Manan Kapoor

Novelist. Author of The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky

The Country Without a Post Office

“And he walks — there’s no electricity —

Back into my dark, murmurs Kashmir!, lights

(to a soundtrack of exploding grenades)

A dim kerosene lamp”

– Agha Shahid Ali, “The Country Without a Post Office”

The kerosene lamps have been replaced by newfangled means, and the soundtrack has metamorphosed from exploding grenades to ’harmless’ pellets, yet everything still seems oddly familiar in Kashmir. The same notion is suspended in the valley, static, inert, yet lingering on from day to day with a new hope. Its murmurs, sadly, still pass on to nothingness, unheard. While shuffling through the pictures of Kashmir from the early nineties, I try to fit the current condition of the whole state in a single frame, and it isn’t much different from what it was in the nineties. Still confined by the framework, the char chinar are silently lamenting.

Born on 4th February, 1949 in New Delhi, India, Agha Shahid Ali belonged to a cultured, educated Kashmiri Muslim family. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, and his master’s in English from the University of Delhi. He immigrated to the States in 1976 and completed his Ph.D. in English from the Pennsylvania State University. He pursued a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing from the University of Arizona and taught MFA Programme at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, at the MFA Writing Seminars at Bennington College and at the University of Utah and NYU. On December 8, 2001, he passed away after a long struggle with a brain tumour, an illness that had been the cause of his mother’s death as well.1

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Four years before his demise, he published what would turn out to become one of his most celebrated works, “The Country Without a Post Office”2. “The Country without a Post Office” was originally published as “Kashmir without a Post Office” in the Graham House Review. Agha Shahid Ali revised it, doubling its length and changing its name when he included it in his collection of poetry by the same name in 1997. The title of the poem derives from an incident that occurred in 1990, when Kashmir rebelled against Indian rule, resulting in hundreds of gruesome and violent deaths, fires, and mass rapes.3

A feeling of nostalgia resurfaced as I read the poems for the first time. Beautiful and poignant in their own ways, the poems are reminiscent of an absolute and inescapable sense of loss and fury with subtle yet violent political nuances of protest. Encapsulated in the twenty-seven poems are woeful tales of the incessant suffering of the people of Kashmir, a series of heart-wrenching images of the valley – women lost in bereavement, unkempt hair replacing the veils that used to cover their faces; men, roaming around looking for their loved ones,  and the shadows of young boys asking the poet not to tell their fathers that they have died.

“They make a desolation and call it peace,” he writes in the poem ‘Farewell.’ As he presents a devastating elicitation of conflict and its aftermath, he paints a picture that is not only true for Kashmir but even extends to faraway lands such as Palestine where it still stands relevant. Even Edward Said, an academic and intellectual in the field of Post-Colonial studies, remarked that  “extraordinary, often searing imagery, derives from Agha Shahid Ali’s responses to Kashmir’s agony. But this is poetry whose appeal is universal, its voice unerringly eloquent.”3

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When ‘The Country Without a Post Office’ was released, I was merely four years old and it took me about fourteen more years to discover the book. I started reading Shahid’s poetry while I was researching about Kashmir for my novel. I ended up including a couplet from his ghazal, ’Of Light’ in the book as an epigraph. But I had only read his poems on the internet and would take another six months to find a paperback and understand what it all was about. I read the book almost twenty years after it had been published, and it was only when I read the poem, ‘A Pastoral’ that I thought about how disappointed Shahid would be if he was still alive. In the poem, he writes,

“We shall meet again, in Srinagar,

by the gates of the Villa of Peace,

our hands blossoming into fists

till the soldiers return the keys

and disappear.”

He was hopeful that the unrest would end, and above all, he was optimistic that the piles of letters would start disappearing from his country, that the minarets would no longer be entombed. But while I read the poems in his book, I was constantly making parallels between the Kashmir that existed while he was writing the poems, or even before that during the early nineties, and the state of Kashmir today. Nothing has changed.

