Qaisra Shahraz

Qaisra Shahraz



Qaisra Shahraz, born in Pakistan, is a critically acclaimed novelist and scriptwriter and has lived in Manchester since she was nine. She has degrees in English and two Masters in European Literature (Manchester Universities) and Scriptwriting ( Salford University ). Qaisra has a successful career in education – school teacher, examiner, teacher trainer, lecturer, development officer and quality improvement manager etc. She is currently a college inspector for Ofsted and Estyn, and an education consultant.

Qaisra is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Member of the Royal Society of Literature and recipient of the Arts Council Award. Her novels are translated into several languages. The Holy Woman won the Golden Jubilee Award and was Book of the Month . Her drama serial The Heart is It won two TV Awards in Pakistan . Her award-winning short stories are studied in schools, including her first story, A Pair of Jeans, for the German ‘A level' equivalent. Qaisra has written extensively as a journalist including for The Times. She is available for readings, workshops and consultancy.


Creative Work

An extract from the novel Typhoon  

Chapter One

Tuesday May, 2002  

The village of Chiragpur was in mourning. Its revered head man, Baba Siraj Din, was dying. Straight after the call to prayer, from the mosque, the local qazi, judge, made an emotional appeal to the villagers, to offer a special prayer for the departure of the old man's soul.

Inside his large whitewashed home Baba Siraj Din lay on his bed. ‘ Talaq ! I divorce you!' Those terrible words came echoing back down the years.

The crimson lips curved into a smile, as she peeped up at him from behind the dark sunglasses – her long hair draping to her hips. A confident foot strapped in elegant black sandals had stepped out. The second one faltered, his stern mask of disapproval whipping away the smile.

Assalam Alaikum, Baba Jee! ' She greeted him politely.

She was a stranger in ‘his' village and one who did not attempt to cover her head in his presence. Siraj Din dismissed her salutation and pointedly ignoring her walked on. The woman remained standing next to her car, bewildered by his rudeness. He turned his henna-dyed head and rested his green gaze on her bare arms and the thick curtain of hair spread over her right shoulder. Tapping his ivory walking stick firmly on the ground Siraj Din ruthlessly trod on.

Aba Jan!' His daughter-in law's honey sweet voice beckoned, willing him back to her world.

The dying man's head jerked up and nestled on a fresh cool spot on the pillow, he ignored Shahzada's intrusive voice, returning instead to the reel of memories rolling behind his age-worn eyelids.

With the tightly-wound chador around her shoulders and bowed head, she glanced up from beneath the edge of the shawl. Her eyes were those of a wounded deer. Beseeching and resigned.

‘I divorce you!' The words dropped on the hushed silence.

The awed leaves on the tree in the courtyard stopped rattling. The warm afternoon breeze stilled. The villagers held their breath.

‘I divorce you! I divorce you! I divorce you!'

Three deadly talaqs pelted down onto her bent body, forcing her head to fall on her chest.

Aba Jan! ' The unwelcome voice of Shahzada careered in again, scattering the memories to join the chaos at the back of his mind. Her cold hand was massaging his forehead now, bringing him back to the present.

Baba Siraj Din opened his eyes wide. Their icy green glare charged up to meet the warm brown glow of Shahzada's; unafraid, and beaming down their steadfast love at him. Then, miraculously his eyes softened. It was Shahzada, his beloved daughter-in-law. His tongue slipped out of his mouth, moistening his dry lips.

‘Shahzada, my daughter!' he croaked, craning up his neck and trying to speak again.' I am dying!' His hand feebly reached out to her arm. ‘Listen to me. Call her! Her!'

Shahzada looked astounded. ‘Zarri Bano?'

The old man's head shook on the pillow. ‘No, her. Her ! You must find her for me! Don't let me die without seeing her, please!' His head rested back again, his eyes tightly closed.

