Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
by Bailli Kaur Jaswal
Read May 2020
Jaswal gives us a novel that provides some insight into the culture of Southall, a Punjabi Sikh neighborhood of London and the challenges London-born daughters of Indian immigrants face as they mature into adulthood. When Reese Witherspoon added it to her book club list in 2018 she indicated it was “a mystery, a romance, a family drama….and yes it’s 🔥 🔥 🔥!”
Nikki is a modern young woman, born of parents who emigrated from India. She no longer lives with her widowed mother and sister in London, but rather lives in an apartment above the bar in which she works, the small apartment being part of her salary. She quit law school before her father died, which disappointed him greatly, but Nikki was uninspired by the law. A couple of years later she remains unsure what does inspire her but she is certain she is not interested in marriage soon. Her sister, a nurse, is interested in an arranged marriage despite having a job that can support her outside a traditional marriage situation. She sends Nikki to a Punjabi Sikh temple in Southall to post an advertisement about her to attract a potential mate. While there Nikki manages to land a job teaching a writing class at the Sikh Community Association in Southall.
Nikki assumes she will be teaching creative writing but quickly learns that her students, Pujabi widows, aren’t all literate. One of the widows can read and write well and discovers a book of erotic stories that Nikki has purchased for her sister as a joke. When this widow reads aloud from it while Nikki is out of the room, the other women become eager to tell erotic stories as well.
In between the women’s erotic stories which are recounted in this book, we follow Nikki’s budding romance with a Sikh young man who also seems interested in pursuing a non-traditional route to love and marriage, a mystery around the death of the coordinator of women’s classes at the Sikh Community Association, the progress of Nikki’s sister’s plans towards marriage, and we are provided dark glimpses of a “brotherhood” of young Sikh men in the community who have become self-proclaimed enforcers of appropriate behavior of women. Some, but not all, of these threads are carried to some conclusion while others are left dangling leaving the reader to wonder their real purpose in the book.
The book is entertaining and engaging. We get a small look inside a traditional Sikh community co-existing with a modern city. But some of the themes are quite universal beyond that specific culture, in particular the question of parental expectations of their children. Fortunately the main character learns her father had accepted his daughter’s life choice before he died (she learns this from her mother). The murder mystery is solved which relieves the family of the victim (a young Sikh woman whose reputation has been tarnished inappropriately) of some guilt. But both of these aspects drilled home to this reader the impact parents’ expectations can have and challenged this reader to consider her own expectations of her adult children and whether they are appropriate or helpful. Thus this reader was more impacted by this book than she expected to be.