The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky: In conversation with author Manan Kapoor

The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky is a story of Inayat, a Kashmiri teenage girl. It is a story of tragedies and loss that her family and friends, unfortunately witness. This novel is a moving account of Inayat, and of-course, of Kashmir’s lamentations.

This is the first novel of the author, Manan Kapoor, and nevertheless needs appreciation as the narration and the imaginative style of the story is more powerful than expected from a new writer.

The novel does not try to prove any argument but that love and hope can change things or at least, can give a person the power to deal with the lamentations war usually offers.

Question: Tell us something about your upbringing and your passion for reading and writing.

Manan: I was born in Shimla in 1993, but I’ve been residing in Chandigarh for almost the past thirteen years now. Most of my schooling has been done in Chandigarh and I graduated from Panjab University last year.

Kafka has rightly said that writing is a “way of understanding, interpreting and putting order into the world.”

Every book I have ever read has helped me come to terms with who I am as a person. From the jazz and cats in Murakami to the importance of objects and memories in Pamuk, the subtleties in Kafka’s short stories to the obscurities in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s books, and Umberto Eco’s and Kundera’s essays on literature – all of them have left their imprint on me in a distinct way. Every book that I’ve read has been an exploration into the unknown, to new ideas and different styles of writing. Be it Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anthony Marra, Milan Kundera or even poets like Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Agha Shahid Ali – they’ve all helped me to become the writer I am in their own way. And it’s not just books but other forms of art as well such as music and movies.

Bands such as Pink Floyd, Opeth, and Porcupine Tree and jazz musicians like Paul Desmond and Chet Baker have had a huge impact on the way I think because they’ve been talking about philosophical and metaphysical issues that help you to understand who you are, help you to understand your flaws, to appreciate them.

Filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Krystoff Kieslowski, Terrance Mallick, Joachim Trier and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, on the other hand, have brought me closer to basic human emotions that would’ve eluded me otherwise. They’ve presented those internal conflicts in a visual way that has helped me to understand how I should write, how I need to detail the hidden nuances that majorly affect any novel.

Question: When did you start writing?

Manan: I had always been into the arts and I’d been jumping from one to another. I used to write for a couple of online magazines, basically lifeless stuff like music reviews and slowly I found solace in writing by pouring out emotions that I felt on a daily basis. I started off with writing the novel, and it was just another thing that I thought would give up.

Question: When did the idea of writing ‘The Lamentation of a Sombre Sky’ come?

Manan: I believe what you write about, is an outcome of what you’re feeding yourself. I’ve always had a penchant for melancholia, be it the music I listen to, the movies I watch or the books I read. And the weight of all those influences can be felt in the book.

My book is more like a compilation of all the answers to the questions I asked after watching a story unfurl. The first thought that surfaced, was after I heard Ghost Reveries by Opeth. The album focuses on the story of a man’s turmoil after committing an unconscionable act. I’d been listening to the album for the past decade and suddenly it got me thinking and the next thing I know, I have a plot.

If I trace back my steps, I think that one moment lead to the advent of my novel. That moment of doubt, that deliberation led to what the book is now.

Question: Why a Novel on Kashmir?

Manan: I’ve written about eleven drafts of the novel over a period of two and a half years. And for the first 4-5 drafts there was no Kashmir, no background to it. And Lamentations, even though I’ve been told is gripping, I think it takes time to grow on you. There are various nuances and shades in the novel that are only visible after that book has taken a hold of you.

And I needed something to complement those shades that were already present – something to fill the fissures. I was reading Curfewed Night while I was writing and I think that led me to Kashmir. It wasn’t a decision that I could make, the story – which is about loss – and the concept of Kashmir, they amalgamated so beautifully that I couldn’t separate them.

Question: Have you ever been to Kashmir?

Manan: No, I haven’t. It seems rather inappropriate for someone who has authored a novel about Kashmir, but I think I’ve done fairly well in the book because I haven’t compromised on the research.

Question: What message do you want convey through your Novel?

Manan: On the most fundamental degree, the book is about how you’re never immune to loss. No matter what you’ve seen, experienced, fought – you will always feel it caress you gently, at every point of your life. The novel, Inayat’s story, is an augmented mirror of an average human life. I think the basic purpose of writing this novel was to elaborate that loss is a downward spiral that never ends. The moments when you think you’ve achieved salvation, are like words in one of those awfully long sentences written by Hemingway or Proust – another word follows, always.

Question: How does it feel being an author?

Manan: Pretty amazing I must say. I never thought I would make it here, but it feels good to pick up the copy once in a couple of days and read your name there.

Question: What factors you took into consideration while writing this novel, if any?

Manan: The novel is essentially about Inayat and I didn’t want to diverge from it, it had to be the focal point of the novel. There are numerous books, nonfiction as well as fiction, about what’s really going on in Kashmir. But unlike them, I wasn’t telling the story of Kashmir, it was Inayat’s story. Kashmir was never the forefront, and I think it is quite visible to the reader as well.

Also, I didn’t want to politicize the novel in any way. If you read the book, you will notice that I haven’t passed a verdict on who is right and who is wrong, I feel I just can’t. I’m simply an observer who’s looking at the situation from a distance and it wouldn’t be reasonable – I haven’t faced any of those things personally. But still, the novel lets you explore what is actually going on in Kashmir in a very subtle manner. It’s always there even when they’re simply eating dinner, or sitting in their living rooms talking – it is an essential part of all the banal activates, and not just the situation but the customs and traditions of the region.

But if someone really wants to know about Kashmir, they need to read other books (most of them are mentioned in the acknowledgement section of my novel) that tell you what really happened there and what’s going on currently. Lamentations just gives you an idea of how it all started in the early nineties, but essentially it tells you about Inayat, her family and friends and most importantly her struggle and perseverance in those dark times.


Read the full review here.

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