Zarri Bano is a most fortunate young woman. She has wealth, beauty, brains, and plenty of freedom. At the age of 27, she remains unmarried, since none of the suitors she has met at University in Karachi or within her privileged family circle come close to her ideal man.
Then she meets Sikander Din, a handsome young business tycoon, who sweeps her off her feet. The pair fall in love and wish to marry, but Zarri Bano’s father Habib Khan has other ideas. Imagining his daughter has been snubbed, he takes an instant dislike to Sikander.
A family tragedy follows. Jafar, the Khans’ only son is killed in a riding accident and Habib is left with a terrible dilemma: Who will inherit and manage his lands?
Resurrecting an ancient and terrible tradition, Habib decides to make Zarri Bano his heiress. After a ceremony of marriage to Quran, she will lead a life of religious duty, and of celibacy. Wedding, children, the love of a man and a woman- all will be denied to her.
For Zarri Bano is about to become her clan’s Shahzadi Ibadat -The Holy Woman.
Qaisra Shahraz was born in Pakistan and grew up in England. She studied English and Classial Civilization at the University of Manchester, later gaining a masters degree in English and European Literature. She has written plays for radio and the theatre, as well as scripts for television. Her prize-winning short stories have been published widely in magazines and anthologies.
Working as a lecturer, examiner, and a college inspector, Qaisra is also a regular contributor, as greelance journalist, to various newspapers and magazines. She lives in Manchester with her husband and three sons. The Holy Woman is her first novel.
The Holy Woman is a compelling family drama of memorable characters and events...
' A lean, lyrical meditation on tradition and independence, senusality and sacrifice, set against the moral battleground of modern day Pakistan, Shahraz's debut beguiles throughout.
-- The Times
'... very moving tale of love, passion and Islamic trditions... difficult to put down...compelling read. '
-- BBC National Asia Network
'... stunnig debut novel... an intricate study of love, family, politics and sacrifice.'
'... a remarkable new novel.'
' Intriguing tale of love, envy and jealousy.. Compulsive reading... Must not be missed. ... A definite hit...'
There was a flurry of activity at the villa. After alerting everyone that their expected guests from Karachi were well on their way, Zarri Bano dashed straight upstairs to her bedroom, two steps at a time, and quickly changed into another designer outfit, this time in a pale shade of pink. Her younger sister Ruby came into the room and teasingly assessed Zarri from head to foot.
‘You have changed! You are actually going to go down and face the guests! I don’t believe it,’ she said, pretending to be astonished. ‘Normally you don’t even deign to meet either your suitors or their parents. This man must therefore be very special if my malika, my queen of a sister, makes an effort to change.’ Ruby’s eyes moved appreciatively over her sister’s slim figure.
‘Oh, come on, Ruby. I have been to the mela with Jafar. I felt hot and sweaty and decided to change. Who says that I am actually going down to meet him? He has a cheek in coming personally, and not even bothering to send a photograph of himself in advance.’ Zarri Bano chastised her sister in the mirror, while fixing a curl in place as she pinned her hair up in an attractive chignon on top of her head, letting some wispy tendrils escape around her ears. She was piqued that the stranger had seen her and probably knew who she was. He had caught her at a disadvantage.
‘So that you could have a preview?’ Ruby read her sister’s thoughts accurately.
‘No,’ Zarri Bano lied.
They had both had a preview. Remembering his searing glance she felt herself go hot with embarrassment and indignation. When her car had passed his Jeep, he had again looked at her closely – almost as if he had dived deeply into her soul. Shuddering in front of the mirror she glimpsed a look of uncertainty in her eyes, and something else.
Finished, she went to stand near the window overlooking the large, beautifully landscaped central courtyard of their villa. It was then that the black Jeep entered through the open gates and came to a halt next to the Banos’ grey car.
Sikander helped his father out, then both men stood and looked round the courtyard with interest. There was a central rose bed in full bloom, and on all sides, profusely flowering oleanders and perfumed bougainvillaea climbed to the top of the six foot walls. A long veranda, with alabaster pillars and a mosaic tiled floor, led into the house. As the young man’s eyes swept up to the bedroom windows, Zarri Bano hastily stepped back behind the curtains, afraid that he might have seen her.
Noting her sister’s actions, Ruby moved to the window and peered down. Jafar had now joined their two guests.
‘Gosh, Ma’shallah, he is very attractive. No wonder you have changed.’ Ruby chuckled at the tide of colour sinking into her sister’s cheeks.
Irked by this teasing, Zarri Bano said crossly, ‘Who says he is attractive? Do you remember Ali? Could any man compete with his looks!’
‘Yes, Ali was very, very good-looking. But there is something about this man – some kind of charisma. I think he may have the bait to draw you into his net, his web – even if it is not his looks.’
‘Don’t talk to me about nets and webs!’ Zarri Bano snapped, moving away from the window. ‘I am not a fish to be angled at, caught and trapped, Ruby.’
‘I am sorry, Baji Jan. That was unforgivable of me, especially knowing how you feel about such analogies and with you being a feminist too.’
‘Yes, so you should be. I am a free woman. I will decide if I want this or any other man. This is why ten years have elapsed and I have still not married. You’ll probably marry before me, and I will be an old maid,’ she joked.
‘You’ll never be an old maid, Zarri Bano. You are too beautiful and glamorous to be left on the shelf. Someone will snap you up some day, if not this man. Do you know, I will probably end up marrying before you, the way you are turning people down. I shall probably land up with one of your jilted suitors. Do you know how many times Chaudharani Kaniz has been to visit us, even after you declined to marry Khawar? I think she has got her eye on me now. If you won’t marry him, she thinks I’ll do instead.’
‘Neither of us will be marrying Khawar. He is more like a brother to us. Anyway can you imagine you or me as the next snobbish Chaudharani Kaniz in the village? No thanks. I’d be bored out of my wits.’
This little exchange had done Zarri Bano the world of good. It had helped her to recover her normal poise. Just because I have caught him staring at me from a crowd of people, and I have stared back, she told herself resolutely, it doesn’t mean anything. I am not going to fall under his spell, as Ruby seems to think.