By Mitali Chakravarty The Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) gave out 19 awards for works in English, […]
By Kaamna Jain
The second most interesting thing about former High Court judge Mahesh Sharma’s peacock theory is that somehow being celibate makes the peacock a superior animal. The first thing of course is that it’s a completely unscientific fact which has been quoted while giving judgment in a criminal case. The judge needs to be reminded that he as well as the entire human race is a product of sexual reproduction. Then why celebrate and put organisms that reproduce asexually on a higher pedestal?
For years students of science have been taught that sexual reproduction is better than asexual reproduction for evolution because it creates genetic variety. This helps a species in adapting to constantly changing and challenging environment, even though sexual reproduction is more cumbersome and less efficient. That is the reason sexually reproducing species are at the highest rung of the ladder while single cell organisms which reproduce asexually are at the very bottom of the pyramid.
It is the taboo surrounding sex that sets the context for the book, “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”, written by Singapore based author, Balli Kaur Jaswal. Published in early 2017 by Harper Collins, movie rights have already been sold to Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free Productions, and Film4.
The title is an intriguing misnomer. Erotic stories? Sure, any time. But for Punjabi widows? In a patriarchal society, widows are deemed to be even lesser beings than women and somehow supposed to be asexual beings, bereft of desires and fancies once their better halves leave for their heavenly abode. The word “widow” conjures the image of a lady clad in white, engaged either in religious or household chores. That such a creature could have erotic stories to share or sexual fantasies, takes time to get used to. Once you get used to the idea, the surreptitious thrill of enjoying something forbidden also screams out loud from the title. I quickly ordered a copy online. Now I happened to be travelling and thanks to the title, was extremely uncomfortable about getting it delivered to a neighbour’s house for safekeeping. After that, I could not bring myself to say the name of the book when asked by an elderly uncle what I was reading currently.
The story is set in Southall and Enfield, London. The protagonist is a young British girl of Indian origin, Nikki, who is trying to figure out what she wants to do in life. Brought up in Enfield, which is a more British part of London, she gets tricked into an assignment to take writing class for Punjabi windows in a Gurudwara in Southall. She wants to “help the women” and believes that “everyone has stories to tell. It would be a rewarding experience to help Punjabi women to craft their stories”.
Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows published by HarperCollins is an east-meets-west novel. When Nikki takes […]
Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald has selected Singaporean-born Australian novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal (Inheritance) among the four Best Young […]
Balli Kaur Jaswal grew up in Singapore, Japan, Russia and the Philippines. She attended the creative writing programs in Hollins University and George Mason University in the US. In 2007, she won the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where she wrote Inheritance, her first novel, published by Sleepers Publishing in February 2013.
Currently, Jaswal teaches VCE English in a secondary school in Melbourne.
Inheritance is a story about a traditional family grappling with their rapidly modernising surroundings. It is a nation’s coming-of-age story, seen through the sharp lens of a traditional Punjabi family as it gradually unravels. Set in Singapore between the 1970’s and 1990’s, Inheritance follows the familial fissures that develop after teenaged Amrit disappears in the middle of the night. Although her absence is brief, she returns as a different person.
In this interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum, Jaswal discusses the journey of her first novel from its genesis to its publication.
Inheritance is your debut novel. How did the idea of this multi-generational saga come to you?
The characters came to me before the story did. When they started interacting with each other and conflicts began to arise, the story was born. In rising Asia, there is a palpable tension between tradition and modernity. The characters from different generations play out these tensions – they’re living proof of one country’s uneasy balancing act of past and present. As the landscape of Singapore changes, the characters have to decide between adjusting to them or completely retreating.