Journalist-turned-author Shuma Raha's debut novel explores the dynamics of desi open marriages
Very rarely do first-time novelists successfully capture the attention of the entire urban reading demographic, but journalist-turned-author Shuma Raha's debut novel focuses on a subject that's honestly quite impossible to ignore. The Swap is one of the first novels by an Indian fiction writer which explores the facets of couple-swapping in the country.
The novel, Raha reveals, has already been picked up for a screen adaptation and will soon be made into a web series. As racy as the focus of The Swap is, the 296-pager is hardly just about juicy escapades; the book poignantly delves into the dynamics of modern-day open relationships and takes a look at how and why they work.
We caught up with the author to learn more about her prolific new outing that's got the desi readers talking. Excerpts:
Tell us what inspired your novel The Swap?
I wanted to write a story about the dynamics of relationships in contemporary urban India. I had observed many cases of open marriage, of relationships which had sunk into boredom and the various ways in which married men and women were dealing with that. At this time I came to know about the practice of swapping, one where couples swap partners with each other. That’s when I decided that maybe I could write my novel about modern relationships around the subject of swapping.
The Swap is also being developed into a web series. Can you reveal any details about
Yes, the screen rights of The Swap have been acquired by a Bollywood production company called Almighty Motion Picture, helmed by Prabhleen Sandhu, a producer and actor who has worked in such films as Hansal Mehta’s National Award-winning Shahid. They are planning to turn the novel into a major web series. I understand the script is almost done and, according to the producer, the series will go on the floors this year.
The Swap has a strong focus on modern society. Have you narrated any real-life events or referred to people from your life?
Fiction — unless it is fantasy fiction — is always based on reality. To that extent, my novel draws on what I have observed in my interactions with society at large. Of course, The Swap also contains several references to real-life stuff such as Delhi’s killer pollution, the city’s occasional odd-even traffic policy, the ridiculous adultery law, which criminalised adultery by a man but not by a woman (it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, but was in operation in 2016, the year in which this novel is set).
Tell us a little about your trajectory from a journalist to a full-time author
Well, I have been a journalist for the longest time! In fact, I continue to be one and contribute columns to various print and digital publications. But sometime in the early part of the last decade, I felt I needed to do something more, I wanted to try my hand at writing fiction. But I had a full time, high-stress job as an editor at a major newspaper, and I was trained in reportage, which is non-fiction. So it wasn’t easy at first.
Then in 2016, I quit full-time journalism and became an independent journalist. I had more time now and suddenly, the creative writing started to flow. I got my first big break when I won the Juggernaut Short Story Prize in 2017. The very next year, my debut collection of short stories, The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories, was published.
By this time, I had already started writing my novel, The Swap, which, as you know, was published by HarperCollins last month. It’s been a great ride so far and I am happy to say that I’ve been able to evolve into a multi-genre author — my first work was literary fiction and a book of short stories, while The Swap is a novel and has more mass-market appeal.
Tell us a little about your foundational influences. Authors or books which have inspired you or helped you write...
There are too many to pinpoint. There are several authors whose books I go back to again and again — books by Virginia Woolf, Iris Murdoch, Katherine Mansfield, Hilary Mantel, Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver, F Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde and many many others.
A tip for aspiring authors who want to get published?
The only tip I can give is that one must strive to make one’s writing better, and for that, you need to up your reading habit. Getting published is not easy in a scenario where there seem to be more books, more authors than there are readers. But if you’re offering quality, you WILL find a publisher.