Since Shahid’s time, Kashmir has been caught in a miserable and deadly cycle whose advent has been put in a nutshell by the poet, and has continued for almost two decades now. A conflict is followed by a period of unfruitful peace talks and continued settlements, yet there is no denouement in the play, only a violent act of some kind that follows. It seems as if the rubble of the houses from Shahid’s times is still there, the barricades still standing, the bullets still glued with the Sarajevo Roses, and butterflies still pausing on their way to Kashmir. The walls are still as high as they were back then, the letters have been replaced by phones and the internet but media blackout still curfews the cries. The analogy to Shahid’s Kashmir, even though it was visible even before, can be made more strongly after the recent unrest in the valley.

“I am in pain. I am in pain,” a 17-year-old boy was heard sobbing in the Anantnag District Hospital after he was hit by pellets. The military forces fired up to 3,800 cartridges between July and August, each containing 450 metallic balls, totalling up to 1.7 million pellets4 in the past fifty days with more than 74 people dead and about 7000 injured.  Due to the medical emergency in Kashmir, there was a shortage of eye specialists in Kashmiri hospitals. In SMHS Hospital, over 200 patients were admitted by 13 July with the same problem, and doctors were rushed in from New Delhi.  A five-year-old, Zohra Zahoor, had pellet wounds in her legs, forehead and abdomen, and is one of the youngest victims from the valley5. Even if Shahid’s poetry wasn’t as exquisite as it is, the subject would make it timeless because nothing has changed in the state; the pale cries of the people still pierce through the air.

The unrest is almost an echo of what happened in 2008 and 2010. A fragile state of reconciliation will settle over the region like mist upon the Jhelum, but the things won’t be any different. It will still, at the end of the day, be a desolation, peace will still remain an unfathomable dream, and the unrest will go down as another unread letter in ‘The Country Without a Post Office.’

Bibliography

1.The Country Without a Post Office, Agha Shahid Ali (1998 by W. W. Norton & Company)

2.https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/agha-shahid-ali

3.http://maraahmed.com/wp/2010/08/11/the-country-without-a-post-office-by-agha-shahid-ali/

4.http://books.wwnorton.com/books/The-Country-without-a-Post-Office/

5.http://news.sky.com/story/a-million-pellets-fired-at-kashmir-protesters-by-indian-security-forces-10542917

6.http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/kashmir-unrest-politicians-meet-jk-governor-on-use-of-pellet-guns-on-protestors-2917846/

Making Ash

For Ganga, 1937—2016

 

I set you ablaze today! — by the river,

drove home yesterday, the window open all the way,

I knew you wouldn’t be waiting, by the balcony where you spent hours.

Weeping knows no end, but the start is arduous.

The steel breeze chafed my skin all the way home, and yet I felt warm somehow.

Still, I tried to find you — on the wooden chair on the second floor,

sitting on your spot, hopeful eyes! Eagerly following the headlights of all the cars that came your way.

Wept! — (finally), when I reached home, and realised it was what you left behind that would cause the spark.

‘Death must be a beautiful place,’ someone whispered in my ear,

‘for no one returns from that realm!’

But when I set you ablaze today, by the river,

while I was busy making ash out of what was left of your body — surrounded by the multitude,

invisible to my tender eyes,

three boys dived into the river, on the opposite bank and came running back,

ready to dive again, under the warmth of a September sun.

I, on the other hand, dived into the deepest thoughts known to man,

the heat of the flames burning my skin.

I cannot help but notice all the photos, scattered around the house.

You are there in monochrome, tall and white skin, the sixties’ look on your face.

And I remembered that you would have stood here, right where I was standing,

twenty-three years ago when he died,

making ash out of his body, on the same spot, barefoot.

It must have been harder for you, I guess — or easier?

Knowing the circumstances that were, had been and would be.

What did the loss demonstrate? What words did it speak to you that had never been spoken before?

I asked you a question right before I set you ablaze. But I guess you could not hear.

You were silent for a change, and did not reciprocate.

‘Would you, if you could, return?’

Strange to think of you now — gone!

Even without a gentle reminder, for I still see you as the twenty-five-year-old boy,

white suit and a guitar in your hand (a monochrome picture),

almost qualified to act in a movie, clean shaven.

