Asif Khan’s “Prisoners of Paradise”: A Novella

An emotional love saga amidst curfew laden valley

Review by Arbeena

‘Prisoners of Paradise’ is a beautiful novella written by young Kashmiri author, Asif Khan. This 120-page love story was published in 2018 by Notion Press. Being the author’s debut book, it is among the popular and best-selling books of Kashmir till date. Thrice, the book has been out of stock on Amazon, and continues to remain a preferred read currently in quarantine times.

Asif Khan is a 24-year old Kashmiri, born and brought up in Downtown, Srinagar. He is an author, blogger, and a writer. Greatly inspired by Kahlil Gibran and Maulana Rumi, he writes poetry as well on love, erotica, passion, and sufferings.

‘Prioners of Paradise’ is based on a poignant tale of two teenagers namely, 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 festival of Eid but due to abrupt disturbance on that particular day, they are unable to do so.  Due to rising agitation, the valley is put under prolonged siege  and  communication, too, is blocked which leads to their separation. This parting takes a heavy toll on them especially Zara, who yearns for Zain every minute. Her mind is affected badly which leads to change in her behaviour and her health also 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. In addition to being astonishing, the plot-twist is baffling. The title of the book, undoubtedly, justifies the story.

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 and impact of the people living in the conflict zone. Since communication gag is one of the major issues in the valley, the book has explored 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 ailing mental health. The story has also provided insights into the Kashmiri culture through the family setup of two teenagers.

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

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

The prologue and epilogue of the book are delicately composed. The beautifully crafted poems of Zara, which are all raw, are heart-wrenching and full of emotions.

My favourite lines from the poems:

“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 curfew nights…”

written on the first page of Zara’s dairy.

“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,…”

another poem for Zain.

The language throughout is lucid yet simple, and easily comprehensible. The narration is vivid and hooks the reader. The usage of Kashmiri dialogues give the story a real touch. 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 is not mentioned in a way a reader would like, but the story is so engrossing, relatable and intense that he won’t mind it. 

The author has done a commendable work by writing on such a topic. Through this emotional tale, he has highlighted the issue that has been overlooked by other well-known local authors.

The book is fit for a common reader and, no doubt, is a must read for everyone. Teenagers and young adults will definitely find it interesting. It also deserves a place in beginner’s reading list.  Looking forward to more amazing works from the author.

Arbeena is a Student of Mass Communication and Journalism.
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