‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows’ by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Extract 

Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

Nikki stared at the profile her sister had attached to the email. There was a list of relevant biographical details: name, age, height, religion, diet (vegetarian except for the occasional fish and chips). General preferences for a husband: intelligent, compassionate and kind,
with strong values and a nice smile. Both clean-shaven and turbanwearing men were acceptable, provided beards and moustaches were neatly maintained. The ideal husband had a stable job and up to three hobbies which extended him mentally and physically. In some ways, she had written, he should be just like me: modest (a prude in Nikki’s opinion),
practical with finances (downright stingy) and family-oriented (wants babies immediately). Worst of all, the title of her blurb made her sound like a supermarket seasoning spice: Mindi Grewal, East-West Mix.

The narrow corridor connecting Nikki’s bedroom to the kitchenette was not suitable for pacing, with uneven floorboards that creaked in various pitches under the slightest contact. She travelled up and down the corridor nonetheless, gathering her thoughts in tiny steps. What was her sister thinking? Sure, Mindi had always been more traditional – once, Nikki had caught her watching an internet video on how to roll perfectly round rotis – but  advertising for a groom? It was so extreme.

Review

I don’t usual follow celebrity recommendations, however when I saw this on Reese’s Book Club the word ‘erotic’ made me need to read this novel. This story follows Nikki, a young woman, who is pulled back into the more traditional Punjabi temple community when she takes a teaching job. This is not the sole plot and if it were it could have become boring very quickly.

This novel was a slow burner, taking a while for me to get into it. However, what transpired was an empowering novel regarding the power of the female voice and our sexuality. Unlike more typical erotic stories, these tales aren’t based in fantasy nor are they hyperbolic with unrealistic orgasms. Instead the erotic stories are based in reality and women’s desires to feel attractive, take control over their bodies, sexuality and lusts. Often, society forgets older women and there is still a taboo about women’s sexuality, especially when they are older, and Balli Kaur Jaswal tackles these head on.

Set within the Punjabi community, readers are taken into the world of the immigrant experience, their feelings and their traditions. Nikki, as the protagonist, is torn between the traditions of her family and her modern, feminist views; this creates tension throughout the novel and is one of the driving forces behind the plot. The sub-plot is what kept me interested, the death of a young woman that was deemed a suicide by the police and the community. Through the suggestion of honour killings and the threat of violence against women who break the ‘rules’, Jaswal creates an eerie backdrop to the widows sharing their erotic tales and creates a link between silence and fear, especially for women.

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