City Reading – The Delhi Proustians – I, Indian Coffee House
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
For a long time I would try to sit down with In Search of Lost Time, a seven-volume novel by the French writer Marcel Proust. In my most successful attempt, I managed to finish the first two volumes – Swann’s Way and Within a Budding Grove. Some parts were comical, some had the lightness of a gossipy tabloid, and some were excruciatingly descriptive.
Although I did not pick the third volume that time, Marcel Proust’s novel made me feel closer to the world.
His easy conversational language showed me how we are shaped by many illusions borne out of love and jealousy, architecture and music, painting and literature, food and nature. He underlines the bonds that tie us to our parents, friends, and lovers.
Today is the first meeting of The Delhi Proustians, a club for Delhiwallas wanting to discuss Marcel Proust. Every Sunday noon we have to read In Search of Lost Time for an hour.
It is 12.12 pm and I’m alone at the table.
Swann’s Way starts with:
For a long time I would go to bed early. Sometimes, the candle barely out, my eyes closed so quietly that I did not have time to tell myself: “I’m falling asleep.” And half an hour later…
Nearly half past 12. It is like beginning a long train journey, and desperately wishing for fellow passengers to fill this empty coach. Two people are walking towards my direction. I quickly turn towards the novel, pretending to read, while intently listening to their footsteps; they come nearer, and then die away. The young woman and her friend are claiming a table on the opposite corner.
I must read alone.
In search of lost time
[Author photos by Brij Nandan Kumar Yadav]
You will be reading every Sunday?
I wanted to come. But something more important, my week-old son, held me back.
I have, over the years tried to read Proust in English and French. Though I will not call myself a Proustian, his remembrances, immortalised in beautiful sentences, do make me remember my own years.
On Sunday, you did not read him alone.
This is the saddest entry I’ve read on this website. It beats the previous saddest entry, the old man who sells toys in CP, by a narrow margin. I guess the common thread is the realisation that, in the end, we are all alone.
I am sure a large crowd would have turned up had it been a ‘Twilight’ or a ‘Chetan Bhagat’ reading session. The masses love such trash, as they love bread and circuses.
Chetan Bhagat’s first book was actually quite heartfelt. I think he lost the plot in the later books (or rather, he found quite a different plot). Far more Proustian is Bhagat’s junior, Amitabha Bagchi’s Above Average. No second book by Bagchi yet.
Yes, Chetan’s first book was quite heartfelt. As for Amitabha Bagchi’s work,I have read some excerpts. I am sure he’ll be popular with the mall rats, as his ‘senior’ Chetan was and continues to be. The truth be told, writers like Chetan serve a higher purpose than meets the eye. They churn out literary matter that requires just a rudimentary knowledge of sentence construction, grammar and vocabulary. Anyone can read their books ( when I say ‘books’, I mean it in the broadest sense of the word).
Hence, one need not tax one’s faculties of understanding. Very easily digestible. This goes perfectly well with the popular, urban culture and its attendant flightiness.
Have young, urban writers run out of muses? Must they invoke IIT, IIM, MBA, CAT etc. like magical formulas? I have grown weary of these ‘computer science graduate’ and ‘management graduate’ types. Most of them never get over the PowerPoint-presentation-style that seems endemic to our colleges and universities. Moreover, years spent laboring under tomes of technical, jargon-ridden books impoverish their manner of writing. As a result, sublime prose is very hard to come by. I find something rigid in the literature produced by such young ‘professionals’- a certain something that reminds me of dreary computer labs,luridly bright fluorescent-lights and the stiffness of school essays.
Or, maybe, I am just terribly biased. I wonder what Bertrand Russell would have said.
“I find something rigid in the literature produced by such young ‘professionals’- a certain something that reminds me of dreary computer labs,luridly bright fluorescent-lights and the stiffness of school essays.”
Haha very succinctly described, bro. Not surprising, since this is a product of, and catered to, minds produced by such an environment. 😛
Ah, the joys of being a mightier-than-thou judgmental bitc* ! (I refer to myself here 😛 )
I too wallow in the joys of being a judgemental prick. It is one of the many freedoms we have as readers and as occasional subjects of indescribable literary horrors.
I have talked with many a Chetan admirer and have almost always been presented with an argument I like to call ‘The Chetan Hypothesis’. Such admirers are generally of the opinion that inasmuch as Mr. Bhagat endeavors to use ‘simple’ language and common expressions, he is berated by snooty literature-wallahs like myself. Nothing could be further from the truth.
George Orwell, that shining beacon of English Literature and perhaps one of the greatest writers of all times, wrote his works in a surprisingly simple version of the language. His language was robust, simple yet elegant. His stories and essays were none the poorer for the lack of frills and flounces.His ideas, plots and characters had lives of their own. He never let his plots sag or his characters wane just because he chose not to use rarefied prose. Such beauty, simplicity and grace is very hard to come by.
Our young, urban writers must really try to produce literature that is worthy of an emerging India.
when talking of simple writing in English, why forget our own Ruskin Bond?
Its an unfortunate yet true fact which is even more painful for me due to the fact that this concerns with my alma matter.
Anyways, I know a blog written by an ‘IIT + Computer science grad’ (an inept combo for writing I know) which I admire.
But I haven’t been able to find anyone to critique it for me. It shouldn’t be a surprise if you get to know my friends circle. In my personal opinion ones like her should be the one writing the book, if any, rather than chetan bhagat and his likes. So just needed some honest comments about my opinion. 🙂
Mmmm… Bad location I guess… Some place friendlier, warmer, would have worked better?… I almost made it and feel bad now… When is the next render-vous?
PS : I adore Proust that I used to read in French my native language.
The Delhi Proustians plan to meet every Sunday noon at the Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place. Since it’s Christmas this Sunday, the next meeting will take place on Tuesday evening, 27th December. Time: 6.30 pm. The third meeting will be on Sunday.
i fail to understand why didnt anyone show up.this sucks..how come no one was interested..i even spread the word among friends..i couldnt cause i had an exam..though i’m not interested in marcel proust but i’d have come to see you atleast.so called admirers ar of no use if they couldnt even come there for you.i’ll be there next sunday, if my parents allow, with my copy.
Please come for Marcel Proust alone.
Oh Mayank… hopefully there will be people next week, I live thousands of kms away from dilli. But I thought of you when I saw the following (not sure if you have seen this already)
I tried reading War & Peace a long time ago but left half way. Sometimes I use it to kill cockroaches in my study. In Search of Lost Time has been on my reading list as well, but again the Tolstoy experience kept me away from even trying.
ICH is an ideal place to read. Please don’t consider changing the place. I will wipe the dust off my copy and come on Sunday.
Mayank, a spledid post – so melancholy, went deep. There’s a whole aspect of you that doesn’t reveal or betray itself in what you do, something (perhaps) you probably are not aware about yourself — you are one of the rare people who shines in the silence…
And, I cannot wait to continue reading Proust at the same Indian Coffee House.
typo — “splendid”
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