Monday, April 10, 2017

Erotic Stories by Punjabi Widows

Picked up Balli Kaur Jaswal's much anticipated 'Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows' (2016). This isn't my usual genre of preferred reading. But okay, I've already read her two earlier works, so let's give this a shot.

From a traditional Sikh family living in London, Nikki doesn't wish to conform, and has a strained relationship with her mother. She drops out of law school, works at the pub and for extra money, begins creative writing classes at the local Sikh temple. For barely literate women. Especially those who live in the male shadow of a patriarchal society, which is, the majority of these Punjabi women in Nikki's world, and widows. This class is a platform for all these women's voices to be heard. And they apparently could tell many exciting tales of romance, womanhood and sexuality to make you burn all your Mills & Boon nonsense. Kulwinder, Sheena, dead Maya, dead Gulshan and dead Karina, Tarampal, etc. Many characters also lend many backstories in this book. Beneath the veneer of a modest respectable dutiful life of obligations towards their husbands, children and extended family, their inner lives are as rich as your imagination.

Arranged marriages are the norm, and honor killings are suggested. It's tough for Nikki and her women to be sharing these stories in a conservative community. A group of young men in the neighborhood who call themselves 'The Brothers' threaten the women for 'not respecting tradition'. As dark as these stories could go, there's a healthy sense of humor within.

There is a positive end to the story at the last pages of the book. The stories transcribed by Nikki heard from the widows are picked up by a publisher and will be published bilingually in a series of books. It is a very good story, well-written too; it isn't my cup of tea, but I enjoyed reading it. Brought this in a hard copy to Australia. Finished reading it pretty fast, and since the friends were curious, I left it behind with them for their reading pleasure.

Not demands, Kulwinder reminded herself. Reasonable requests. Funding for a proper women's centre, one that would provide free services like legal advisers for victims of domestic violence and a dedicated fitness centre where women could exercise without being harassed. Still Kulwinder chuckled at the memory of the men's appalled expressions when she said, 'Take the time you need to need to consider our proposal, but I want to be present at every discussion from now on. No more impromptu decisions made in the men's cliques in the langar hall. Is that clear?' When nobody protested, she nodded and said, 'Good. We all agree, then.'

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