Publication Date: March 24th 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Cultural, Romance
Part of Series? No
Goodreads Blurb: Hilarious and heartwarming, an east-meets-west novel for fans of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul
When Nikki takes a creative writing job at her local temple, with visions of emancipating the women of the community she left behind as a self-important teenager, she’s shocked to discover a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals.
Yet to her surprise, the white dupatta of the widow hides more than just their modesty –these are women who have spent their lives in the shadows of fathers, brothers and husbands; being dutiful, raising children and going to temple, but whose inner lives are as rich and fruitful as their untold stories. But as they begin to open up to each other about womanhood, sexuality and the dark secrets within the community, Nikki realizes that the illicit nature of the class may place them all in danger.
East meets west and tradition clashes with modernity in a thought-provoking cross-cultural novel that might make you look again at the women in your life.
Introduction & Storyline
Before reading any further, just keep one thing in mind: This book is NOT just what the title says! I know, whenever anyone sees this title, the first thing that comes to mind is that it contains just the erotic stories. So if anyone doesn’t read Erotica, (s)he will certainly not pick this. Even, I thought so in the place but since I like reading Erotica, I didn’t mind. But today, when I am writing this review, I am really happy that I read this book. It has some erotic stories but yet it is a tale of self-being and expressing your desires openly. This book has so much going on beyond the steamy title.
This story takes place in Southhall, London where there is a kind of mini Punjab formed by the Indian immigrants of Sikh community. Nikki is the main protagonist of the story who is a young British-Punjabi woman. She has troubled relationship with her family and thus lives separately. She wants to teach creative writing and thus seeing an opportunity at a Gurudwara of Southall, she took the job. Later she realized that Kulwinder Kaur, her boss at Sikh Community Association, basically tricked her into that job because almost all of her students were illiterate. She wanted to teach them creative writing and here she was supposed to start with the basics. But after a few classes, Nikki realized that those women were not interested in learning how to write, rather they were interested in telling their secret stories that lied beneath their white dupattas. Nikki was stunned to hear this but then she supported them and started documenting their erotic stories with the help of a fellow classmate. She teaches them how they can tell anything, even their secret desires, in her class and encouraged them to talk openly.
But they had to keep the stories confined within their classroom. They couldn’t allow them to go in outside world as their community will never accept this. On the other hand, they were afraid of the Brotherhood, which was a group of highly conservative young men of Sikh community who thought themselves as the “moral police” of the community.
In spite of the precautions, the stories got out and Nikki gets in trouble. She also came to know about the secret of the death of Kulwinder’s daughter which leads her to even more trouble. Between all these mysteries, she came to reveal the hidden secrets of her communities, and yet she is determined to do something for those women.
I think in the title, it should be “by” instead of “for” because the stories are not for the Punjabi widows rather they have been told by them. These women told their stories of their personal experiences. Some of them were even imaginative enough to put the spark of their own creations. In either way, they portrayed their hidden desires. Hidden because the community in which they lived, was not that open minded to talk about these things.
Being an Indian, I can understand the thought process of Balli Kaur Jaswal behind writing this novel. A widow in our society is not accepted as she is supposed to be. There are so-called certain rules that the widows should follow – what to wear, how to behave, where to go etc. Their life is not as free as one can think. So in those conditions, they are often left lonely and disguised. Having sexual desires is not a crime but for those women, even thinking about those things is a disaster. So when these women found such type of class being run, even more, such ladies gather there and were eager to listen and share the stories. they may have moved from India, but the Indian taboos were still haunting them.
I must admit there ARE erotic stories. But the stories are in a pattern and not like the whole chapter is about those stories. Almost all the stories are just 2-3 pages long within the chapters. So even if you are not comfortable with reading erotica, you can simply skip the story and can progress with the rest of the chapter.
Through these stories, Balli Kaur Jaswal has tried to tell the various relationships of a woman within and outside the family. She has tried to show how women are projected and what they are supposed to be. The conclusion of this novel or we can say the hidden story is about the honor killing. Can you believe that even in 21st century, we, especially the Indian community, are not free of it? We have moved out of India, have changed our status, switched so many places, have achieved multiple things and yet here we are. If not all, some of the communities are certainly carrying this horrific thing. And even the worst thing is “moral police brigade“. I mean who are these people to judge anyone’s character and take control of the women in society? It is really shocking to know that this kind of things still exists.
Jaswal has also shown the struggle of second-generation immigrants. Since they are living abroad from their childhood, they are used to that society and often struggles to cope up with their parents having the first-generation mindset. Same was the case with Nikki. She had different views from her parents and thus had a conflicted relationship with them. She was against arrange marriage and was not able to understand how her sister can agree to that. She quits the career path that her father chose for her and rather she wanted to make her own way.
As the story progresses, we came to know that the gossips of these women or Biwis are inter-linked. Nikki came to know about the secret lives of these women, how they were tortured, how they were unsatisfied in their marriage, how they were ignored and sidelined when their husbands die. In these scenarios, it can be perfectly imagined that how sharing their secret desires behind a closed door would have been a relief for them.
This novel also depicts that everyone has secret desires whether they say it or not. When those stories go out and many people get their hands on them, it was revealed that even those people were enjoying those stories who wouldn’t have come forward otherwise. Also, many of these sparked the romance between couples especially between Kulwinder and her husband, who otherwise was still mourning over the death of their daughter Maya.
Except for Nikki and Kulwinder, there are so many other characters that are equally interesting. Jaswal has maintained the integrity of each character perfectly. Once you start this book, you can easily immerse into it. The writing is very easy to understand and the reader doesn’t lose interest anytime. Author has cleverly used some Punjabi words into the story but they didn’t go out of the context anytime. You can actually imagine yourself at Southall while reading it (I actually did!). This book will offer you so much – erotic stories, romances, generation clashes, family complications, gender challenges, and even honor killing with an unsolved crime.This book also presents an interesting documentation of Indian culture that exists in Punjab.
What I Liked
- Provocative and easy writing
- Multicultural phenomenon
- Balance of erotic stories with rest of the content
- Beautiful representation of important issues
What I Didn’t Like
- Little slow in the beginning
This novel is hilarious and thought-provoking. It is dark yet heartwarming. Once you get into the story then it is a full-on page turner. It is not just about romance and erotica but is a story of female empowerment depicting the feminism current. This is about finding the courage to express your sexuality and to be more independent. It is about love, betrayal, courage, family and friendship. An absolutely wonderful book that I highly recommend. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is about discovering you.
I absolutely loved this book and can’t recommend it enough. If you are fine with reading a little bit of erotica, then I would definitely ask you to read this 🙂 Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal is about love, friendship, courage and woman empowerment. Highly recommend it!
Would Recommend To
- Readers who like reading stories about immigrants
- Who likes to read erotica with a mystery
- Readers looking for diverse read
- Who is interested in reading multicultural stories
A fun fact
HarperCollins bagged Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows in a “strong” six-figure deal after fighting off five other publishers to win the title at auction.
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Have you read this book? What do you think about this? Have you read any immigrant story?