Would you, if you had the power, wake up and astound us all?

I found your kit a few hours ago, along with your wallet that carried a card you’d saved,

a list of songs written on the back of your diary,

and the last remaining drops of your aftershave lotion — fragrance!

It brings back memories that nothing else can.

No one will wait by the balcony now, or stare at the river,

stand beneath the bottlebrush tree and watch god from the windows — gaze!

At the faint lights on the mountaintop,

where you took me for early morning treks.

After I set you ablaze, how I looked at a withered leaf on the ground,

and smiled as if it was you. And wondered how you gave in,

to the plight of autumn even before it arrived,

in the garden where you spent two hours every day — it’s still green if you’re wondering, but for how long?

The stones I painted, when I was eleven, still rest by the window,

everything that you left behind — Your cassettes, the unfinished rooms upstairs,

the last note you’d written on the whiteboard — is right where it belongs.

Weeping knows no end. But I stopped a few hours ago.

I held on to your ring — it fits me perfectly, you know,

and I remembered how you sang Que Sera Sera, along with Doris Day on YouTube that evening.

But it still haunts my mind, this one question.

Would you, if you could, return home and wait for me by the balcony,

tend to the flowers in your garden, one last time

— sing me a song?

But I set you ablaze,

and left no scope for return.

Of Kashmir

A NOTE ON THE FORM

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

In a perpetual state of buoyancy, the bearded boatmen of Kashmir,

plunged towards bereavement, as they stared at saffron skies of Kashmir

With nails bleeding – the echo of an ancient, unrequited prayer at night,

a bulbul still sings desolate lullabies while they dream, a quintessence of Kashmir

I walked down Boulevard Road – believe me! – Auburn evenings of autumn’s delight.

I’d fade into its gentle care if it’s still the same in the harsh winters of Kashmir

Relentlessly, the Jhelum flows. Ignoring the affliction (or just oblivious?)

A mother laments – her temple resembling a wrinkled linen in the mornings of Kashmir

Insha, suffering the throes of the pellets – a future sacrificed for perpetual darkness.

Never again to face the light, her face, a map – dots marking the towns of Kashmir.

Life is a fettered prisoner, Manan, with restraints at the roots of a predicament.

Thirteen days and another gone by, a cold summer still prevails in the valley of Kashmir.

 

 

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Photograph // Sajad Rafeeq

 

 

Book Review by The Readdicts

 

THE LAMENTATIONS OF A SOMBRE SKY (3)

 

When I first heard of The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky, I was really interested because even though I have always been curious, I had never read a book set in Kashmir. The only exposure I had to a fictionalised Kashmir was the recent movie, Fitoor. There was no way I was going to skip this book; and while it took me a long time to get to it and even more time to finish it, it was worth it because this book is exceptionally beautiful. The only disadvantage (or that’s what I consider it) is that Manan Kapoor has really set up my expectations for books set in Kashmir, so the similar books that I will read in the future better be just as beautiful.

The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky follows the story of Inayat, her parents, Maqbool and Wahida and her friends, Gul and Aaqib. Every character in the book is very uniquely made and wonderfully portrayed with a slight glimpse from almost every point of view, every once in a while. A true gem of historical fiction, this book gives us a realistic and raw look into the socio-political scenario of Kashmir and more than just that, it tells us what a few people went through because of that. Books like these teach you more than what history textbooks or even Google ever could because they explicitly show us pain and suffering, something that- although difficult to digest, is very, very real.

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For such a young writer, Manan Kapoor is very talented. His writing is beautiful and his storytelling is extremely addictive because I never wanted the book to end. With just one book, the author has already made his way to my auto-read list because I am very much looking forward to anything and everything that he will write next as I’m sure it’ll be beautiful. There was a wonderful and very smooth flow to his words- almost similar to Khaled Hosseini, who is one of my most favourite writers, so that’s definitely something special. Manan Kapoor is definitely an author to watch out for.

