Soon to be a major web series,’ announces the blurb on the cover of Shuma Raha’s The Swap. A couple of chapters into the story, which is about two couples whose lives get remarkably intertwined, the reader realises that the book would translate very well onto celluloid indeed, offering as it does an intimate look at the sordid comings and goings of the glitterati, some purely wannabe, of Delhi.
The book actually paints a grimy picture. Delhi is, quite literally, a hot mess. Our protagonist, Priya, and her husband, Akash, are bored in their marriage and are waiting for something, anything, to spark passion again. Enter a rich socialite couple who invite a surprisingly large number of their friends to a spouse-swapping party, and the sexual games begin.
Sex parties, adultery, emotional affairs, revenge; all in all, there’s a lot of drama in the book, some of it uncomfortably realistic in its examination of marriage and sex in and out of marriage. What happens when you find your marriage has fallen into a rut? Does true love have to be everlasting to be truly true? What does it take to call it quits? What do you do once you are finished at a sex party but your husband isn’t? These are some of the pertinent points journalist Raha addresses, via a strong voice that effectively leaps out from the page and grabs your attention. Also, thanks be, the sex scenes are handled in a most matter-of-fact manner.
The strong thread of cynicism, though, can get a bit wearisome after a point. Priya is a difficult person to like, judgemental and bitchy, as are Akash and their friends, Dileep and Anuradha, with whom they have affairs. Other characters fit a tad too neatly into types, like the friend who feels strongly about women’s rights, the Bengali boss at the newspaper office, the moustache-twirling villain-of-sorts.
And yes, there is a subliminal message couched in a question: is sexual game-playing likely to mess people up? Well, could it be otherwise? Then again, a considerable number of urban Indians in our metros now seem to be stepping out of their fantasy into this chosen reality. Or so the Internet tells me.
The writer is a manuscript editor and novelist based in Bengaluru.
The Swap; Shuma Raha, HarperCollins, ₹299