I can’t remember where I read something positive about this book, but when it came time to binge on audiobooks over the school holidays, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows popped up on my list. And it was delightful.
Much of the story surrounds Nikki – a thoroughly modern Punjabi woman living in London who is largely sceptical and disregarding of many traditional elements of her culture, which she sees as behind the times and irrelevant to her own life. After dropping out of her law degree, she takes a job teaching what’s she thinks will be creative writing to women at the local temple … but it turns out few are able to read and write in English. Nikki resigns herself to the idea of teaching basic literacy to the older women – mainly widows – until serendipitously the women are accidentally presented with a book of erotic stories mixed in with the basic texts she bought for them.
This leads to the sharing of unexpected longings, experiences and desires. Nikki is forced to rethink all of her ideas about the lives of traditional Indian women. While shy and reserved, many possess deep wells of feeling and sexuality she never expected. Eventually the whole class comes to embrace the idea of documenting erotic stories and the women of the local community become quietly fascinated too.
But behind all this is the darker side that was responsible for many of Nikki’s preconceived ideas. There are definitely pockets of the community stuck in incredibly traditional and conservative thinking – and who will bully mentally and physically any woman who looks to step outside her place. In places, the story takes a sinister undertone when exploring this.
But ultimately this is a heartwarming story of self-discovery and liberation for many of the characters. I challenge you not to enjoy this.