Its 6.30 pm and Nikhil Kulkarni, a 29-year-old investment banker in Pune, is on the phone with a woman in Mumbai who could be his part-time lover as he drives back home. He reaches home to find his wife Revathy, 28, on the phone with her potential lover from Jaipur. He quietly moves away, leaving her to do all the talking for a tryst thats being planned.
Nikhil and Revathy are a regular, upper middle class couple, with a three-year-old daughter to show for a five-year-long marriage. The only difference with many of their counterparts is that they get their kicks when they swap partners for sex.
There was a time when wife swapping was mostly restricted to the metros, with salacious tales of key clubs where rich, middle-aged wives picked up a random car key from a bowl and drove off with the owner of the key.
But the practice now appears to have crept into parts of small towns and cities. The Arushi case the still unsolved murder of a Delhi teenager and the familys domestic help has triggered whispers of a couple swapping network in Delhis suburb, Noida. And though there is no official word on how this is related to the case, police officials have been informally holding forth on the spread of such clubs outside Delhi.
The Internet has brought the world closer. And what is clear is that young or middle-aged professionals in smaller cities from Jodhpur to Chandigarh and Meerut to Kota are using the net to spice up their sex lives.
Post a profile on a so-called adult fun site as The Telegraph correspondents did and within minutes, your mailbox will get flooded with responses to the post. The mushrooming of such adult sites has made it easier for people of similar orientations to locate each other. As a posting on one of these sites says, Swapping has been there for ages, but the Internet has made it easier for people to test the waters before jumping in.
The names they adopt are clearly fictitious, for few would like to venture into a socially forbidden territory with real identities. According to some of the e-mails, Viplav, 35, a Meerut contractor, and his wife, Tina, 32, have had a detailed discussion and agreed to couple swapping. Rocky, 34, a bank officer in Jaipur, confesses to having a kinky side. Vicky, 31, is a businessman from Chandigarh for whom swinging means fun. His partner is like-minded. Both of us are open to other people in our lives, he says.
Clearly, couples living away from metros can be as adventurous as their counterparts in the big cities when it comes to sex. Its about keeping up with the Joneses, says Dr Anjali Chabbria, a Mumbai psychiatrist. Or, as a Delhi psychiatrist points out, every city small or big has its own elite, and the sexual deviations often cut across communities and regions.
There was a time when wife swapping was advertised in cryptically-phrased classified ads in newspapers or magazines. These days, the process of finding partners is as smooth as it is open. Some of the adult websites indicate the increasing presence of small-towners. And while the sites are not advocates of partner swapping, netizens tend to zero in on other people who share their interests.
Adultfriendfinder.com which boasts of being the number one adult dating site in the world with 10,93,033 listings in India has a state-wise break-up. Andhra Pradesh tops the list of Indian states with 85,000 profiles. Locanto.coms India link has around 144,000 members, and it shows that 14,000 people in Meerut are interested in adult dating. About 1,000 of them are couples. Girl-directory.coms Haryana/Chandigarh link has around 1,200 listings of married people.
With the help of one such site, Rakesh, 38, an engineer in Kota, Rajasthan, has been looking out for partners. Though he says he has a happy marriage, swapping peps up his sex life. But I could never justify it to myself or to my wife when I suggested it to her over three years ago, says the father of two children aged eight and 13.
His wife agreed, but on the condition that her new partner would be a stranger. These days, though, Rakesh says he is toying with the idea of broaching the subject to some of their friends.
Few people publicly admit to wife swapping though the e-mails are often graphic and demanding. The activities are tacit, the consent is mutual, but questionable, says columnist Gita Mathai of the Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu.
Its wife swapping, she adds, takes different routes in small-town India. Among the elite, landowning class in the south, for instance, there is a practice called the chinna veedu, literally small house where a married mans paramour is lodged. Its not too hard to find a rich man having an affair with his maid, while his wife is having a thing with the maids autowallah husband on the sly. Call that wife swap if you will!
But the practice has its share of problems. For one, the e-mails and propositions all come from men, indicating that the lead is almost always taken by the husbands. There are cases when the wives give in, but are not happy. Depression, the experts say, is often an offshoot of such practices.
Mathai cites the case of one of her female patients who had a fling with her husbands boss, while the patients husband had an affair with his bosss wife. Both the patient and her husband knew what they were doing. But the wife was thrown out of the house by the husbands family, she says. The men can have their way but the women cant.
Dr Mrugesh Vaishnav, an Ahmedabad psychiatrist, points out that even in a group of willing men and women, there are some who feel left out. There are women who get depressed because they are less in demand, he says. When one partner enjoys sex more with a third party, all hell breaks loose, warns Dr D. Narayana Reddy, a sexologist in Chennai, who has seen cases of the sort from neighbouring smaller cities such as Madurai.
Many couples in the big cities are also willing to travel to neighbouring towns or even travel a distance if they find willing partners. Paresh, 46, and Sushmita, 33, a Marwari-Bengali couple in Calcutta, prefer to swap with couples in Jaipur. Most of them have been swinging for several years, says Paresh.
The couples, however, take care not to land in trouble while searching for partners. Nikhil and Revathy watch out for signs of abusive behaviour. Well be assessing them for a couple of months. If they come across as violent and abusive and slam the phone down, they will be ruled out, says Nikhil.
There is also a fear of blackmail. In 2004, a young couple in Mumbai was forced to leave the country after a wife-swap session was videographed and sold.
But as couples zero in on the ways of the Net, they soon know how to separate the serious contenders from the pretenders. In Bhopal, Juhi and Sumit insist on a web camera interview, accompanied by a chat on a messenger service. We come across several men posing as couples and need to be sure who were dealing with, runs the terse message from the couple.
An exchange of e-mail follows asking for details of age, location and in some cases cup size. If both sides are willing, a date, time and location are fixed. Several men have no hesitation in sharing phone numbers, and sometimes post photographs. There is nothing wrong or boring about our marriage. Were just doing this for fun, says Sumit.
As, seemingly, are Wasim, 29, and his wife, Sameera, 27, of Nagpur. Wasim says he is an assistant manager with a courier company and Sameera is an officer in a publication house. Samar, 25, in Jodhpur, says he indulges in frequent threesomes with couples in Rajkot, Hyderabad and Faridabad, whom he came in contact with on the Net.
Some experts, however, stress that couple swapping is a deviant behaviour that afflicts a very small section of people. Chandigarh sex specialist Deepak Arora says that he has only seen nine or ten such cases in his 15 years of practice and the cases came to light when the patients were found with sexually transmitted diseases.
Read differently, it may mean that wife swapping is prevalent though it may not lead to couples seeking professional help. And as an old saying goes, Jab miya biwi razi, to kya karega kazi? If the husband and wife are willing, it says, just what can one do?
Illustration: Uday Deb