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Stories of the Churail: The Witch of the East

Written by Manahil Bandukwala

“Churail” by Nimra Bandukwala
“Churail” by Nimra Bandukwala

Churail: a word to send a shiver down any Pakistani’s spine. She can appear on mountains, in graveyards, or under trees. Some other common words ascribed to her: witch, demon, pichal peri. You recognize her by her backwards-pointing feet, or the sound of rattling bangles in the night. She can be ugly or beautiful, to lure men to their deaths. In life she was someone who died in childbirth, in a bed, or just unsatisfied.

In Karachi, she appears along the beach. She is the topic of ghost stories, a way to keep children from walking along the coast at night. Her face is never visible, but her backwards-pointing feet always poke out.

Churails have been an inspiration in literature for authors including Rabindranath Tagore and Rudyard Kipling.

When, with her child unborn, a woman dies,
Her spirit takes the form of a Churel,
A maiden’s form, with soft, alluring eyes,
Where promises of future rapture dwell.
⁠Yet is her loveliness, though passing sweet,
⁠Marred by the backward-turning of her feet.

from “Lalla Radha and the Churel” by Laurence Hope

For Nimra and I, churails have been a source of literary and artistic inspiration. They’re both terrifying and magnetic. They’re content of nightmares, but are also women wronged in life. My first chapbook, Pipe Rose, includes a poem titled “Churail.” As a dialogue between the churail and one of the so-called male victims, it visualizes the world from the churail’s point of view.

he squints at a fallen sign:
churails wander these roads
for lone men
but carries up the mountain alone.
valley locals drink kashmiri chai
in their homes.

With feet buried in pinecones
and falling snow, I walk up
the path with a smile.
His eyes meet mine.

from “Churail” by Manahil Bandukwala

Stories from Pakistan hold such magic and wonder. We’re excited to share them with you.

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