Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Picture this: a group of older women, likely in their seventies and eighties, sitting around chatting. Could be the bus or train, the park, that one corner or the community center. What do you think they are talking about? I would have thought aches and pains, or their kids or grandkids. Maybe the weather? Or the daytime soaps they are into? Well, according to Balli Kaur Jaswal, they are talking about sex, graphically. And that may just be the best thing ever.
As a young, British-born Indian girl, Nikki was raised in a fairly liberal Sikh household, but was always a bit of an outsider in her family. Her sister Mindi is more traditional, living at home, going into the profession recommended by her parents, and is now seriously considering the possibility of an arranged marriage and has written an advertisement about herself. Nikki, on the other hand, participated in protests and marches for women’s equality, and is horrified that her sister is considering such a step, doing everything in her power to convince her otherwise. But when posting her sister’s ad in Southhall, West London, an area boasting a large Sikh community, she notices a different one – female instructor wanted for women’s-only writing class. Nikki is intrigued, imagining nurturing the writing talents of the women in the community, maybe creating an anthology of their work, and applies. And as the only applicant, she gets the job.
Imagine her surprise, though, when it isn’t the narrative Nikki is nurturing, but the very act of writing itself. Most of the women in the class cannot write, cannot read, and not all speak English – they signed up to learn the basics and to get out of the house. After all, they are all widows, and apparently, at this point, there’s nothing for them to contribute to the community. And Nikki is left struggling, trying to figure out what to do.
And then the ladies start telling each other stories. Very explicit, erotic stories. And discussing what words make the best euphemisms (vegetable and fruit are the winners, apparently). And Nikki still has no idea what to do.
This is the main story. It’s absolutely fabulous. Darling women, the youngest in her thirties, the oldest easily ninety, telling each other erotic stories, getting together to do it, with one of them writing down as best she can, sharing them with friends, until it becomes an absolute movement, going viral in their small community.
The only drawback in this story is the additional murder mystery the author weaves in. To be perfectly frank, while the mystery was interesting, it wasn’t particularly mysterious, and those moments dragged in comparison to the time spent with the widows and their erotic stories. Once Nikki starts investigating more and becomes a bit of a Nancy Drew, things pick up again, but it’s slow going to that point. I spent a lot of time wondering what was going on in the community, why and how things got that bad with no one apparently talking about it.
But, and I cannot stress this enough, I was amazed to find that by the end of the story, Nikki, who I had disliked basically from the start, had pulled me in, and I found myself rooting for her. I cannot stand the brand of feminism that says ‘No, you must do things my way! You have to be like this to be a strong, independent woman!’ Her conversation with her sister on the very first page had my back up, displeased. But the appeal of Nikki as a character is that she evolves as a result of the actions in the story. She is a fully realized individual, and I am so glad to have met her and watched her transform.
And of course, we also have a pinch of a romance. Nikki meets someone whose ideals are a match for her own, and their budding romance is wonderfully realistic. They both definitely make missteps, but that fits the story, and is secondary to Nikki’s personal journey. It was nice to see, but definitely not the focus of the story.
Aside from my issues with the murder mystery element, the characters in this story are absolutely fabulous, lovely women, who have minds of their own, regardless of the cultural norms in their community. As one of them says, ‘who would think that a group of widows would be talking about anything other than their aches and pains Who would even be listening to them?’ Well, if this is the talk that’s going on, I definitely want to listen!