Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal should have been called Erotic Stories by Punjabi Widows – for it is they who tell these stories. Sometimes from their personal experience, sometimes from their fantasies. And sometimes just adding a bit of imagination to a spark.
I must admit, I have never read so much erotica, as I read in this book. So what are these erotic stories? These are the stories of desire that women carry within them – the power that they derive from the sexual energy and the impact it has on the community they belong to.
Based in the Gurudwara at Southall in London – this is a story of women of Sikh community in the United Kingdom. The community had made itself a mini Punjab at Southall – where not just they speak their own language, make their own kind of food but they also cling to the customs they think brought with them from India. India may have moved. But the diaspora continues to hold on to the times they moved out of India.
Balli Kaur Jaswal tells a story of the relationships as they are within the families and as they are projected. The underlying story is that of honor killing. It is kind of shocking to think that honor killings continue to happen in immigrant communities from India. It is even more shocking to read about the moral police brigade that exists and haunts women. The politics of families is something you would connect well with if you are an Indian, especially the ones between mothers and children.
Nikki, the protagonist of Balli Kaur Jaswal wants to teach creative writing. And realizes the students are all illiterate Punjabi Widows. What follows is her attempt to make them tell stories. She never thought she is going to open a Pandora’s box. Women started opening up pieces of their lives – the ones they probably kept in the farthest corners of their hearts and minds. By giving them a fictional veneer, they let their inner volcanos out. One story gave strength to the other – till they were flowing from all directions.
Nature of stories is such that once they are out, they follow their own destiny. You only have a choice to let them out or not, once you let them out, they take a life of their own. So, the stories in this book start traveling – they open many windows as they travel, they uncover many covers and show what is hidden beneath them. Most importantly, they bring the women together in a way nothing else could have. As a reader, you get a glimpse into the society that is too bothered about what others would say about them.
At another level, Balli Kaur Jaswal tells a story of the second generation immigrants who are trying to deal with the cultural ethos of their parents while growing up in a different culture. Sometimes they give in to their demands. And then wonder why did they agree. Some of them rebel and live with a feeling of guilt.
The key focus of the story that comes out through the series of inter-linked stories is Punjabi Women called Bibis. It is the story of women being tortured, killed or sidelined once they lose their husbands. But then, what do the larger community know? Each of these women is living a secret life that they let no one access. That is until these lives came tumbling out in a writing class run by a young girl who is Punjabi but does not behave like one.
For a brief period that I lived in the UK, I used to go to Southall once in a while – most often to eat the street food. While reading this book, I could visualize the women in white dupattas walking in and out of Gurudwara. The sharing of stories behind a closed door would have been such a release for them.
The language of the book is easy, contemporary and yet rooted in the culture it is talking about. There are some Punjabi words used, very sensibly by the author. Erotic stories are seriously graphic in nature. They cover all kind of sexual acts that you can think of. These stories keep popping up in between the larger narrative of the story – like a bedtime story. I think I took a break from reading the book after each of these stories.
This book is an interesting documentation of a cultural subsystem that exists in Punjabi diaspora of Southall.
Read it if you like reading immigrant stories or if you want to read erotica.
You may buy this book – Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal at Amazon.