A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 19th meeting of The Delhi Proustians, a club for Delhiwallas that discusses French novelist Marcel Proust. Every Monday evening for an hour we read his masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time.
We have moved out of the Indian Coffee House where the sofas are torn and the coffee is watery. Each Monday we intend to meet in a new venue to dive into the atmosphere of Marcel’s novel.
It is 7 pm and The Delhi Walla is on the Athpula Bridge in Lodhi Garden.
If Proust were alive, I would have described this place to him in the following manner:
“An oasis of tranquility with golden gravel paths that curve beneath a canopy of tulip trees, magnolia grandiflora and copper beech, the park is hidden away, only a 10-minute stroll from the busy streets… it is a place of cool greenery, miniature waterfalls and the trilling sounds of birds calling back and forth.”
This is not Lodhi Garden, but Parc Monceau, as described by The New York Times in an article on Paris. Proust walked daily in this garden before he shut himself inside his cork-lined room to write his masterpiece.
It is quarter past seven and I am the only Proustian standing on the seven-arched stone bridge. It looks to a fountain.
The first of the seven volumes has three parts. I start Swann in Love, the second part.
To admit you to the “little nucleus,” the “little group,” the “little clan” at the Verdurins’, one condition sufficed, but that one was indispensable: you must give tacit adherence to a Creed one of whose articles was that the young pianist whom Mme Verdurin had taken under her patronage that year and of whom she said “Really, it oughtn’t to be allowed, to play Wagner as well as that!” licked both Planté and Rubinstein hollow, and that Dr Cottard was a more brilliant diagnostician than Potain.
Two women are walking towards me. Can they be Proustians?
Each “new recruit” whom the Verdurins failed to persuade that the evenings spent by other people, in other houses than theirs, were as dull as ditch-water, saw himself banished forthwith.
The women walk ahead.
Women being in this respect more rebellious than men, more reluctant to lay aside all worldly curiosity and the desire to find out for themselves whether other salons might not sometimes be as entertaining, and the Verdurins feeling, moreover, that this critical spirit and this demon of frivolity might, by their contagion, prove fatal to the orthodoxy of the little church, they had been obliged to expel, one after another, all those of the “faithful” who were of the female sex.
Those two women were busy chatting in low voices as if they were gossiping about the private lives of common acquaintances. They could easily have come out of the pages of our novel… but can they be its readers?
A true reader of Proust must have a thorough knowledge of music, architecture, painting, philosophy, cuisines and the modern languages, to deserve being called a Proustian; and besides all this, he must possess a certain something in his air and manner of walking, the tone of his voice, his address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved. He has to be funny, and amorous too, but he should also be a person of delicate sensibilities.
Am I a Proustian?
It is getting darker. I can no longer see the ducks in the pond. I can no longer read the … Lost Time.
The 20th meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on 28 April, 2012. The venue will be very special. Watch this space.