A reading of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal
“Chee, why is he so impatient? Can’t keep it in his pants until they get to a side street? She should punish him by driving him around the car park until his little balloon deflates.”
Thus began the initiation of the Punjabi widows into erotica. The class whom Nikki was to teach writing had a rocky start, challenging Nikki into thinking of innovative ways to teach the batch of widows who had never in their life read.
Among her many purchases was a book of erotica for her sister and that fell into the hands of the widows.
As they explored the book, her curious students unleashed a side of themselves they had never put on display for the outside world. With saucy comments and innuendoes they added spice to the tales.
Widows have needs too
They vehemently protested when Nikki began to teach them the alphabets considering that was what the stern volunteer Kulwinder, employed her for. However, they wanted to tell stories. Stories that ought to be written down. Considering their illiteracy, they decided that Sheena, the only widow who could read and write would transcribe the tales for them. Only when Nikki read the first story, she realised the kind of stories they had in their mind were erotica, similar to the book Nikki had bought. As she expressed her concern over this development, the widows challenged her saying she was just like the others who felt, ‘take no notice of those widows. Without their husbands, they are irrelevant.’ However, contrary to her belief, they said, they had ‘plenty of experience with desire’.
Related reading: Widows are human, too, and have needs
Thus, one by one, the women expressed their deepest desires, of what they thought about during lonely nights, of what they missed or of what they perhaps were never given in the first place. They formed characters, created plots around human sexuality including role-play, homosexuality, extramarital affairs, temptations and wild sex, and divulged their marital secrets in their stories. As they embellished the stories, drawing from their experience and fantasies, sharing their own creative alternatives to satisfy themselves and their late husbands better, the women dropped their guard and bonded over their frustrations and fantasies.
Not just a writing class
Nikki started to feel that the classes were serving a larger purpose beyond the obvious. She was perhaps making feminist inroads in the lives of the widows. For the first time, the women were openly sharing their thoughts and getting strength from the fact that they were not alone. This was no more about being uninhibited and sharing their secrets. They were beginning to have opinions of their own, learning to separate right from wrong, and thinking beyond the duties assigned to them by the men.
Soon, the stories travelled, and were shared across the conservative women of the Punjabi diaspora in the UK through emails.
The women wanted more, because apparently the stories were influencing them. They were beginning to take charge of their marriages and thereby improving their own sex lives.
When Kulwinder discovered the reality of the classes conducted in the hallowed complex of the Gurudwara, she confiscated the stories and suspended the classes, much to the dismay of the students and the several batches of new students who had joined in the hope of writing erotica. Back home, Kulwinder could not resist peeking at the stories. They had the same effect on her relationship with her husband, and as a result, that night, after several years of inactivity, they revived their sex life.
Widows are people too
Author Balli Kaur has woven a complex masala potboiler. The core of the story is to question why widows are considered sexless and irrelevant as far as desires are concerned. Don’t they have a right to sensuality after their husbands are gone? Balli Kaur questions and shakes the very moral fabric the Indian diaspora living abroad seems to weave, thereby living in a time warp, forgetting that back in India, people have accepted modern thinking, changed their notions and moved far ahead of them.
The widows in the book are a naughty lot and they surprise the community when they learn that people not much unlike them have perpetrated the stories that are doing the rounds in the community. They were beginning to believe that despite their age, there were possibilities they had never before explored. The women had got talking of taboo subjects in an uninhibited manner and an underlying revolution was beginning to take place.
Nikki had done more than she had thought she would. She had begun a revolution of sorts, which shook the foundation of the conservative thinking of Indians abroad, striving to preserve their culture of shame and honour. The book ends on a mischievous note as she discovers the cause of her father’s death, giving a whole new meaning ‘dying in bed’.