How often a feminist text is fun to read?
For many this book might not qualify as a feminist read but trust me, I have my own reasons. I have read several books on female emancipation but Erotic Stories by Punjabi Widows is one of the rare books that I have enjoyed reading. Having read books like The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Women at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi, this book is stark opposite from them. It is lightweight, enjoyable and thought-provoking book.
Balli Kaur Jaswal is a Singaporean novelist and Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows is her third novel.
This book is set against the backdrop of a Punjabi community in London. Nikki is a level headed, college drop-out, working at O’Reilly’s pub to sustain herself. She left her home owing to the conflicts with her mother because she doesn’t adhere to the traditional way of living unlike her sister Mindi. On her visit to the temple of Southall, she sees an advertisement on the board to teach creative writing lessons. She takes up the job to make her ends meet. All her students are elderly Punjabi widows. She realises very soon that she literally will have to teach English because they don’t know how to read or write. Causally they begin to talk about their sexual fantasies to make the learning fun. She decides to teach them English via their stories – Erotic Stories.
“Perhaps passion and excitement were meant to be secondary to a stable adult life.” – Balli Kaur JaswalTweet
What made these Erotic stories special?
The lives of these elderly widows didn’t really change much in London. They have carried the baggage of their inhibitions, communal responsibilities, and societal pressure with them all along. They have stopped believing that there is much left for them to do and endure in this world. These women perceive themselves through the masculine lens and restrict themselves in exploring life to the fullest. They never got a chance to see things differently and had to do as asked for the sake of their family reputations. The best part is they don’t regret how life turned out for them. Instead, they take it as an opportunity to do rekindle the fire within them and fantasise about how their life could have been via these Erotic stories.
We never really frame elderly women to be around anything sexual. Isn’t it? But things are different here. These ladies have their fantasies on point and are very descriptive about them with every excruciating details. Their stories becomes their voice which had been subdued by some or the other men in their lives and emboldens them towards their life. They find long lost freedom and for some their long long purpose in life. Their erotic stories becomes a chance for them to steer clear of the stereotypes around widows and sexual pleasure. But, everything comes at a price and so is the freedom. The Brotherhood monitors their every move to protect the sanctity of the traditional Sikh widow stereotypes.
Female-centric prose with captivating plot-line
The entire narrative is women-centric and about female emancipation. These women become a family as a unit, protecting each other like their own. In spite of the challenges faced by these women on a foreign soil like not even knowing the language for starters, they accept their fate and fantasise about the ‘what-if ‘ situation in their lives.
Usually, too many characters are difficult to follow but not in this book. Every character is unique and has its own story of emancipation. Each woman fight for their integrity and beliefs in their own manner. And, with so many characters in the book not even once did it get confusing or difficult to follow.
I learnt about Book Regrets
Nikki had been eyeing on a limited edition book which she spotted at Connaught Place, Delhi on her visit to India. She didn’t buy it then. Only to realise she would not find that copy easily in London. That is when it hit me – Nikki had a Book Regret. I’m sure at every point in our bookish lives, we must have gone through the same situation. I felt if Nikki found that book somehow it would mean one less Book Regret for me.
“I hate it when that happens. Book regret. You come across something and think, I don’t want that, and later, you’re obsessed with getting it and it’s no longer available.” – Balli Kaur JaswalTweet
This book is unforgettable, far from being predictable and delightful to read. The author touches upon several issues around women and keeps it in front of us in one of her characters. The individual journey of the characters is what makes this book more than just Erotic Stories. I’m sure there would be something you’d be able to relate to.
While you would be immersed in the history of these women and wanting to know their story from their point of view, there is a murder mystery in the background waiting to keep you hooked. Sometimes fun, sometimes intense, mystery, patriarchy, crime, love, loss, and many other things. Everything is packed together in this captivating book. A multi-faceted, solid theme brilliantly complimented with a gripping plot.
I highly recommend this book if you like to read something out of your comfort zone.
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