She was looking up at him again from beneath her shawl, her wounded eyes and sad words boring into him: ‘I forgive you! I forgive you all! '

The old man's head jerked up on the pillow again, the gaunt face now supplicating, his hands held high in prayers: ‘Allah pak, forgive me. Grant me enough life to beg of her forgiveness,' Siraj din loudly begged of his Almighty Lord, alarming his eldest granddaughter Zarri Bano who standing by her mother's side.

‘ Mother, who does Grandfather want to see?'

Shahzada stared at her baby grandson Adam in her daughter's arms. She did not answer Zarri Bano question. She knew. She had promised him: it was his dying wish. Without a word she turned on her heel and went to summon the village matchmaker, Kulsoom Bibi, to the house.It was an errand that only she, with her enormous networking skill, could perform.

‘ Zarri Bano ?' The old man smiled at his beautiful eldest granddaughter, dressed in her habitual black veil, the burqa . Their Holy Woman.

Zarri Bano placed her hand on her grandfather's shoulder. With a great effort Siraj Din raised his two frail hands and held them up in mafi to the woman begging of her forgiveness.

Zarri Bano,' he panted, raising his head.' Forgive me for making you a Holy Woman six years ago. It was a cruel thing to do.'

‘Please Grandfather don't say that. There is nothing to forgive – I am happy with my life. Its all in the past. Look at my son, your great-grandson',

His hand brushed baby Adam's head. Contentedly he closed his eyes. But a moment later, his head moved agitatedly from side to side.

‘Zarri Bano find her for me!'

‘Who, Grandfather? Who?'

‘The doomed, badkismet woman!' came the low whimper. ‘I have to see her!'

Kulsoom Bibi, the fifty-six-year-old village matchmaker, had been summoned to the hawaili, Baba Siraj Din's ornate home, on a special errand by Chaudharani Shahzada. Always very honoured to be invited there, her face and body, nevertheless wore the strain of this special errand. After saying her ‘Salam' and paying her respects to the dying man, Kulsoom headed off to the kitchen quarters to see the cook, her best friend, Naimat Bibi. Naimat Bibi was busy making stacks of chapattis. Guests were expected from different towns and cities within the next few hours, descending on Chiragpur to pay their last respects to Baba Siraj Din.

Crouched in front of her stove, on a footstool, Naimat Bibi was just about to slap another chappati on the flat pan, when her friend breezed in.

‘What is it, Kulsoom Jee?' she squeaked in trepidation. It was not the deadpan expression on Kulsoom's dark narrow face, but the look in her eyes that immediately signalled alarm to Naimat Bibi. She knew how to interpret that look after thirty years of friendship.

Kulsoom merely stared back at her friend. It was a long while she before she answered.

‘The old man wants to see her ‘. As her friend carried on staring back at her, failing to understand her meaning, Kulsoom felt duty bound to explain, whispering …' Her! Naimat Bibi! Her! Don't you remember? The Kacheri! Twenty years ago! And what we did to her!'



This extract is the first chapter from my second novel Typhoon, sequel to The Holy Woman and based on my story Thalak, Thalak, Thalak I wrote in the early nineties. This process was interesting and worth sharing. On finishing my first novel I felt bereft because many of the characters in my fictitious village had good stories of their own to tell.

At the heart of Typhoon was the premise: what would happen if a woman was caught in the arms of another woman's husband in a small tight-knit Muslim community? How would such a community behave and cope with such an event? In the conservative Chiragpur it unleashes a typhoon-like series of events traumatising its population.

This chapter introduces some of the main characters. At the heart of the novel is the old Buzurg, the autocratic head of the village - grandfather of Zarri Bano, the heroine of my first novel; the matchmaker and the village cook. Two of my favourite characters so loved by many readers, who are sparring friends and village gossips. Kulsoom Bibi and Naimat Bibi play a major role in the catastrophic event in the village by their gossip mongering. The woman coming out of the car is Naghmana, whose story lies at the heart of this tale. A professional business woman, she comes for a holiday to visit her aunt and finds herself caught in the middle of the storm - a nightmare that lasts twenty years.