I don’t want to get into the story because this is one of those stories that is better read than told. What I can promise is that The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky will leave you feeling a hundred and ten feelings because it is a beautifully sad book that will stay in your heart forever. It is, hands down, one of the best books I have read so far in 2016. Also, not to forget, the book cover is just as beautiful as the story itself, so this is one of those rarities where judging the book by its cover will actually prove you right, because everything- and trust me- everything about this book is beautiful.

Originally published on – http://thereaddicts.blogspot.in/2016/07/review-lamentations-of-sombre-sky-by.html

Goodreads Reviews

I’m speechless. It’s a remarkable and ambitious novel – an amazing feat, even more so as a first novel. I admit it is slow going at the beginning but I enjoyed settling into the mood and geography of it. I relished the small revelations and flash forwards we get with the large cast of characters that was delightful. A war book about those trying to get from one day to the next. The humanity and love in this book was breathtaking. This book is about the power of the human spirit to endure, find love and treat others with compassion. I was close to tears at the end of it.

Amy Roy

I was drawn towards the book as soon as I read the title. Manan Kapoor paints such a vivid picture of the war-torn state of Kashmir, the danger that both characters face and the gradual discovery of the characters’ respective personalities. The author has exquisitely created characters who try to survive in the depressing, deplorable conditions that war so often brings. This is a dark, complex story, but one that transcends the experience of reading itself.

Ipshita Kaur

Manan Kapoor is gifted with the ability to write beautifully. You read some books for the plot and others for the sheer love of language. This novel fulfills both the needs. It takes some time for the novel to grow on you (about 25 pages) but once the plot is set, you cannot keep it down. I kept delaying it for a while but when I finally picked it up I couldn’t keep it down even after I’d finished it. laden with so many emotions, memories and situations that you face in the real life. The way he has presented Inayat’s story is something that I cannot describe. Because If I could tell you exactly how the author achieved the effects he did, I’d be a best-selling author myself. Beautiful prose and complex. I will want to re-read parts again just to have the writing (especially towards the end) wash over me and remind me what humanity really is.

Anu Parekh

A thought provoking work by the author. It is a tale of three young children, growing in the war zone of Kashmir between the insurgency and the exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits. Their hopes, joys, and sorrows are well woven throughout the narrative. Be it their cheerful smile when love knocks in their hearts or the endless tears when they lose their loved ones – all the emotions feel real as if the reader has undergone all these experiences. The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky is a beautiful narrative intertwined with the conflict of Kashmir.

Ravi Vaidya

 

It’s amazing how the author has expressed the tragedy in such an extraordinary writing. A heartbreaking hopeful beautiful amazing lovely novel. The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky tells the story of Inayat, and her relationships, focusing mainly on her friends, her father Maqbool, and mother Wahida. The author tells the story of not only the loss of her childhood but the loss of the surroundings as well. It is a wonderfully horrific story!

Shreshta Jain

The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky is a beautiful story. The story is gripping and moves really fast, you cannot just put it down – at least not after the first forty pages. It all seems too real. It seems to be coming from the heart of someone who has dealt with it from very close. Brilliant

Jay Arora

Book Review – The Readersland

The novel is both thought provoking as well as a powerful set of emotions. As you will start reading, you yourself will relate as if it is a roller coaster ride with major ups and downs and how strongly and bravely one faces it. The book will force you to take pauses and unease your mind describing the situation of Kashmir in 90’s. You can’t stop your tears rolling out of your eyes.

The book beautifully revolves around the 3 friends – Inayat, Aaqib and Gul, who in their teenage enjoy spending time with each other. They bunk their classes to watch their favourite movies, listen to their favourite music in the evening. Turning snow into a snowman was their favourite hobby. Unfortunately, as the war rages around them, they realized a bit that future is not what they expected or what they have portrayed in their mind.

A heartbreaking, hopeful, beautiful, lovely novel covers all the aspects of life in a beautiful and a descriptive manner. It talks about a girl named Inayat how she bravely faces all the situations that come her way and she believed in one thing that is- Hope!

