Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal



Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.


When I first heard the title of this book last year, I was actually quite taken aback and didn’t really plan on reading it. Then the reviews started coming and they were surprisingly very positive and this kept the book on my radar. I’ve been having a bad week, so I decided to pick this up because nothing cures a reading slump better than a book with desi characters – the familiarity is just very comforting. And wow was this an interesting read – it’s fun and relatable and ohhh so hilarious while also discussing some very deep topics.


Nikki can feel like a difficult protagonist to like, especially because she is very judgey of others – her mother for being oppressive, her sister for choosing an arranged marriage and the women in her class for being too traditional and wanting to keep the honor of their late husbands. However, she is struggling with herself too, trying to choose a middle ground between wanting to satisfy her parents wishes and finding her passion and following through on it. She also has to reconcile her family’s traditional values with her feminist beliefs and it’s not an easy position to be in. And that’s what made Nikki so relatable to me because I totally understood where she was coming from. As the book goes on, she tries to understand more of where the other women are coming from too and becomes more emphathetic towards them and I liked seeing that growth.

We only get one other POV, Kulwinder who is the Community Director who wants the women to have something to do in the classes and probably learn how to write, but she is mostly just trying to deal with the loss of her only daughter, especially not knowing why she committed suicide and being too scared to investigate it. The women in the class are also an eclectic bunch – strong and lively and fun, who have been forgotten by the society but want to live atleast some part of their life on their own terms – I just loved all of them and they all had something to say and Nikki really grows because of her association with them.


I absolutely loved the writing in this book. The author brings the Punjabi community in Southall to life and also the little misogynistic things we all get used to growing up because we consider it our culture, how the word “honor” is used to brush things under the carpet and women are oppressed and not allowed to express themselves. And it was really so interesting to watch the widows – who are probably the most forgotten and not really considered at all – decide to express their desires and fantasies through stories, things they probably kept repressed in their hearts till now, and how much joy this freedom gives them. Their stories were very erotic, quite imaginative and some very surprising too. But the highlight was when the ladies were discussing these stories – they are so laugh out funny that I was guffawing most of the time. The author uses these stories and the women’s own experiences to give us a tale about women finding their own voice in a society that doesn’t want them to have one and finally feeling empowered enough to want everyone to hear it. The author also manages to sneak in a subplot about a murder and even though it’s not a major part of the book, there is always a sinister undercurrent which I really enjoyed.


This was such such an entertaining read while also being really thought provoking and it was masterful of the author to strike the perfect balance. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes reading quirky contemporaries and even if you don’t like erotica, you can always skip the stories. And all you desi readers beware….. because you will never look at ghee the same ever again !!!!!

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