“He stubbed out the cigarette. A wisp of smoke curled up briefly and died. Priya got up and put on a shirt and a pair of palazzos. Then she sat on the rumpled bed again, her chin resting on her knees, her eyes vacant, her hands clasped like manacles around her slim ankles.”
Erotica as a genre is tricky. A writer writing in this genre needs to romanticize and glorify the act of sex. Or, she risks taking the shine out of love-making. Erotica-writing also necessitates doing something different and refreshing with language. If possible, bring in a new dimension to what goes on behind locked doors (not always though).
The Swap by Shuma Raha does both. Masterfully describing sex scenes — the emotional turmoil, desire, lust, et al; she also succeeds in removing the monotony out of a story, which relies heavily on using a taboo topic to craft an interesting narrative — by adding that extra shine in the language department.
This medium-length novel does rise above being mere erotica, but crushed by the parameters it wants to fit into and created to tell a story; the story per se falls short of becoming extraordinary.
Now, for the story. Priya is married to Akash. She falls for Dileep. Ends up having an affair with him. And attending swinger parties. Dileep’s wife Anuradha also joins in — to take revenge in the beginning, later willingly. From there on, after a dramatic meltdown, they form a happy foursome and it is at this point — when they have come to an agreement of swapping their wives, that this story turns into a profound exploration of human psyche and an eye-opening treatise to the polygamous versus monogamous debate, that has been part of urban, educated middle class living-room conversations.
When the going is great, comes the climax and the insipid ending. The reader might find the ending as unexpected but it definitely does read like a meek attempt to bring an end to a tale, which wasn’t destined to have a happy ending. After all, a tale of adultery shouldn’t have a happy ending, isn’t it? Also won’t a lived-happily-forever end to Priya’s story make us empathize less with her!
My grouse: When the theme is this bold, why can’t the conclusion be as well?
I don’t read Indian writing much. Truth be told, this was my fourth book by an Indian author. I picked this book up because of it’s bold plot line. But, but, and here is the hard part, I can’t claim that I am glad, I did. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the writing. Sample this:
“Never having seen snowfall before, Priya had been thrilled with the flecks of white crystal that floated soundlessly down. She had stood in the violet frost of the twilight, feeling the snow melt on her face in needle-points of cold.”
But I ain’t sold on the conclusion. Or, impressed by the pace of the narrative. It does gravely slow down in the middle. Thankfully though and in the book’s defense, it doesn’t turn preachy or into a social commentary at any point.
All in all, a must read, if you are looking to explore Indian contemporary fiction and are intrigued by the concept of swapping.
- The bold theme of the book. Kudos, Shuma!
- The writing. Oh, I am in love with the writing.
- The character arcs of Priya, Dileep and Anuradha.
- The ending. To me it seemed like playing to the gallery.
- The length of the book. The slowing down in the middle.