Access to a Safe Space, Expression and Female Pleasure in the South Asian context
What’s the plot of the novel?
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal traces the journey of a 22-year-old girl, Nikki, who is brought up in a traditional Punjabi family in London. As a young adult, she refuses to accept the terms and conditions imposed upon her and wishes to lead a life of her choice. For the same, she decides to move out and become financially independent.
In an attempt to earn a living, Nikki bags herself a job to teach a course in creative writing at the Gurudwara, located in Southall, London. Students enrolled on this course are widows who are looking forward to learning the language English. However, to Nikki’s astonishment, these classes become storytelling sessions. Women start expressing themselves and their desires in the form of erotic stories.
The power of stories on a safe space
With their patriarchal upbringing, these widows were brought up to perform societal duties and are still considered an outcast in their community. This safe space provided an escape to their conforming attitude of obeying the expectations levied upon them.
The term safe space generally means “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment or any other emotional or physical harm.” (Oxford Dictionary)
These sessions proved to be not just enjoyable but as these widows progressed in expressing themselves, they developed a sense of community that were empathetic listeners and understood one another. Narrating these stories became a liberating experience to just be themselves, acknowledge and voice out their needs and desires. This newfound freedom helped them put forth their wants.
Beginning of a Movement
Simultaneously, fear to be judged and get shunned by the community members is a lingering factor that keeps haunting the characters of this novel. On the other hand, as these stories found an audience with other women from their communities, they became increasingly popular and relatable. A new age revolution in acknowledging female pleasure and its expression began taking shape.
Reflections on the Novel
The gripping novel reflects a powerful feminist narrative and attempts to break the silence on conversations revolving around female pleasure and Erotica within the South Asian community. “Erotica is used to describe or show a sexual activity, intended to arouse a sexual feeling.”(Collins Dictionary).
Also, the plot revolves around the setting of Southall London. An area dominated by the diasporic population of the Sikh community. The author has succeeded in putting the voice of the secluded section at the forefront. Also, the plot reflects the role of power dynamics that exist within a society and the effect it has on minority groups.
On a personal front, the narration of the chapters is extremely engaging and the reader is in anticipation of what would follow next. The content of the book seems realistic. As a south Asian woman, I could empathise with the characters of the novel. More importantly, the book has been phenomenal in initiating a discussion on stigmatised topics. We need more safe spaces, discussions, activism and the sheer attitude of being unapologetically ourselves to normalise conversations around female pleasure.
About the author of this review: Pragati Khabiya is an independent consultant passionate about using tools of advocacy, communication and facilitation to work for the development sector. She could only discover what she is passionate about after rebelling countless times to volunteer and travel by herself at remote organisations in India. These experiences also helped her find her new passion for immersive slow travel.
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