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She took life in a different way always hoping that one day everything will be fine and the war will end soon. She suffers profound loss but manages to hold on her hope and humanity. The book paints the complete picture of Kashmir in 90’s and the struggle faced by the people under the relentless watch of both army and military. It shows that how the life of the 3 children and their families has been stuck between the war of army and military. They encounter misfortunes because of the war, the cries, the rifle and the loss of the closed ones will set an emotional setback.

‘The Lamentation of a Sombre Sky’ as the title says shows the deep sorrow of people living in Kashmir and how they still live in a hope. The hope that one day everything will fall back to their place where they belong and the hope that everything will be fine and the flowers will again bloom in their land.

The book is divided into 3 parts, each part has its own story, own plot with different climax and suspense. Part 2 of the book is very touching and emotional. What actually you would like is the poem written to separate each part of the book. Reading this book can bring lumps in your throat as the incident of Kashmir will make you feel sad and depressed at the same time.

The author tells the story about not only the loss of their lives but also the loss of beautiful surroundings and also the trauma being faced by children at a tender age. The words are so expressive and weaved up so impressively that the author will keep you engaged with the novel. Each and every scenario of the book is described in a very descriptive way, feels as if the author is himself experiencing this. It is very nicely intertwined and narrative with the conflicts of Kashmir. It proved to be a marvelous piece of creation.

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Interview with Readersland

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.

Excerpts:

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.

  1. Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk
  2. The Veiled Suite – Agha Shahid Ali
  3. The Min Kamp Series – Karl Ove Knausgard
  4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra
  5. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
  6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  7. Ariel and other poems – Sylvia Plath
  8. Replacement – Tor Ulven
  9. Howl and Other Poems – Allen Ginsberg
  10. 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.

Domenico’s Reverie

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

and crash,

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.

Huzun

The air shared by a city.

Crumbling, but slowly, like a ruin, a flower – like time.

I speak of the walls, bleak and dreary.

Of memories exhaled at midnight,

and footsteps retraced, every evening

I speak of the beauty in the failure to come home on time,

or to never come home.

I speak of a struggle to persevere through time,

to change,

decay,

and rise again.

I speak of accidental sunsets that can never be preserved

of the same faces on a train every morning

of a light switching off at 11:23 pm – every night

I speak of the beauty to feel everything

or nothing at all

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Photography – Sajad Rafeeq

Book Review – by Privy Trifles

With a cover like this, I knew the author had a winner on his hands at least in the first category of judging a book by its cover. Once you pick up a book based its beautiful cover you turn it to look at the blurb and reading the first 2 words – Kashmir and the 90s was enough! I was sold. Kashmir is a place that makes me go numb and through this book I relived that pain in those pages.

THE LAMENTATIONS OF A SOMBRE SKY (5)

There were two things which took me by surprise. One the author is only 22 and two this is his debut novel. What a marvelous piece of creation he has managed with this book! This book is immensely powerful as the author takes you to a Kashmir way before it became what it is today. I almost thought either he is born and brought up in Kashmir or is related to a Kashmiri Pandit to understand their chaos so well.

His research is so detailed and the way he puts those things in words is impressive. One can always argue the minus being that he didn’t highlight the political atmosphere or didn’t even mention it but I would rather say I loved that the most. I give the author a brownie point for that as well. He didn’t show me what I already see in newspapers or new channels. He gave me something that is more often ignored, the plight of the people living in Kashmir , their feelings, their lives, their fears and most importantly their existence. He touched a raw nerve when he laid bare those 3 tender and beautiful hearts through whose lives we see Kashmir.

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NIL editing errors, no lapses in the plot and perfect storytelling. His narrative is one that can make a reader time travel. The only minus I felt was the character-sketch. You could call me greedy but I wanted to know more about them, having said that it in no ways takes away the magic of this wonderfully crafted story. It is going to stay with me for long. And I will definitely recommend it to fellow book lovers time and again for its sheer beauty.

Don’t miss this one if you love Kashmir or if you love reading books which are beauty personified!

Originally published on – www.privytrifles.co.in

THE LAMENTATIONS OF A SOMBRE SKY (3)