The Swap by Shuma Raha: Urban couples’ swinging fascination between marriage and morality

‘The Swap’ treads a careful line while uncovering the private lives of the urban middle class, exploring their marriages through swap parties and their guilty pleasures in doing so, intricately weaving an emotional subtext. Obviously, it is a taboo to talk about ‘spouse swapping’ in the commonplace parlance. Yet, its existence as a hearsay reality is intriguing. The characters in this book begin on the same assumption and explore themselves as ‘swinging couples’.

The Swap by Shuma Raha
HarperCollins India, 284 pages

What happens in the book?

‘The Swap’ centers on Priya Bakshi, the girl from Kolkata, now living in Delhi and working as a journalist. She is married to Akash Srivastav for the last six years. The book is a progression on Priya’s understanding of her marriage with Akash, handling an extra-marital affair with Dileep and finding her true self in the process. Priya and Akash got married for they were in love and also because Priya measured this prospect as a normal course to chart in her life.

Is there something awful within a marriage that leads to an extra-marital affair or merely boredom of a routine that can push the spouse to cross the line? Priya fiddles with this question, unable to find an answer while delicately hiding her relation with Dileep, the childhood friend of Akash. There is guilt, yet unknowingly, she has fallen in love with Dileep. Dileep is married happily to Anuradha and has a son.

The embedded hostility Priya harbours for Anuradha provides ample scope for witty and sarcastic writing. In between all this confusion enters Ramola and Tarun, as the elderly, suave couple coordinating the swap parties. Their portrayal as ‘plastic people’ in the elite society is abhorring but is well placed within the storyline.

I was so-glad that the plot wasn’t easily swept into swap parties, turning the book into erotica. Rather, it mirrors the lifestyle of modern-day, urban middle class couples and their social life with streaks of pretense.

Shuma Raha fleshes out many aspects of Priya’s character like her portrayal as a journalist, her connection with her mother and then, as a Samaritan. Priya’s little project of rescuing a trafficked boy met outside her office tries to redeem her in many ways, the advantage that other characters don’t receive. But it seems perfectly fine considering her stuck within the feature’s section of the media house. Even after coming out with serious stories, Priya has to cover art exhibitions as well.

The cocktails and the chewy kebabs at such events really made me nostalgic for my days as a journalist. Sunando’s existence as the stubborn, arrogant and snobbish boss, ready to discard every bit of hard work from Priya as trash and the unending agenda-setting meetings come across to add authenticity to the story.

Within this framework, there is ‘the swap’ which turns the tables around for the two couples. Can the couples find eternal happiness in their marriage through swap parties or has the meaning of marriages changed in the modern society?

What was Interesting?

I have always been intrigued to know more about the urban middle-class professionals living in big cities, the ones who are above the day-to-day drudgeries. This book hands out dollops of it, the barbecue parties, the rich lifestyle, troubles with the maid; for sure a lot many perfectly manicured hands and lives to be imagined on screen.

Sometime back, I had watched ‘Made in Heaven’ on Prime Video and did I not love it? Yeah! I did! The story based on the presumptuous lives of the rich, corporate heads, aspirational young women and things hidden beneath the layer of contented urban living. ‘The Swap’ explores a similar turf. And, well, the cover of the book says it is soon to be a major web series.

One quality that comes out straight is the sharp writing and the lucid language. The chapters flow in the perfect direction and at such a great pace that it makes for a perfect evening read.

About the Author

Winner of the Juggernaut Short Story Prize (2017), Shuma Raha is the author of The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories (2018). A journalist formerly with The Telegraph and The Times of India, she continues to write columns for publications in India and abroad. When she is not writing fiction or getting worked up over current affairs, Shuma dabbles in literary translation. Her English translation of Bonophul’s Bangla novel, Haate Bajaare, has been published by Sahitya Akademi. Shuma lives and works in Delhi.

This review is done as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program

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