Pick it up to shake up your quarantine life!
I had read Shuma Raha’s collection of short stories titled The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories released in 2018, and had liked it. So, was looking forward to her debut novel The Swap which released in December 2019. But it was only now that I finally got down to reading it. She is one of the few authors who can write about urban India so well. This novel exposes a slice from the lives of modern Indian couples.
I Googled ‘wife swapping in India’, to find out how prevalent it is in India, came across many news pieces with wife swapping complaints. Also, if we do a simple search on the Net we are bound to find dozens of posts looking for ‘friendship’ and ‘intimacy’ with ‘liberal’, ‘like-minded’ couples. So, the theme for the novel, that of swapping partners is not that alien to Indian society today. As far as I am concerned I first encountered the term in Stanley Kubrick’s film Eyes Wide Shut.
The author is a winner of the Juggernaut Short Story Prize in 2017. As a journalist she has worked with The Telegraph and The Times of India, and now she continues to write columns for publications. She also dabbles in literary translation. Being a journalist her lucid writing is not a surprise.
The Swap is a story about marriage, betrayal, love, sex, morality and revenge.
The story is told from the point of view of Priya Bakshi, a journalist. She and her husband, a CA in a MNC, Akash, are the typical upwardly-mobile couple that you may encounter everyday in your lives in metros or maybe even in tier-2 cities. They have been married for six years and nothing is wrong with their lives as such, or so we believe. But underneath it all there is a dullness creeping in, in their humdrum existence. This leads Priya to have an affair, that too with Akash’s childhood friend, Dileep. And we find that Akash too is keen for sexual adventure.
We all know that truth always gets revealed and so it happens in this book too. Dileep's wife Anuradha comes to know about Priya and Dileep. As revenge, she starts an affair with Akash. Finally, when the truth unfolds, the two couples agree for couple swap. From this point onwards the story deviates from the clichéd romantic stories. So, we find that instead of breaking their respective relationships the couples end up being caught up in a world of couple swapping.
Then we are introduced to Tarun, their richer, older, and manipulative friend who lures them into Delhi's couple-swapping parties. Priya and Akash suddenly find themselves in an alternate reality of swinging couples and sexual abandon and are also joined by friends who are equally keen to test the waters. As the group tries to blend into this new world, secrets begin to tumble out. As a reader you may feel that none of them will emerge unscathed.
Interestingly, Priya is in mental agony and turmoil instead of adding spice which she had intended. She begins to worry that these sexual encounters would threaten her marriage, but instead events take a turn ending up in a situation wherein nothing seems to be wrong with any of their lives - except Priya’s. Where will this situation take Priya? To find out you will have to read till the end of the book.
Then there is a parallel thread, of Priya saving a street boy, this part was added by the writer I think to provide a ray of hope to her but I am not sure it could create the impact the author intended. Being a book based on partner swapping, sex occupies most of the narrative, but it is the mental agony which leaves a lasting impression on me.
What I liked
book is much more than just physical aspect of swapping. It thankfully explores
the emotions and impacts of lack of intimacy between couples, extramarital
affairs and open marriages. What I like about the characters is that they are flawed and that makes them real.
The book urges us to reflect on our relationships and accept the characters with an open mind. Yes, relationships change with time, so it's very important to nurture each aspect, like the physical, the emotional and the spiritual to keep it healthy and happy and evolve with it.
Kudos to the author for beautifully describing Priya's psychological state. The author's writing style and her command over the language is smooth and brilliant. It does get a bit slow towards the second half but nevertheless it is a fast read, you can finish it one day.
I want to say that liking or disliking of the book will boil down to how you view morality, but let's not go there. I mean who are we to judge people and the way they want to lead their life. I say it’s a perfect pick to shake up our quarantine life.