Gangs of India

Double Lives

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Kids and in-laws and mata-ki-chowkis by day, spouse-swappers by night. The secret lives of some married couples

At various stages of my life, people have made strange requests of me. It made me feel I had ‘loser’ written on my face. My definition of a loser was a person who gave off vibes that people could ask him or her to do anything for them because he or she had nothing better to do.

But my low self-esteem had not prepared me for Maithili’s remarks in the middle of a lunch reunion some years ago. At one point during the meal, she casually asked me, “Have you ever thought of a three-some?”

Me: No.

Maithili: Do you want to think about it?

Me: Right. You, me and the tree?

Maithili: I am serious, Kaivan (Maithili’s husband), you and me.

I thought she was joking. She was smiling while somehow also looking serious.

Maithili and Kaivan had been childhood sweethearts. They had not known what it is to love, touch, feel another man and woman. They were our dream couple. They had been together for 25 years and married for about nine.

She was 37 and he, 39. We loved them even though we thought they were are a bit exhibitionistic. But to each one’s own.

My first question to Maithili was if she was having marriage problems or a mid-life crisis.

Maithili’s words: “No. Kaiv and I have a great love life. But we wish to do something new for each other. We like you and trust you, and it will be nice.”

That was 2008.

In the past four years, a lot has changed, even though things appear more or less the same. Maithili and Kaivan are even more public about their mutual affection, except that now they have found more couples who wish to do something new for each other. It is a seven-couple club with a rather cheesy name: Together Forever. Only insiders know the name.

The club’s rules are strict. Take its admission policy. For another couple to join, all existing couples have to approve. That is what has kept the circle to only seven couples so far. The second rule is on get-togethers. They meet once a month, apart from an annual seven-day trip. The third and most sacrosanct rule is: no kissing on the mouth. This was inspired by the movie Pretty Woman, according to Maithili, who insists that kissing can adulterate the purity of carnal exchange. Another rule is that protection is a must and orgies are forbidden.

I asked Maithili how the experience has been. She responds with a lot of adjectives. It has been ‘exhilarating’ and ‘liberating’, she says. “You have no idea what it is to have a few hours with someone new and then come back to the comfort of someone you love. I feel like I am all new again for Kaiv. He feels great that someone else desires me as much and occasionally teases me, but we try not to speak about how good or bad the other was.”

I ask if either of them feels possessive. They don’t, she says, because all members of the group are comfortable with one another. “We make sure all couples in the club are from the same social background and have good marriages. We all have been friends for a long time. Our agenda is to have fun without hurting anybody.”

“Are you saying that not one spouse has a problem?”

“If they did, they would not be in this club.”

I do not entirely buy this. At least the first few times must have been awkward. Maithili comes around. “Even now, after so many years, it is awkward,” she says, “It hits immediately after orgasm.” That is why when the chits that are drawn pair her with a film fundraiser she likes, she feels all the more comfortable. The film fundraiser is her best friend. Sometimes they don’t even make out. They just chat and enjoy the innocent pleasure of being with a close friend.

Maithili laughs when I ask what the biggest challenge of being in this club is. The strangest challenge, if not the biggest, is the menstrual cycle, she says. Fixing a date to meet when none of the women are having periods is tough. The first two years were okay as there were only three couples. Now that the club is bigger, there is always someone whose periods complicate plans.

The group usually meets at a house in Marve, one of the Mumbai’s beach areas. There are nine rooms in the house. Two sets of pink chits with room numbers are made. You find out who your partner is only once you reach your room. It could be even be your spouse. But the anticipation makes the night different. Earlier, the couples would drink a bit to lose their inhibitions. Now, after four years, they don’t always need to.

“Initially, drinks were a big thing,” Maithili says. “But for some time now, there have been no drinks because invariably it is someone’s Tuesday or Friday (days of religious fasts). Also, drinks always put my husband to sleep. So it is not such a must anymore. But on New Year’s, all of us shots. We go crazy. I am not telling you what we do. Join in and you will see.”

It is one thing to knock back shots on New Year’s with friends and feel free, away from realities of your family life. But when face-to-face with children, for example, you cannot but introspect. “Kaiv and I occasionally talk. What if our son were to do this once he grows up?” Maithili says, “But we don’t see any harm. We are mutually fulfilled and always in a spirited mode. It has motivated us to stay fit. There is a healthy competition among us. But guilt in terms of morality… I don’t know. Sunaina, the film fundraiser’s wife is the only who thinks we will turn into pigs. She comes from a strict Jain household where they do not even hug their brothers. But at the same time, she dresses up the most for our parties and buys expensive lingeries.”

I wonder what their advice to their children will be when they get married. Maithili reiterates the plus point of their lifestyle, though a part of me suspects she’s just being defensive. “Kaiv and I really are crazy about each other, you know that,” Maithili says, “We have gotten even closer, seriously [since joining the club]. Kaiv makes an effort on foreplay after I told him how [the film fundraiser] took an hour before the real thing. One of our things is we do not hide anything from each other. He can see my phone, I can see his. He has my passwords, I have his, and that is such a big problem nowadays. People don’t even give their phones to each other to talk. We know each other since we were in kindergarten. Brutal honesty has worked for us. But on the other hand, some couples have jealousy issues. I would tell my son, ‘Always use protection and don’t even speak a lie’.”

I also wonder how members of this group, some of whom seem so devout – with large shivlings in their homes and mata ki chowkis conducted regularly – reconcile their lifestyle with their religious beliefs. But I keep this thought to myself.

One of the times Maithili felt weird was when the film fundraisers asked her a question. “What do you do in this one week holiday that it is so sacrosanct for [the film fundraiser]?” He has missed his own brother’s film premiere for the last holiday, and she struggled to come up with a plausible answer.

All this must take a toll; perhaps they all have shrinks, I imagine. But only Maithili does. She has had one since she was 20 and she is not ashamed of it. She feels everybody should have one, that everybody should have person with whom one can share one’s deepest secrets.

The group now wants to try out partners of different nationalities. “But Kaiv is still unsure,” Maithili says, “He needs to be in control and know the group really well.”