A.K. Asif is a budding Pakistani writer who lives in US. Hell! No Saint in Paradise is the first book penned by the author. It is an urban fantasy with subtle sarcasm and more of a thriller.
To my utmost surprise
I was always under the impression that only India is tolerant enough where writers can openly temper with our scriptures and epics. Muslims writers will never have guts to do same without inviting fatwa.
But I was quite surprised when I was reading Hell! No Saint in Paradise. A.K. Asif being a Pakistani writer (well not living in Pakistan) has dare to raise his doubts in the fundamentalist Islam’s concept of Hell and Paradise and mocked people of Pakistan to live their life strictly according to the rules of Sharia. In the name of religion what they are doing was just killing each other.
Let me first tell you something about the plot.
The story is set in 2050 Pakistan. That is 33 years or so from today.
Not much has been changed in Pakistan scenario. Only the magnitude has changed.
Pakistan in 2050 is ruled by extreme level of fundamentalist. People of Pakistan are obsessed to book their place in heaven and if that needs to kill fellow people then they doesn’t show slightest hesitation in doing so. Craziness is in air and for some one like US return Ismael finds it difficult to survive a single night without the fear of getting killed.
Though the protagonist Ismael had grown up hearing the stories of jannat and jahanum from his father but he end up becoming a non-believer and runs away from Pakistan. He settles in US and was researching on the concept of Hell and Heaven to prove that they were mere manifestation of human imagination and nothing else. It was then under bizarre circumstances he was asked to return to Pakistan in order to save his nation from man-made catastrophe.
This was in gist the story of Hell! No Saint in Paradise.
It was partly satire and later part was a thriller.
Thoughts on Story Line
The concept and story line was fresh and something new to read. We often get to read and watch books and movies about swarg and narak but very rarely we get to read about jannat and jahanum that too written by a Pakistani writer.
The story was fairly unpredictable till the end. It was difficult to guess what will happen next and how Ismael will complete his mission.
The protagonist starts as a non-believer. And then he get to experience real hell and heaven. He becomes a believer.
Initial part of the story was more like a satire and the satire was on the obsession of Pakistani people for Paradise.
But later in the story, a few surprising disclosure transforms Ismael from a non-believer to a believer. Here the satire ends and story takes the thriller and suspense route.
The crux part of the story doesn’t change. That in the name of religion, few fundamentalist were instilling fear in the mind of common people, they are instigating people to kill each other, in the name of improving their after-life fundamentalist are making this world a worst place to live. They are not only destroying their own nation but aim to disrupt the peace of the entire world. All this in the name of religion.
The story moves at an average pace and author gives readers enough time to settle down before taking the plunge towards the thrilling route.
In between it was boring to read specially the sexual fantasy part of the book. It was no fun to read. Or rather distraction for a reader because the real fun lies somewhere else.
The author has indirectly given an insight into the socio-religious and political life of Pakistan. The author’s imagination of 2050 Pakistan is in the line of present situation so it was easy to believe as we all know about our so called hostile neighbor in and out.
Sarcasm was subtle and undertone but you couldn’t miss it. Mujahid were consider hero. Martyrs vest were the fashion statement. People were not afraid to kill. They carry knife and bombs like fruits and vegetables. Obsession for heaven was unfathomable. Distorted interpretation of Islam. People were ready to go at any length to ensure their happy after-life. Corruption at all levels. Poor condition of roads. No basic facility at hospitals. Cricket is now even more deadly. All these are some smart sarcasm in the book.
Role of Protagonist
Ismael’s character is the spine as the story revolves around his character. Author has given special attention to keep his character as close to reality as possible so that one could easily connect to his dilemma, inner turmoil, his sexual adventure. He is no superhero. His reaction to various typical situation is normal and close to accuracy with reality.
Author’s impeccable imagination
My knowledge of Islam or Quran is rudimentary. But I have read something about 72 apsaras waiting at the doors of jannat which find mention in the novel as well.
Author’s depiction of hell and paradise seems to be heavily borrowed from the religious scripture but written in the most lucid and simple manner. Paradise description was centered around Ismael’s sexual adventure which as I wrote above was not so interesting to read.
Barring that, the kind of twist and turn the author introduced in the novel was enough to keep readers glued to the book till the end. I specially loved the author’s idea behind using cat as the medium for mind reading. Also the way author has used holy Quran to purify the corrupted minds was well written.
The book is complicated but it is an interesting to read. And it good to read that even Pakistani does not supporting fundamentalist and radicalism. The author was critical towards fundamentalist and vehemently criticized them for distorting the interpretation of Islam, for killing people in the name of religion and brainwashing people to spread fear and violence in the country.
This one shouldn’t be missed.