The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

Book Review: Asif Khan’s ‘Prisoners of Paradise’

By Arbeena

Prisoners of Paradise is a debut novella written by young Kashmiri author, Asif Khan. This 120-page love story published in 2018 by Notion Press became one of the best-selling books in Kashmir. The book has been out of stock on Amazon thrice and continues to remain a preferred read currently in quarantine times.

The 24-year-old Kashmiri author was born and brought up in Srinagar. Inspired by Kahlil Gibran and Maulana Rumi, his poems focus on love, erotica, passion, and sufferings.

Prioners of Paradise is based on a poignant tale of two teenagers, Zain and Zara, who meet on social media and ultimately fall in love with each other. The story is set in Srinagar during the turmoil of 2016. Both Zain and Zara decide to meet each other in person on the occasion of the festival of Eid but are unable to do so because of eruption of disturbance in the valley. Due to rising agitation, the valley is put under a prolonged siege and communication blockade which leads to their separation.

This parting takes a heavy toll on them, especially Zara, who yearns for Zain every minute. She is affected psychologically and her health begins to deteriorate. Unable to contact Zain, she voices her longing for him through her poems penned down in her dairy. The poems are so intense and soul-stirring that they fill the eyes with tears.

The story beautifully depicts the life in a curfew-laden valley where people are caged inside their homes. It has tried to portray the sufferings of the people living in the conflict zone. Since communication gag is one of the major issues in the valley, the book explores its psychological effect on the younger generation which often remains unnoticed by parents and elders.

The social stigma attached to the psychological disorder is remarkably highlighted in the scene where the women of Zara’s neighbourhood taunt her sister for her mental ailment. The story also provides insights into the Kashmiri culture through the context of family of two teenagers.

The prevalence of Sufi tradition in the society is depicted in the way Zara’s mother takes her to a Pir (saint) for cure rather than to a doctor. It shows the deep-rooted faith of the people in Sufis even in modern times.

Few scenes in the book are worth mentioning such as that of Eidgah and Lal Chowk. They have been penned down in a style which makes them extraordinarily real. The mention of lottery, jalebi (sweet dish), and bargaining of people during Eid give an honest touch to the story. Any local reader can easily relate to these elements in the story.

I liked the prologue and epilogue of the book, both composed deftly. I loved Zara’s beautifully crafted poems, which are raw, heart-wrenching and full of emotions. These are the lines written on the first page of Zara’s diary:

“Call me for a debate
Title it ‘The debate of lovers’
So I put forth the red carpet of my sufferings
Woven under the deep silences of the curfewed nights…”

Here is another of Zara’s poems:

“I have poisoned my desires and buried them
In an unknown graveyard
As only you would be discussed tonight under
The light of this treacherous candle…”

The language throughout the book is clear and simple, and easily comprehensible. The narration is vivid and hooks the reader. The use of Kashmiri dialogues provides the story with an element of realism. The poems, in free verse, are moulded in such a way that a first time reader can easily understand them.

Though the description of the main characters could have been more nuanced, the story is engrossing, relatable and intense. Through this emotional tale, the author has highlighted an issue that has been overlooked by other well-known local authors.

Teenagers and young adults will definitely find Prisoners of Paradise a good read. It also deserves a place in the beginner’s reading list.

Bio:
Arbeena studies Mass Communication and Journalism. Email: arbeena96@gmail.com

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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