I decided to kick off my day of romansa with the funniest titled book among the bunch. “Basta Driver, Sweet Lover” had nothing new plot-wise. Wrongly imprisoned rich heir starts a correspondence with a girl while in jail, falls in love with her, except his “mail friend” as he calls it has perished of an illness but her sister continues the letter-writing in a classic case of mistaken identity.

Though there was nothing new about the story, I learned so many things, namely:

1. You can name your salon “Parlor Ranger” and have it successfully blossom into five big chains.

2. A male protagonist’s attractiveness can only be determined through the description of his footwear. (“Skechers ang sapin nito sa paa. Sockless.”)

3. In Pinoy romance land, it is physically possible to roll just one eyeball in annoyance. I tried doing it, no dice. (“She rolled up her eyeball to that.”)

4. When a car rear ends you and breaks your tail light, the appropriate expression to show anger & surprise is “Oh, Shame!”

5. Alicia Silverstone butchered the interjection popularized in “Clueless.” It wasn’t “Whatever!”, it was, in actuality “Whatsoever!” as uttered by heroine Normita.

6. Any sexual tension between characters will always be broken by a sentence that starts with “And Thanks God dumating na siya.”

7. There are no explicit love scenes in a Tagalog romance novel. Thanks God. So much.

8. The pain of seeing your ex-fiancée and stepbrother will make you feel “cursed to death.”

9. It is possible to feel such intense fear that “… it nearly killed me to death!”, because sometimes killing doesn’t lead to death.

10. When your boss offers to send you to Europe with “a three hundred thousand pocket money” pray fervently that you receive three hundred thousand pesos and not a pocket for money worth three hundred thousand.

I had told myself that I was going to read five Tagalog romance books, but my stomach hasn’t stopped hurting yet from laughing at Normita & Braham’s (yes, really) inadvertent antics. While I doubt that I’ll ever pick up another Tagalog tale of romansa, I have to admit, this was P37 well spent.

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