Sometimes, writers fall in love with some of their characters. So much that they are carried over to another novel. That is how ‘Typhoon' was born, says Pakistani-English author Qaisra Shahraz. A compelling story woven around the lives of three Muslim women in Pakistan, ‘Typhoon' (2003) is a sequel to her first and best-selling novel, ‘The Holy Woman'. For Qaisra, it was more than a love affair with her characters. It was the life of ordinary people living in extraordinary situations in her homeland, Pakistan that egged her on to write.
Qaisra was in Kochi recently to launch the Malayalam translation of ‘Typhoon'.
Though she has never lived in Pakistan, Qaisra's writing holds a mirror to the country's social terrain. “I have early childhood memories of the place and I have always been in touch with it. I used to visit my grandmother,” she says. Her heroine Zarri Bano, the dashing, young, educated Muslim woman who gives up her love for a cruel custom in ‘The Holy Woman' (2001) shocked the western world as she surrenders to the norm.
The book flew off the shelves in Europe, found its way to the syllabus in Germany and interestingly, generated encouraging responses from Pakistan. The Mandarin version of it will soon be released at China's Bookworm festival.
Not just religion
But ask Qaisra and she says her novels are not just about religion. “All I was trying to do was introduce a Muslim woman to the world. The life she leads, the struggles she goes through,” she says, especially in the post 9/11 world where Muslims are looked upon with suspicion. “I am trying to tell the world that I am just a peace-loving Muslim and not a terrorist,” she says.
With a vast collection of short stories to her credit, Qaisra believes that it is important to educate through her work.
Her television drama ‘Dil Hi to Hai', which was translated to Urdu and telecast in the Pakistan Television, won her two awards. The show had a viewership of more than 80 million people, what she calls real success. She is working on another TV drama series on domestic violence.
‘A Pair of Jeans', her first story, published in 1988, topped popularity charts, and was published 12 times. It was also included in the syllabus in Germany. The UGC Academic Staff College, Aligarh Muslim University, recently released “The Holy and the Unholy: Critical Essays on Qaisra Shahraz's Fiction”.
More than writing
However, Qaisra says she is not a full-time author. “Writing is not my life. It is just a strand among the many roles I have,” she says. “My real life is with my family. I do the laundry, the dishes,... I am a mother, a homemaker, a wife, a daughter.”
Most of her works have women as protagonists—women victimised by society, but who fight back with an unyielding spirit. “I never forget that I am a product of a privileged society, having lived in Britain all my life, I am extremely aware that there are women out there for whom writing a book is a luxury. Forget a book; they can't afford a scrap of paper.”
Qaisra's third book, tentatively titled ‘Revolt', delves into the complex realm of mixed marriages. Her fourth novel, which she would name ‘Silence' will be on honour killings. Set in Morocco, the story seeks to explore the lives of women trapped in an unjust society.