A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the sixth meeting of The Delhi Proustians, a club for Delhiwallas that discusses French novelist Marcel Proust. Every Sunday noon for an hour we read his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time.
Now, an announcement: the reading will take place in the coffee house every Monday – and not Sunday. Time: 7 pm.
Why? Because Marcel should not affect our shopping excursion each week at the Sunday book bazaar in Daryaganj, the best place in Delhi to get second-hand books.
Meanwhile it is 12.18 pm and The Delhi Walla is alone with Marcel, re-reading a passage that makes Proust one of the most evocative food writers of all times. The narrator is talking of Françoise, his great aunt’s cook.
For upon the permanent foundation of eggs, cutlets, potatoes, preserves, and biscuits, whose appearance on the table she no longer announced to us, Françoise would add—as the labour of fields and orchards, the harvest of the tides, the luck of the markets, the kindness of neighbours, and her own genius might provide; and so effectively that our bill of fare, like the quatrefoils that were carved on the porches of cathedrals in the thirteenth century, reflected to some extent the march of the seasons and the incidents of human life—a brill, because the fish-woman had guaranteed its freshness; a turkey, because she had seen a beauty in the market at Roussainville-le-Pin; cardoons with marrow, because she had never done them for us in that way before; a roast leg of mutton, because the fresh air made one hungry and there would be plenty of time for it to ‘settle down’ in the seven hours before dinner; spinach, by way of a change; apricots, because they were still hard to get; gooseberries, because in another fortnight there would be none left; raspberries, which M. Swann had brought specially; cherries, the first to come from the cherry-tree, which had yielded none for the last two years; a cream cheese, of which in those days I was extremely fond; an almond cake, because she had ordered one the evening before; a fancy loaf, because it was our turn to ‘offer’ the holy bread. And when all these had been eaten, a work composed expressly for ourselves, but dedicated more particularly to my father, who had a fondness for such things, a cream of chocolate, inspired in the mind, created by the hand of Françoise, would be laid before us, light and fleeting as an ‘occasional piece’ of music, into which she had poured the whole of her talent. Anyone who refused to partake of it, saying: “No, thank you, I have finished; I am not hungry,” would at once have been lowered to the level of the Philistines who, when an artist makes them a present of one of his works, examine its weight and material, whereas what is of value is the creator’s intention and his signature. To have left even the tiniest morsel in the dish would have shown as much discourtesy as to rise and leave a concert hall while the ‘piece’ was still being played, and under the composer’s very eyes.
In the next meeting, I `m bringing madeleine.
The seventh meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on 30 January, 2012.
Where Indian Coffee House (it has three seating spaces; enter the enclosed area that looks to Baba Khadak Singh Marg), Mohan Singh Place, near Hanuman Mandir, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place Time 7 pm Nearest Metro Station Rajiv Chowk
Our great food writer
The view outside
Shh, I’m reading
Marcel & Me