A Tryst with the Paranormal ft Ayesha Muzaffar

We’ve all heard stories about jinns but no Pakistani writer has taken the challenge to immortalise tales about the paranormal in the English language before Ayesha Muzaffar stepped into the ring.

With successful novels including Abu’s Jinns, Jinnistan and Bhabhis of Lahore under her belt, Ayesha may be considered the foremost authority on Pakistan’s ‘paranormal’ genre.

Many readers may not even be aware that such a genre existed in Pakistan’s literary scene but that was before Ayesha’s books dominated bookshops and enthralled (and scared) Pakistani readers.

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.

Author Ayesha Muzaffar with her fans in Packages Mall who recognised her after buying her books. Photo via Ayesha Muzaffar.

The Pakistan Daily held an exclusive conversation with the famed author to understand her work more profoundly.

Hamza: We’ve hardly seen any fiction about the paranormal in English coming out of Pakistan. What inspired you to write Jinnistan? 

Ayesha: I can go to a grocery store and come back with a splendid jinn story in my head – inspiration is anywhere and everywhere if one’s keen to decipher the worlds of the unseen. However, my main inspiration has always been my abu, (hence the social media name abusjinns) and his narrations from my childhood. 

Hamza: It is rumoured that the stories you write about are based on real events. Are they? 

Ayesha: The truth, my friend, is a complicated thing. Even imagination and exaggeration stems from a strand of honesty. My stories are what you want them to be; a horrible reality for the believers and a comical midsummer adventure for the non-believers. But be warned, where there is good, there is evil and there is no denying that. 

Hamza: Do you believe in ghosts, and if so why? 

Ayesha: Believing in ghosts – such an American thing to say. Ghosts, ghouls, spirits, demons, poltergeists, witches and entities are all the callings of Englishmen. I believe in jinns. Jinnat. Shayateen. The unseen that linger among us. The existence of which our religion so vividly mentions. 

Hamza: Have you ever had any paranormal experiences? If so, would you like to describe one? 

Ayesha: I’ve had multiple experiences that I cannot explain – some are tricks of the mind and others very much fit the supernatural criteria. There’s a famous, known kissa of when I was newly married that I have quoted multiple times and I would like to stick to describing that incident for personal reasons. It’s a rather interesting and somewhat unbelievable story, to be honest. I was a newly wed bride and most of my nights, if not all, were spent ordering food for midnight movie sessions with the husband. That particular night, my husband was out with his friends and all the other people in the house were fast asleep in their rooms.

Ayesha Muzaffar at a book signing of her latest book, Bhabhis of Lahore. Photo via Ayesha Muzaffar.

As usual, the rider called me when he reached. Keeping in mind the silence and the in-laws’ light slumber, I quietly closed the door behind me to fetch my paratha roll. Now, my father-in-law has housed many cats. Most of them are stray cats that he later vaccinates to keep around. The cats are taught to roam in the garden and the garage, and not follow any of us inside the house. At that time there was this particular white cat – a billa, that groaned each time it saw me. It was the size of two watermelons and its eyes x-rayed me each time I crossed its path. I did not think much of it. That night, as I went to get my food, the cat followed me. I could sense it behind me. When I turned around, it was staring at me but that was usual of it to do, so I moved away and started to walk towards the main door. When I moved past him, I heard my name. It was a whisper: Ayesha. I had been writing. Thinking that my mind was playing games, I kept walking, but at a slower pace. Ayesha. There it was again – louder this time, and more of a hiss. I froze.

I thought that if I stood still and closed my eyes, it wouldn’t happen again, but it did. This time my name was taken rapidly: Ayesha, Ayesha, Ayesha. The voice was unfamiliar and inhumanly – the kind that would take me ages to describe and it rang in the ears, like a shriek, or perhaps a doorbell that malfunctions due to the rain. I gathered some courage to turn around and there it was, the cat, right behind me. It was almost grinning, if that is even possible. I dropped the bag with food. The silence was haunting. I heard the sauce splatter across the marble floor. I ran towards the door as fast as my legs could carry me. The cat followed. Calmly – as if it had all the time in the world. The door knob would not turn. With sweaty hands I moved it clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then pushed the door with all my might, but it just did not open. A moment later, which seemed like an eternity – with tears rolling down my flushed face, I let out a small prayer. And that was it – the door opened and I ran inside. Everyone was still fast asleep and my husband had not returned.

When he did return, at 3 AM, we searched for the paratha roll but did not find it. There were no signs of any sauce either. I had to show him the order receipt on my phone to make him understand that I had, after all, ordered food, but of course, with no cat in sight – the other parts were blamed on my hyperactive imagination.

Hamza: What would you like to say to people who don’t believe in the paranormal and perhaps consider anyone associated with this industry as being fake/scammers? 

Ayesha: Nothing that I say will make them believe in the existence of something they have not yet witnessed and I surely hope to God that they do not stumble across anything that their senses refuse to comprehend. It is fine if ghost stories sound humorous to them. Hopefully the entity resting on their shoulders will not be offended for I surely am not. 

The Bhabhis of Lahore resting on a Top Ten book shelf at Liberty Books, Lahore. Photo via Ayesha Muzaffar.

As for the scammers, there are a lot of those phonies out there, luring innocent people and taking advantage, but I’m just a storyteller – a young woman sitting in the corner of the room, weaving stories that come to be in whispers. 

Hamza: Whats your favourite story in your two books so far?

Ayesha: There is no one story that I admire, but the first season of Shaadi Ever After is close to my heart for I have seen the tale unwind before my very eyes. Pinning it down was chaotic, disturbing, and well, fun. 

Hamza: Hows the feedback on Bhabis of Lahore? 

Ayesha: The bhabhis are doing well. They’re currently out of stock and in the middle of a reprint in a warehouse in Karachi. Hopefully this time the stock won’t be flooded.

Hamza: Whats next for you? Are we expecting any more scary stories? 

Ayesha: Things are going a little slower than I anticipated. I try to write these days but I end up not doing so. It’s not writer’s block, but a lack of motivation or perhaps I should be more clear; I am failing to get approval from the fellow jinns. In good time, post-maghrib, some tales shall write themselves. 

Hamza: Who is your favourite author/book of all time?

Ayesha: Ah, a difficult question to ask. I have always been fond of Hosseini’s works, but a current favorite would be the translation of Ratnakar Matkari’s work, and you’re on about collections, then Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Roald Dahl, and Enid Blyton’s books rest on my dusty bookshelf. 

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