Published: 9th March 2017. Category: Drama, Erotic, Humour.Author: Balli Jaswal. Ratings: 2.5/5.
definition: erotic – relating to or tending to arouse sexual desire or excitement.
My take on the title
Sometimes some books have very catchy & awkward titles. If there ever will be an award for an awkwardly catchy title, this one would be a definite nominee. The take is entirely mine & it has no empirical evidence or even if there is, I haven’t laid my hands on it. First of all, a book to make mass appeal it should be something people can keep by their bed tables without a hitch. But for most parts of India this book would raise parents’ eyebrows, if their kids would be reading it and it would be an equally embarrassing situation for a parent having this book on their shelves. Erotic. Secondly being a widow is still a stigma in India (feminist may have their ears raised but facing the truth is better than assuming lies to be true), metropolitan cities, aside – unless the author wanted very niche readership. It would still make a woman think twice before laying hand on a book which is for widows, if she is married and/or from a conservative family. And to add to that the word, Punjabi. So in my view you are blocking conservative punjabi family women from reading this book by the title alone. India, like a lot of places, is ridden with superstitions and it might be considered a bad omen for a ‘good’ wife to be reading what’s meant for widows (at least that’s the impression from the title, even when the book isn’t all about widows only). And of course this comes from some experience & feedback.
The plot is drama-humour-erotic-thriller, all clubbed into one book. It’s, if you are an Indian, a ‘masala’ book. The book revolves around Nikki, a 20 something girl, a UK born sikh girl with conservative parents. She is of course ‘not so keen’ Indian, like most kids born in West. She is a college dropout who has left her parents to live alone to purse her passion in writing & works at a bar to support herself. Supposedly, her father died because she dropped out of law college & left home, which gave her father some heart trouble leading to his demise. That’s the only thing that keeps Nikki emotionally burdened, from her usually happy and independent self. Its really set up as an ambivalent situation in which she finds herself oscillating in & out of. The story moves on as she has to find & join a part time job in Southall in creative writing at a Gurudwara. Southall – the Punjab of UK. It’s well articulated account of the sikh community by Balli Jaswal in that small town which is thronged by Sikh families of various generations.
As soon as she joins her job at the Gurudwara, she realises it is not really creative writing classes but literacy classes for Punjabi Widows of mostly her mother’s age, but there are young windows too & active ones. She feels repulsed to start with, at being duped into it, by Kulwinder, the coordinator , who offered her the job. But soon, the classes take an unexpected turn with one instance of a student sharing an erotic piece of writing in the class. Soon the teacher & her ‘students’ agree to move from literacy to erotic story-telling classes. As classes go on Nikki gets involved, in the personal lives of her students. In the background Nikki’s sister is looking for a soulmate, her mom is in two minds about it as that would leave her alone to survive. While all this is going on, Nikki gets herself hooked too, with an Indian punjabi guy & they role-play the erotic stories, narrated & recorded during her classes at the Gurudwara (a taboo to sikhs in the story except those enjoying it in the class) & later enacted in her room. Then there is Maya, the daughter of Kulwinder, the class coordinator, who had committed suicide, but her parents do not believe their daughter killed herself. Maya is a just a character twin of Nikki. And as the story moves on, Nikki finds herself involved in her own investigation of Maya’s death. The book revolves around keeping the erotic story classes going with discretion & Maya’s mysterious death. However true to the Indian saying, ‘Aurton kay peth mein baat nahi pachti’ (women can not digest secrets or keep them to themselves), the story about the classes reach far & wide & with consequences. What follows is a fast-paced narrative of how these punjabi widows & Nikki strive to solve Maya’s death mystery & keep their classes going.
Highlights & Conclusion
The book has a good pace & promise when you start reading & the title fills you with some anticipated excitement & the characters seem very interesting. The book depicts a colourful & true picture of the sikh community (not at all the places though), migrated to other countries. The word erotic is a weak attempt to arousal, if at all that is the intent. If it is an attempt at humour, it’s still not funny enough either. The stories woven by the widows are by no means seductive or erotic. It doesn’t do justice to someone who expected to run into the lust & fantasies of Indian punjabi women (widows or otherwise, the fantasies are not really nurtured by anyone’s marital status). The only great part about the book is the death mystery of Maya which adds pace to the reading & its depiction of Indian & Punjabi culture. The emotional plot which is very well set up about our protagonist comes crashing down in the end pages of the book. The attempt of giving a light tone to an emotional upheaval carried by Nikki throughout the book is failure & a big turn off. The book would have done much better if despite its other shortcomings it had, one, lived up to the expectation of the word – erotic in some way & second, not spoiled the emotional plot to attempted humour in the end.
I read a lot of reviews about the book, mostly from esteemed women reviewers who took the theme differently, trying to highlight the feminist independence of widows in the community. No doubt, there is an attempt to bring that to the fore but it’s overshadowed by a lot of other distracting mini-plots. The freedom & rights of widows is not the theme of this book & if it is, I feel sad to say it isn’t narrated in a strong manner as a take away. I may come across to many as an MCP, for underplaying a book on a feminist theme, but as a reviewer and a reader it is one’s job to evaluate the book in the most honest possible manner.
However despite, the shortcomings noticed as a reader , the book is surely a fun read, a good page turner & a realistic insight into Indian, and especially Punjabi culture caught between values & modernisation in the West.