A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 24th 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.
Each week we meet in a new venue to dive into the atmosphere of Marcel’s novel.
It is 7 pm and The Delhi Walla is in Lodhi Garden, adjacent to the tomb of Muhammad Shah Sayyid. I have read Marcel in this park before, too, but today I am looking at the garden with a different perspective. I am in the midst of Place-Names – The Name, the third and final section of Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes.
The sensitive child protagonist has his heart throbbing for Gilberte, the daughter of Monsieur Swann – the man whose jealous passion for a courtesan formed the heart of the preceding section. I reach a page where the boy is heading to Bois de Boulogne. This garden in Paris is larger than the Central Park in New York. Proust writes:
It (Bois de Boulogne) was to me like one of those zoological gardens in which one sees assembled together a variety of flora and contrasted landscapes, where from a hill one passes to a grotto, a meadow, rocks, a stream, a pit, another hill, a marsh…
This could be a description of Lodhi Garden, though it is smaller in size… but, oh, forgive me, something else is diverting my thoughts.
Last week, while sitting on a pavement in Connaught Place, I came across a sentence in Lost Time that was not only beautiful but appeared to be specially constructed to inspire a man who intend to write ay least one great novel in his life. I was so moved by its haunting beauty that I had immediately SMSed my thoughts to a friend.
When it comes to Marcel, I am always armed with colored stickers and a pen so as to mark every passage that I find striking in its evocation of certain feelings and to which I can then easily return each time I yearn for it. But that evening in Connaught Place, I neither had the stickers, nor the pen. Now I cannot find that phrase.
I search in my phone’s SMS list. That text message has the essence of that line, but not its substance:
X, today I have reached an incredibly beautiful sentence in Proust. It made me think of still unborn books I might write and your next novel.
I flip through the pages, hoping to find it. I stop at this underlined passage:
How horrible! I exclaimed to myself. Can anyone find these motorcars as elegant as the old carriage-and-pair?
The facing page has two phrases that were marked by me.
I had not managed to discover the pleasures for which I longed.
The reality that I had known no longer existed.
Where is that phrase? I turn to another page, and spot another underlined passage.
And for all that the motive force of my exaltation was a longing for aesthetic enjoyments, the guide-books ministered even more to it than books on aesthetics and, more again than the guide-books, the railway time tables.
Exquisite. To think of it, I myself have written guide-books(!) But where is that phrase, the one that could inspire a writer to compose his great novel he is destined for. I continue to search. I pause at this highlighted feeling.
We do not tremble except for ourselves, or for those whom we love. When our happiness is no longer in their hands, how calm, how relaxed, how bold we become in their presence.
I have experienced this, but I must not… I have to look for that line…
[After a few minutes]
It is getting dark. Bois de Boulogne in Paris turns into a red light zone in the night but Lodhi Garden has its gates closed until the morning. The guards are whistling; it is a signal for the people to leave the park. I must call off my search.
Today is July 9. Tomorrow is Marcel’s birthday. In the next meeting, we will cut a cake.
The 25th meeting of The Delhi Proustians will take place in Paharganj’s Appetite Restaurant on July 16 2012.
Where 1575/80, Main Bazar, Paharganj Time 7 pm Nearest Metro Station Ramakrishna Ashram Marg
In search of lost time