Singaporean-born novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal has never been one to shy away from exploring complex, sometimes controversial issues in her novels. Her debut novel Inheritance explored mental health issues, homosexuality and dysfunctional dynamics of a Punjab family in Singapore whereas followup Sugarbread explored racism in Singapore.
With her third novel, Kaur takes her formidable pen and a keen eye to the taboos surrounding sexuality in South Asian culture. Writing Erotic Stories for Punjab Widows in a response to a ‘what-if’ question — how did women in her grandmother’s generation experience sex and sexual desire in an overly traditional, male-dominated culture? Can they give voice to those yearnings in an insular Punjab society?
Erotic Stories for Punjab Widows follows our headstrong protagonist Nikki, a 22-year-old modern, independent woman living in London caught between two distinct worlds; She dropped out of a law school, infuriating her Punjabi Sikh family while working shifts at a crumbling O’Reilly’s pub to make ends meet.
Desperate for a job that wasn’t dead-end and needing more money to support the family after the death of her father, Nikki answers an ad that seems simple on the onset — teaching elderly widows creative writing at the local Southall Sikh Community Association.
Except, she realizes this job could prove to be more challenging than expected as these women can’t even spell their own names in English. They are lost, lonely and isolated while reticent at Nikki’s halting Punjabi and headstrong demeanor. However, Nikki’s absent-mindedly placed collection of erotic stories unexpectedly save the classes from becoming a disaster as the women begin to tell each other stories about sex to kill their boredom.