City Reading – The Delhi Proustians XXVII, ITO Graveyard
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 27th 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 at the Muslim graveyard behind the Times of India building in ITO. I am all set to start the second volume, Within a Budding Grove.
A friend lies buried here, somewhere. I have never visited his grave. I did not go to the hospital to see him after he was diagnosed with cancer. Last week I had promised to myself that I would read Lost Time by his grave. I cannot find it.
Sitting on a bench, I open the book’s last page and read the last sentence.
And as the average span of life, the relative longevities of our memories of poetical sensations is much greater than that of our memories of what the heart has suffered, now that the sorrows I once felt…
I try to think of my friend but I am unable to recollect the structure of his face. I also cannot remember the sound of his voice.
I turn to the book’s first sentence.
My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was away from home and that she herself had quite ceased to see anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain the ex-ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the housetops the names of everyone he knew, however slightly, was a vulgar show-off whom the Marquis de Norpois would be surely to dismiss as – to use his own epithet – a “pestilent” fellow.
Suddenly, completely unrelated to what I just read, I see an insignificant moment of my recent past reappearing in my mind’s eye. We were in the park above the Palika Bazaar parking in Connaught Place. It was early evening. The setting sun was washing my friend’s face in red as I photographed him reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.
I cannot put together the exact structure of his lips, eyes and cheekbones but I remember his smile.
Getting up from the bench, I walk towards a grave and try to recall my friend’s face. His eyes were grey? But it is getting dark. I cannot see the words. Let’s leave.
Postscript: On returning home, I came upon this sentence in Place-Names * The Place, the second part of Within a Budding Grove.
And as Habit weakens everything, what best reminds us of a person is precisely what we had forgotten (because it was of no importance, and we therefore left it in full possession of its strength). That is why the better part of our memories exists outside us, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which, when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source, can make us weep again. Outside us? Within us, rather, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged.
The 28th meeting of The Delhi Proustians will take place on August 27, 2012. The venue will be soon announced.
In search of lost time