The dying man, Siraj Din, is desperate to beg forgiveness of a woman he has publicly shamed. The extract ends with the two gossips afraid and rushing to find their small silk parcels to return to its rightful owner. Her .

The rural world I have created in Typhoon is far removed from that of Manchester, my home city. It has captured my imagination since I was seven and still continues to fascinate me. A friend from my school days, marvelled as to how I could have created such a world (‘It is so real!' she exclaimed) having lived most of my life in England . It was from my childhood memories - of travelling with my maternal grandmother. My parents' family home was in Lahore , but my early life rotated around two other cities - Gujrat and Faisalabad . My mother often angrily bemoaned that I was missing out on my education. My grandmother once scoffed back ‘ Don't worry she'll be a professor one day!' I did not become a professor but her trips sowed the seeds for my writing career. A great traveller, she was often on the move – had to visit some place or other and I, her beloved young companion happily hopped along everywhere with her, including visiting some villages and famous religious shrines.

This ‘other' world simply enchanted me and I drank it all in. It was Pakistan but so different. The class divisions so obvious, where the landowning families dominated the rest of the village householders. The latter were made to know their place in society and adhered to it. This is a world of inequality, male domination, patriarchal tyranny with strict control over other people's lives – of tight-knit relationships among men and women. It is a place where huge imposing marble villas dominate the rural scene, thereby dwarfing the other humbler dwellings where people offered you infinite warmth, and wonderful hospitality, often rushing out to offer you my favourite drink of lassi.

I am an outsider, peeping into this serene world of infinite beauty with its green fields and fresh air. It is a world of my imagination and where my heart is – to which I have been returning over and over again in my work. And tenaciously holding onto it!




UK : The Holy Woman , BlackAmber, 2001 Hardback/Paperback, Arcadia Books, 2007 (nominated The Best Book of the Month in Bradford; Featured in literary festivals throughout Great Britain including Coventry One Book . Winner of the Golden Jubilee Award 2002, Manchester )
UK : Typhoon . BlackAmber, 2003, Arcadia Books, 2007, (chosen as a Good Reads in Bradford and Coventry ; Featured in Bradford and Birmingham Book Festivals.)  

Short Stories

Holding Out (1986)
Black And Priceless (1987)
What Big Eyes You Have Got (1988)
Acclaim Magazine (1994)
No Limits (1994)
Rabbits English (1994, Germany )
Dragon Fly In The Sun (1997, Pakistan )
Pakistani Writing In English (1997)
A Pair Of Jeans has been published twelve times - once in the United Kingdom , India and Pakistan , and eight times in Germany
The Elopement has also been published twice. These two stories are studied at universities and at colleges as part of the English literature syllabus.

Publications Abroad


A Pair of Jeans has been published twelve times, including eight versions in Germany
Raabits English (1994) Cornelson
One Language Many Voices (2005-2006) Cornelson, Diesterweg, Klett, Schoenig, Stark, Reclam etc. Other Short Stories
Invitations To Literature (1990)
Writing Women - Twentieth Century Short Stories (1991);

Tyfoon (2003) Van Gennep (Dutch).

The Holy Woman (2008) Penguin / Yatra Books (Hindi, Urdu & English)
Typhoon (2008) Penguin / Yatra Books (Hindi, Urdu & English)
And the World Changed – Writing by Pakistani Women Writers (2005) Women Unlimited
Neither Night nor Day – 13 Stories by Women Writers from Pakistan (2007), Harper Collins.

Perempuan Suci (2006), Mizan Pustaka,
Perempuan Terluka (2007) Mizan Pustaka,

Dragonfly in the Sun (1997) Oxford University Press
The Holy Woman (2002), Alhamra (English)
And the World Changed – Writing by Pakistani Women Writers (2007) Oxford University Press
Pakistani Literature & Women Writers of Pakistan (2007)
Pakistani Literature in English (2007) Academy of Letters
Typhoon (2003), Alhamra (English)

Kutsal Kadin (2005), Truva
Tayfun (2005), Truva

Contact & Links


Writer Index