Title: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is, as the title states, just that. The stories told by a group of Punjabi women are not only central to the book but expose the themes around arranged marriages, elements of patriarchy in this Punjabi and Sikh community and the untold stories of women who are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters in a country where their voices have not been heard.
Nikki, a twenty-something-year-old London bar-tender has dropped out of law school, much to the disappointment of her Indian father. She signs up to teach a creative writing class at her community temple, only to learn that she is expected to teach adult literacy to middle-aged Punjabi widows. The plot centres around her classes and the myriad of personalities in this group. After getting their hands on an erotic novel, the women are encouraged to write their own stories, mainly erotica, and it is in their stories that they expose their lives and the challenges they face as widows in a society that largely marginalizes them because of their widowhood.
The author touches on the expectations of second-generation immigrant children and the pressure to be more than their parents. In Nikki’s case, teaching writing in their Sikh community is not as aspirational as a career in law would have been by her father’s expectations. The author explores the closed community that the women have, for many limited by their inability to speak English. They seek the comfort of familiarity that they find in their tight community, even as some find the conservatism and strictures of societal rules too oppressive.
The book is about the liberation for these women in the telling of their stories. Added to the plot is the morality police in their community, as well as repressed views about what form their empowerment if at all, should take. For many, their writing group is the only form of sisterhood they have ever had, and it is this camaraderie that draws them to one another, along with the opportunity of speaking up about very human feelings and sentiments.
A light and funny read about cultural differences and women’s empowerment.