In conversation: Manan Kapoor
Today we are in conversation with Manan Kapoor the author of The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky. Read on to know more about him as an author and as a person.
1. Welcome to my blog. Tell us something about your journey as an author. How did writing happen to you?
I think writing is one of those professions where you cannot involve other people. It is something that has to be done solely by you, in your own space. I’ve learnt that it has to be just about yourself and the story. If anything else is involved in the process, I think it loses the exclusivity. When I started writing, I had no idea how to structure a novel, or give a definition to the characters and build their distinct voice. I learnt all of it the rough way, by trial and error. But the fact that I read books, definitely made me a better writer. I experimented with different styles of writing and narration, adding and deleting various chunks on a daily basis – basically, I learnt how to make the inanimate manuscript come to life by reading. I had never had a formal education with creative writing and all that I knew was from books I had read, the conversations I had with the people around me. It wasn’t really as difficult towards the end, but initially, when all I had was an incipient notion about the rudimentary plot, it was definitely something that petrified me. I never thought I would make it here.
2. What prompted you to write your first novel?
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. I understood 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. I started off with writing the novel, and it was just another thing that I thought would give up.
3. Why Kashmir?
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.
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. The story is essentially about loss and how you’re never immune to it. 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.
Research was the most important aspect of this novel. Kashmir is a very sensitive and delicate issue and I had to make sure I was factually correct at all times. Even though the events that take place in the novel are fictional, the background of those events that acts as a spine is accurate and precise. I read various books such as Curfewed Night, Out Moon has Blood Clots, The Collaborator, Of Occupation and Resistance, and Munnu, which is a graphic novel, similar to Persepolis – an easy read if you really want to know what’s going on in Kashmir. There were many more articles that I read on a daily basis. It all had to be factually correct – it had to be.
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.
Most people would say that it is tough to pick a favorite book, but I don’t have any second doubts. It has to be Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. It is set in Istanbul, a story about Kemal and his obsession with Fusun – a love story which goes on for about 800 pages in the first person narrative. Like all other books by Pamuk, this novel is infused with memories, fears, elusive moments of happiness and joy and, most importantly, the memories instilled in objects and inanimate things.
But in Museum of Innocence 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 carry a part of her soul – . 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. I must say that it is the most beautiful piece of writing I’ve come across – structurally as well as emotionally.
I am. 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’s 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. But I’m sure it will turn into something I can embellish, and eventually after a couple of drafts, develop and mature through time into something I would want others to read.
Write things that you would want to read. All writers have a style, a pattern, an impression that they leave on you – to compromise that is sheer folly. Many people write to become bestsellers and it’s simply defeating the purpose of writing. The best books I’ve read till date, haven’t been written by best-selling authors. So the only advice I can and want to give is that whatever you write should be an expression of what you feel – a reflection of who you are. The day you delve into writing for an audience – you’ve abandoned yourself. Strive to be a better writer, not a bestseller.
Manan Kapoor was born in Shimla. He graduated from Panjab University in 2015. He discovered his love of reading, devouring the works of Orhan Pamuk, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Jhumpa Lahiri. He currently resides in Chandigarh. You can reach him through any of these.