tell who she was from her wicked giggles. No respectable woman laughs like
that. As I walked further from my village on that dark moonless night, her
peals of laughter rang out. She was following me. I was on a narrow, deserted
path between two fields. She was close enough for me to hear her panting breath
and the bells jingling on her broken, twisted ankles. She wanted me to turn
around, to look at her crazed, bloodied face, her tangled hair. But I knew I
mustn’t. She would have me then. My heart was hammering, but I forced myself to
walk on, to not show fear. All the while, I was reciting the Quran under my
breath, begging Allah to protect me from evil. Just as I thought she was going
to pounce, two things happened. The moon came out from behind a cloud and the
lane opened up onto a road where I could see people walking ahead of me. I
hurried towards them and at once she fell away, slinking back into the shadows
from where she’d come.’
Illustration credit: Chad Crowe
this story as a child from my parents’ driver. He didn’t need to tell me who
his pursuer was. I’d grown up hearing stories of Churails.
women of indeterminate age with chalky faces and mouths smeared with blood.
They had wild staring eyes, long loose black hair and minimal clothing. And of
course those giveaway feet that pointed backwards.
ayah, otherwise an ardent foot soldier of the patriarchy and a fervent believer
in Churails, Dayans and Jinns, did however provide some reassurance.
Evil though they were, she told me that Churails didn’t harm little
harm big girls either, as I discovered many years later, when doing some
cursory research on Churails. In fact, the only people Churails
and Dayans, their demon sisters harm, are men. What is often omitted from
accounts of their gratuitous malevolence is that they are the spirits of
innocent women who have been killed by men, most often their husbands, fathers
or brothers. They are the undead who have returned to take vengeance on all men
on behalf of wronged women.
cultures have their own version of these bad girls. The witch of Endor appears
in the Bible; sorceresses in the Torah; Circe in Greek mythology; Baba Yaga in
Russian folklore. Aside from not providing a son for her fat, petulant husband,
among Anne Boleyn’s many listed crimes that justified her beheading, was also
that she was a witch. They may have different physical attributes but all
witches, Churails, sorceresses, call them what you will, share a core
agenda: they harness other worldly power to control men. That they are all
malevolent is a given. Naturally. Churails, while being frightening
figures, also have intense sexual allure. The driver didn’t turn around because
he knew if he once locked eyes with his tormentor, he would not be able to
resist her feral magnetism.
loose hair signals her depravity. Loose hair in Desi culture has sexual power,
which is why a respectable woman must keep hers confined in a tight plait or
bun and preferably covered with a sari Palloo or Dupatta. The only man
who is allowed to touch her hair is her husband. No one else may enjoy that
intimacy. My two grandmothers, who’d never allowed a pair of scissors anywhere
in the vicinity of their hair, were appalled at the thought of male
hairdressers. In their minds it was one step short of adultery! So when my
mother took the radical step of having her hair cut short — she was married and
the mother of three children by then — my grandmother was horrified. ‘You
should’ve had your nose cut at the same time!’ she snapped.
So a woman
who deliberately leaves her long hair loose. Declares her independence of the
rulings of polite society. Her sexuality is untrammelled, uncontrolled, her
own. In short: my body, my choice.
Churails don’t live in tidy towns. Barefoot,
bareheaded, half naked, they haunt desolate places because they are not subject
to the stifling strictures of a society that decrees that women must be decent,
submissive, domestic. Like wild animals, Churails are children of
nature, they are free spirits who go where they wish, do as they will. They are
a law unto themselves. Men can’t kill them, because they’re already dead. They
can’t threaten them because a Churail has nothing to lose. Dangerous,
powerful, uncontrollable, a Churail is the patriarchy’s worst nightmare.
As a young
girl, I thought that being called a Churail was an insult akin to a bitch.
But now I welcome it for, Churails are symbols of feminine power, of
freedom, of fierceness. A Churail is in fact, the ultimate feminist
Moni Mohsin was born and raised in Lahore. Author
of the best selling social satire, Diary of A Social Butterfly and Tender
Hooks, she is currently based in London.
Headline: Free, fierce, and feminist:
It’s time to reclaim the churail
Source: The Times of India
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