Do you often smirk at the existence of Hell and Heaven? Do you completely disregard the existence of other worlds? Then you are not too different from the protagonist of Asif’s latest novel, Hell! No Saints in Paradise. Ismael, a young lad pursuing higher academics, is all set to write his thesis- a paper highlighting the concepts of Heaven and Hell. Ironically, he does not believe in the existence of any of the two worlds. It was at this juncture of life that he meets a beautiful lady at a café who guides him to sign up for an Ayahuasca- a session conducted to know one’s inner self. Little did Ismael know that this session and what happens after would change his way towards life and push him on a rollercoaster journey of a (few) lifetime.
Ismael is seen to be in a constant fight with himself, to prove his theories right. What is noticed is that his stubbornness of having an opinion on something as crucial and sensitive as religion does not leave him space to consider other possibilities. Moreover, the fact that his father was a staunch follower of his religion and he had a strained relationship with his father; also pointed towards his need to prove himself correct over his father’s belief.
The father-son relationship is explored well through the novel. It is often said that the way parents behave in front of their children affects their beliefs and personalities to a great extent. But it is seen, that Ismael hardly shares a bond with his father who is portrayed as a Casanova having taken more than one wife. In fact, his father’s seventh wife was his lover at one point in time. This further strained their relationship, to an extent that Ismael left home for the US and had never been back for a good twelve years. His father too had been very callous about Ismael as a young motherless boy who needed to be guided and often displayed him as an object. Ismael, being the strong boy that he was refused to be thus and ran away from the shackles of this bondage. However, a strange turn of events makes him go back to his homeland to clear up and ‘unwanted’ and ‘unknown’ mess.
Ismael finds himself entering an almost unknown country when he visits his homeland after a sabbatical of twelve years. With strange rules and stranger beliefs, Ismael finds himself baffled as the people blindly follow irrational principles or superstitions just because they have been made a rule, by the Khalifa. However, by trying to uniform the behavior of all the citizens in a similar pattern, the Khalifa is brewing something even more sinister up his sleeves. And as Divine Intervention has it, it is for Ismael to prevent this world from going any further down to the dogs, (well maybe cats here!).
Hell! No Saints in Paradise gives its readers a tour of Hell and Heaven and it is definitely not what one might have had in mind. From mythical creatures like Ababeels, Nakir and Munkar to beautiful palaces and ponds all draw a pen picture of Hell and Heaven. It holds special significance for Ismael to be brought to both the dimensions so as to restore his faith in his religion. His experience in both the places reminds the readers of the old adage- No Pain no Gain. In order to reach one’s destination, one has to endure a lot of struggles and emerge victoriously. Interestingly, it is pointed out, that failing in a given task is acceptable but what is required is the emotion of self-acceptance and the desire to better oneself then onwards. This is often referred to as the idea of Purification. But only a few know that real purification of the soul happens on Earth itself. One need not go mad with the desire of having a son or going to Heaven to be blessed with a pure soul.
Throughout his journey between the different realms, Ismael rediscovers himself. In fact, it is almost seen that he starts to understand his father. Unable to control his baser instincts, Ismael succumbed to several vices. It is then that he realized how low a pawn his father was to his baser instincts that he was not able to control himself. Ismael, after understanding that he had almost trodden on the same path as his father, reduced his hardness for him. Though still distanced from each other, Father and Son were seen bonding once or twice.
A.K. Asif adds to his vibrant portrayal of Hell and Heaven, his charmingly witty anecdotes through the comments made by Ismael. Some of the customs and traditions that were ridiculed by him find his mocking comments through moments of sarcasm and wit. Hell! No Saints in Paradise is definitely a book that I recommend- no matter you are an atheist or a believer- just for the sheer brilliance with which it has been penned down and its immense audience attracting power.
*Disclaimer: I was given a Review Copy of the Book by @Writersmelon in exchange for an honest review.