Book Review

The Bhabhis of Lahore & Other Forbidden Tales of the City

Review of the book authored by Lahore-based writer Ayesha Muzaffar.

Published in June 2022, the book consists of many mythical, intriguing tales.

By Amber Juman

I saw the book ‘The Bhabhis of Lahore and Other Forbidden Tales of the City’ at Liberty Books in Lahore, and the title of the book grabbed me. Published in June 2022, the book consists of many mythical, intriguing tales written by Ayesha Muzaffar. She has published only three books under her name, including ‘Abu’s Jinns’ and ‘Jinnistan’. It came as a pleasant surprise to me that the writer has used social media platforms to publicize her stories. If you are looking for a desi (local) touch to a paranormal craving, then Ayesha Muzaffar is your go to writer.

Ayesha Muzaffar is a resident of Lahore and writes stories on supernatural beings and the world of djinns. Her stories explore the myths and beliefs deeply rooted in South Asian Culture. The stories are supernatural and imaginative, but the characters and the set of the stories reflects contemporary Pakistani society, giving the horror stories a desi vibe. The field of horror stories is in adolescent stage and Ayesha’s stories are a good addition to the emerging trend of horror writings.

This book consists of six different stories, but horror, suspense, marriages, myths and supernatural beliefs prevalent in South Asia are present in all of them. ‘The Bhabhis of Lahore’ was one of my least favorite stories in the book, as it left me feeling that something was missing in the plot. The story was more focused on marriages and their cultural aspects rather than real horror. A little more horror and a little more of a cliff-hanger would have added the much-needed masala (spice). As far as the story, ‘Mera Mehtab’ is concerned, it left me confused. Firstly, I could not understand the jinn or horror perspective here. Secondly, I found the writing to be a little too simplistic. I was happy that the story, ‘The Never Happening Shaadi of Shaazia Farooq’ finally gave me the eerie vibes that I was looking for. ‘The Jinn in Mahajabeen’s Phupho’ was my favorite story; it constantly left me with goosebumps. Unlike the other stories, I was not able to guess the end until the author revealed it. It was also the best written story by the author in terms of dialogue writing, creating suspense and horror.

The work of Ayesha Muzaffar has been well received by various papers and magazines. The Tribune Magazine praised ‘The Bhabis of Lahore’ in its review: “(the book) Comprised of longer stories with several parts, one cannot help but feel a magnetic pull towards Muzaffar’s writing. The apt local references blend with controlled horror elements to produce stories that one feels compelled to read, and cannot put down.” The Pakistan Daily has also added great words of appreciation, ‘’Reading her books is like starting a familiarisation process with the paranormal, as one goes through the pages, her stories seem more plausible and hair-raising.’’ On the other hand, Abdul Rafay reviewed the book critically saying that it failed to frighten him, and the repetitive plotline bored him.

The stories in ‘The Bhabis of Lahore’ focused less on direct dialogues and are told in third person. At many places, the only thing that added horror to a story was just how relatable it felt to a desi audience, as the book was full of desi clichés, like backwards-turned feet of the churrails, djinns seen at night and children spotting ghosts.

Even after reading the entire book, I did not feel the compulsion to look behind, to make sure that no djinn is roaming here. For someone like me, who has an active imagination, it does not take much to scare me, and unfortunately, I was not scared at all reading six long horror stories. I appreciated the desi humour that the author created in her stories, but often found the humour to be forced.

As we don’t have many Pakistani writers writing horror stories, I would like to appreciate the work done by Ayesha Muzaffar despite its obvious shortcomings. As horror writing is a proper genre of fiction, with films and novels on horror and horror comedy produced annually in Hollywood and Bollywood, this book is a good addition to the genre of horror in Pakistan. I would give 6 out of 10 ratings for the book.

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Courtesy: Youlin Magazine (Published on October 20, 2022)

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