The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky is the story of a skirmish with life and the perseverance in the dark times. Kashmir – 1991 In between the insurgency and the exodus, Inayat finds solace in the company of Gul, a Kashmiri pundit, and Aaqib. She blooms under the eyes of her father, Maqbool- an alcoholic poet, and her mother – Wahida, who is fraught with sanguinity. They spend their days listening to The Doors in Gul’s backyard and attending Shakes-Peer’s English lessons at the school. However, as they leave behind their childhood, they realize that the future holds things for them that they have never imagined. Inayat comes face to face with loss as bereavement engulfs Kashmir. The echoing of the machine guns, the wails of her loved ones and the silence that she is bequeathed with is all that is left.
In an exclusive interview with Readerland.com, Manan shares more insights about his journey as an author, and future projects.
RL: Please tell us something about your early years and major influences on you?
Manan: 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, 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.
It wasn’t really a conscious decision to start writing and nor was I surprised because I had been reading for a long time. I started off with writing the novel, and it was just another thing that I thought would give up. But slowly I started understanding the world around me through writing because it answered the questions I didn’t realize I had. 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.
RL: What inspired you to work on this novel – The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky?
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 led to the advent of my novel. That moment of doubt, that deliberation led to what the book is now.
Many times I would try to write like my favorite authors, trying to describe a movement, trying to turn it into an almost a visual depiction. And then another draft would follow. In those pauses between the two drafts, I would realize that I had added so much to the incipient drafts, that it wasn’t just a vivid description anymore, but something more personal. It carried certain emotions, experiences, and conversations that I had had during the past years. The book, suddenly, ceased to exist as an inanimate description of events. It was something that I did subconsciously and I wonder if I can repeat it again, but it was almost as if I added life through the words. It was almost seamless. I spent two and half years working on this project. Eleven drafts – And I think it could still use a dozen more. There’s still room for improvement, there will always remain a room for improvement. But it is a resonant image of who I was two years back. And like everything else, the naivety is an essential for it is the reminder of my former self which is a foundation stone for what I am going to become.
RL: As a debutant author, did you face any challenge while writing the book?
Manan: I gave up almost every single day. I didn’t have a mentor who could guide me through the process when I started and so the only advice I’ve received were from prominent authors who left behind a set of instructions for people like me. For instance, Hemingway taught me that “You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself. And that “the most important thing is to never write too much at a time. Leave a little for the next day and let your subconscious mind do the work.” I did face a lot of challenges, but there was always something – an article, a post I read on Brain Pickings, or even conversations with people, that would help me find the way.
RL: What is your motto and life philosophy?
Manan: I believe that our lives are mostly linear. It’s only a few times that we experience melancholy or absolute happiness and we need to relish those moments for they help us in understanding the self. You ought to seek the reasons for your existence, dispel the mist that surrounds human emotions, and think about the strangeness of your thoughts. Even though you may never find any of those answers – it’s worth a try. They’re not mathematical problems that need to be solved, but vital phenomena that need to be experienced. You explore, question different beliefs and finally open up to the different ideas and philosophies. You might never achieve a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment, but in the tempest of that dissatisfaction, there will be a moment where you realize something about yourself. Those moments of epiphanies are the ones that will bring you closer to yourself, help you to discover who you really are.
RL: Please tell us what books have influence your life most?
Manan: That would be a long list but I’ll try to shorten it down to ten.
- Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk
- The Veiled Suite – Agha Shahid Ali
- The Min Kamp Series – Karl Ove Knausgard
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra
- Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
- Ariel and other poems – Sylvia Plath
- Replacement – Tor Ulven
- Howl and Other Poems – Allen Ginsberg
- Sea of Poppies – Amitav Ghosh
RL: Who is favorite author & why?
Manan: Most people would say that it is tough to pick a favorite author, but I don’t have any second doubts. It has to be Orhan Pamuk. His novels are magically woven stories that stay with you for a long, long time. For example, The Museum of Innocence is about Kemal and his obsession with Fusun – a love story which goes on for about 800 pages in the first person narrative. He took about ten years to write the novel, and while you’re reading it you can see the amount of time he has invested in it. And it’s not just simply a book, but he also constructed a real life Museum based on the book in Istanbul – it is almost similar to the Taj Mahal – a symbol of his love for Fusun.
All the books by Pamuk are infused with fears, elusive moments of happiness and joy and, most importantly, the memories instilled in objects and inanimate things. He presents to you a city in the form of a museum, a human life that he encapsulates in time where every mundane object, even things such as hair clips and cigarette butts are evident in each of his novels, be it The Museum of Innocence, The Silent House, Istanbul, Snow or even his latest book, A Strangeness in my mind, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. I must say that his novels are the most powerful that I’ve come across, both structurally as well as emotionally.
RL: What are your future projects? Any more books in the pipeline?
Manan: I am working on a novel and poetry now a days but it is completely different from The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky. Two years ago, I would’ve told you that I write about pain and why it is necessary. I was reading novels such as A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, The Famished Road and The Lowland – books that compelled me to devise an intricate plot. I now think that I’ve written a rather complex plot for The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky – there is a colossal design and a setting that magnifies it. But today, I don’t think I need the setting of Kashmir in the early nineties or the elaborate plot for a novel. I would be happier writing about the trivial pleasures of insignificant victories in the daily life rather than an elaborate tragedy, about a battle rather than a war. Currently, I am working on a novel that’s still an embryonic thought in my head, and I’ve been writing poetry. I’ll leave you with one of the poems I wrote a couple of weeks back. It’s based on a character from Nostalghia by Andrei Tarkovsky – one of the best art films that I have ever watched.
Can insanity be useful?
I speak, talking out loud, reminiscing – by the window, alone.
What ancestors speak through me?
These myriad feelings flow through me, in light
and in darkness,
where the voices collide
like the heart, whose surface is furrowed,
resembling linen, in the early mornings.
There exists between the soul and the mind, a schism.
It bids me farewell, reason.
But the qualm remains still,
and so does the calm.
The schism, it hangs on a thread,
Is sanity inept?
Or insanity adept? I’ll never know.
But the delirium, it will stay home,
and the schism, persevere.