Erotica for Punjabi Widows

Someone suggested this book in a Facebook group I’m in a couple of months ago. From the title alone, I assumed that it was another “50 shades of grey”-esque novel. But after seeing others recommend the book, I finally put it on hold at the library. I picked it up on Wednesday and finished it today.

Oh. My. Lanta.

It’s nothing like what I was expecting.

There is spice, as the title suggests, and you should not read it if graphic depictions of sex bother you. But it is so so so so much more than that. The spicy passages are less than ten percent of the actual book, I’d say.

The actual story has so many levels to it.

It’s about a young Sikh woman named Nikki who had more or less drifted from her Sikh community. She defies her family’s expectations of her by dropping out of university. She is living on her own and working at a pub in London, which is all sorts of scandalous in her family’s world.

In need of work, she accepts a job at a Sikh temple that is supposed to be teaching creative writing to widows. But language barriers mean crossed wires, and she actually ends up responsible for a class filled with widows who don’t know the basics of reading and writing.

Somehow or other, things get further confused. The class quickly becomes less about learning to read and write, and more about coming up with stories that allow the women to discuss and explore their sexuality – something they’ve never had the freedom to do before this class.

They have to ensure that no one discovers what they’re actually doing in these classes, or face the consequences in their community of indulging in what is considered filth.

The book brings us into the lives of several widows. Some aged. Some young. Some extremely conservative and loyal to the honour of family and community. Some open to quietly challenging the boundaries and limitations of belonging to an honour-based society.

Topics such as child marriage and honour killing are discussed. We also see a difference in approach to finding life partners: arranged marriage versus love marriage. We learn about the politics of navigating a culture that is built upon fulfilling expected rules and honouring the family and community at large with your life’s choices.

Balli Kaur Jaswal, who wrote this marvellous book, did an excellent job of capturing the tension that Nikki feels in attempting to live a so-called “modern life”, while still being attached to her Sikh roots and what it means to juggle the two very different cultures in her life.

I feel like my eyes have been opened to a whole new world in reading this book. I have so many more thoughts left that I have to process. And I may come back later with a new post to discuss further.

But for now: go read this book.

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