The Swap, my first novel and second book, is a story of modern relationships in contemporary urban India. The term ‘modern relationships’, especially relationships to do with love and marriage, has a wide ambit. In the age of Tinder and Bumble, and relaxed notions of what is or is not “correct” when it comes to accessing love and sex, lots of urban Indians are experimenting with a variety of relationship choices. In other words, the contours of normative heterosexual couplehood are being increasingly tweaked and challenged.
Extra-marital affairs, which have probably been around since the institution of marriage came into existence, have now got a modern twist. It need not be left to happenstance; it may happen simply by swiping right.
In urban India, it is not uncommon to find people who are in live-in relationships, long-distance relationships, open relationships, or are going through a spate of no-strings attached hook-ups with those they have met via dating apps. And it is not just the unattached who linger on these apps. Many married men and women, who have no intention of quitting their marriage, use them in the hope of finding some fresh excitement in their lives. Extra-marital affairs, which have probably been around since the institution of marriage came into existence, have now got a modern twist. It need not be left to happenstance; it may happen simply by swiping right.
The Swap turns on yet another kind of modern relationship — the relationship between husbands and wives who have agreed to go swapping. Also called swinging, it’s a practice where multiple couples sleep with each other’s partners for sexual variety. The spouses play together — they exchange partners for the evening or the night and go back to their marriage without turning a hair. Swapping is supposed to pep up their sex lives, inject a sense of adventure and excitement into their marriage, which has probably settled into monotony and sluggishness.
Swapping could be a way of negotiating the dullness of a marriage that’s frayed around the edges. But can it be entirely free of emotional blowbacks and moral dilemmas?
The central theme of the book is the unconventional — call it modern — way in which the characters try to work around the slow rot in their respective marriages. It delves into the discontent that creeps into so many long-term relationships — a discontent that is often sexual and often, a lot more than that. Adultery has always been the default option for men and women with unsatisfactory, stultifying marriages. But couples who venture into swapping go into a whole new space — they have sex with another man or woman with the consent of their spouses. The furtiveness and guilt of adultery are missing here since both are in it together. There’s no danger of exposure, and hence no chance of their marriage coming undone. It’s almost as if swapping is one more activity that the husband and wife can do together to preserve their relationship and cement their intimacy.
But does it really preserve their relationship? And does it always turn out to be the casual sexual entertainment that it is meant to be? For some, swapping could be a way of negotiating the dullness of a marriage that’s frayed around the edges. But can it be entirely free of emotional blowbacks and moral dilemmas? The book explores these questions and also dwells on the conflict between our ideas of morality or otherwise and some of the choices that we make in our personal lives.
Shuma Raha is a journalist and author based in Delhi. The Swap is her debut novel. The views expressed are the author's own.