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Erotica might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows delivers in more ways than one, making it a refreshing read!
I picked up Balli Kaur Jaiswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (ESFPW) at an airport bookshop just out of sheer curiosity. The blurb of the book said that Nikki, a young Punjabi woman residing in London, takes a creative writing job for Punjabi widows, and it somehow turns into something more illicit when these women start talking about sexuality, womanhood, and dark secrets from their community.
I was instantly reminded of Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries where a community of old and young Persian women talk about their sexuality and secret lives.
I am so glad that I picked up ESFPW. The stories that the widows recite in their class are enough to see that no matter how conservative the society, it cannot curb a woman’s desire to be free, physically, emotionally, sexually.
The story begins with Nikki trying to find some purpose to her life and suddenly chancing upon an advertisement for teaching an English creative writing class to Punjabi bibis in the Southall Gurdwara in London. When she starts her classes, to her utter dismay, she realizes that except for one of them, none of these widows knows how to read or write English. While she is at her wits’ end as to how to teach them enough English to make them write stories, they suggest that why don’t they tell their stories and the lady who already knows English among them transcribe the same?
Soon, the story telling sessions take an unexpected turn when these women start describing their sexual fantasies and experiences. Along with Nikki, the readers too realize, how these apparently religious and conservative women in their widow’s dresses, crave for physical intimacy as much as any other person.
Along with the recital of these stories, there are subtle changes that happen to the women as well as Nikki. Not only do they start becoming more accepting and less judgemental, they also start voicing their opinions and taking their lives in their own hands. Along with this, is a murder whose mystery gets entangled with the lives of these people. The novel also throws light onto the immigrant experience and the pains of being caught between the pulls of age old traditions and contemporary values.
ESFPW changed my perceptions about erotica in literature. I’d always thought that the erotica genre was not my cup of tea but it turns out that I hadn’t quite found out the right flavor of tea! And to think of it, erotica takes a minor part of the novel which is otherwise also tightly woven with a compelling plot and vibrant characters. It is written with such sensitivity and beauty with the women’s perspectives taking the center-stage.
This book explores human desires which is a universal concept and yet which a lot of women are forced to keep subdued because society doesn’t allow them the liberty of exploration. A few months back, I read a book dealing with bisexuality in such a crass manner that I felt most authors these days just use sex to grab eyeballs and shoot sales. Boy, was I wrong! This is an extremely liberating book which might lead you to your own journey of self-discovery. I absolutely loved it and I’d highly recommend it to every lady out there.
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Top image via Pixabay and book cover via Amazon