The language of fear

October 31, 2021

A list of South Asian horror novels and stories that are sure to leave readers chilled to the bone

The language of fear

Horror stories capitalise on the universal language of fear. We respond to these tales of terror as they are seeded with the possibility of a real threat to our wellbeing. In a similar vein, a spine-tingling story often builds on the realm of the unknown, and presents facets of the natural and paranormal world that we view with curiosity, suspicion and dread.

A careful scrutiny of the horror genre would be incomplete without mentioning the formidable works of Mary Shelley, Stephen King, Bram Stoker or HP Lovecraft. Even so, the appeal of more localised horror stories cannot be overlooked. Though South Asian horror novels or stories are considered part of a niche category that is seldom recognised on a global footing, they continue to attract a wide readership. In recent years, the genre has become the site of considerable experimentation, which can be evidenced from Usman T Malik’s recent anthology, Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan.

Here’s a list of Pakistani and Indian horror novels and stories that will leave readers chilled to the bone. Though it isn’t an exhaustive list, it provides a window into the diverse range of tropes and techniques that have enriched the genre.

Motia Flowers and

Wonder Bloom

— Stories by

Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah

Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah is known as Pakistan’s first woman editor and magazine publisher. In her collection of short stories titled The Young Wife and Other Stories, she has written minimalistic tales that depict the stark realities of rural life, old age and Pakistan’s early years as a nation. Two stories in the collection fall neatly within the horror genre. Wonder Bloom is centred upon a newly married couple who is returning from their honeymoon and stops to see a lush garden in Sindh. What ensues is a chilling account about the human sacrifice required to make an unusual tree bloom. Motia Flowers, another story in the collection weaves the elements of memory and heartbreak into a spooky tale of turmoil in love. Both stories have a timeless appeal and benefit from quietude that adds to their mystique.

Afterlife: Ghost Stories

from Goa

by Jessica Faleiro

Jessica Faleiro’s Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa borrows a trope that is familiar to horror stories: the act of retelling stories that have been heard and passed down for generations. The novel is set against the backdrop of a family gathering in Goa. As time goes by, the family begins to share a string of ghost stories that delve into history, supernatural realities and inexplicable events. An effective ghost story must exist at the intersection of doubt and imagination. The stories in this compilation are imbued with these ingredients and are told with spooky restraint.

Ghosts of The Silent Hills

by Anita Krishan

What makes a ghost story all the more frightening is the distinct realisation that it is irrefutably real. Ghosts of The Silent Hills by Anita Krishan is a compilation of stories about real-life hauntings. Spectres who lurk through derelict paths and make their presence felt are found in abundance in Krishan’s book.

Jinnistan: Scary Stories

To Tell Over Chai

by Ayesha Muzaffar

Ayesha Muzaffar’s Jinnistan presents short narratives about paranormal entities in our realm. These spiritual entities aren’t depicted as unrealistic beasts that are the product of a wildly imaginative mind. To the contrary, the element of horror in the book takes root when ordinary people find themselves at the centre of unexplained hauntings. A supernatural world that we don’t always understand remains at the core of Jinnistan. The narrative also employs a semi-bilingual technique whereby Roman Urdu often features in dialogue. Though this can be slightly jarring, it makes the story far more compelling for a local audience.

Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills

by Minakshi Chaudhry

Simla is known widely for its seven hills. Steeped in a long history, the city was the summer capital of British India. In Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills, Minakshi Chaudhry records supernatural episodes on Simla’s seven hills from the perspective of the city’s residents. The compilation serves as an ever-present reminder that a dark, distressing setting isn’t the sole ingredient of a horror story. Even the most mundane locales can evoke fear in our hearts.


— Story by Maheen Usmani

Horror stories don’t necessarily need to be steered by sensational elements. Journalist Maheen Usmani’s short story Shadow - published in Volume-I of Tales from Karachi serves as a clear testament to this belief. Using the ingredients of silence and loneliness to great effect, Usmani presents a gripping story about real and imagined fears.

Gone Fishing

— Story by Ruskin Bond

Published in Ruskin Bond’s The Empty House, Gone Fishing is about a house situated under a cliff that is rather unimaginatively named Undercliff. After the owner of the house disappears, his retainer waits intently for the master’s return. Several years later, they meet at last – albeit in another world. In just four pages, the story takes readers on a journey that spans several decades. Bond, who is regarded as one of India’s most prolific writers, effectively employs the ideas of separation and waiting as doorways into the inextricable link between our world and the hereafter.


by Annie Zaidi

The protagonist of Annie Zaidi’s Gulab is a married man who finds himself at a cemetery for the burial of Saira, his long-lost lover. He is assailed by questions about Saira’s associations and his own equation with her. In this sizzling ghost story, Zaidi explores the potency of love and its ability to thrive beyond death.

The Green Room

by Nag Mani

Nag Mani’s The Green Room is set in the resort town of Nainital, which is undoubtedly a suitable backdrop for a horror novel. In this spine-chilling novel, readers are drawn into unwanted discoveries made by a student that are connected with the past. Fuelled by secrets that have been carefully concealed, The Green Room is a veritable page-turner.

The writer is a freelance   journalist and the author of    Typically Tanya

The language of fear