The secret origins of Marcel Proust.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
O Sheikh Marcel, bless us so that we all can write like you.
The Delhi Walla is in the dargah of Hazrat Marcel Proustuddin in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. This is the principal stop in my Proustian pilgrimage to Europe. However, I had no need to travel so far from Delhi. It is a truth universally acknowledged among Proustians across the world that Hazrat Proustuddin (may peace be upon him) was actually buried in Delhi–in the little graveyard next to Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Chilla, just adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb.
But depend upon the West Europeans to colonise all our treasures. Not only did they change our saint’s name to Marcel Proust, they also apportioned him as their own by successfully spreading the myth that Hazrat Proustuddin was a French dandy and that he lived and died in the capital of France, and that he was buried in this small black marble tomb in Père Lachaise.
The reality is something else.
Hazrat Proustuddin was born in the house of a Mughal-era hakeem in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar; one of his famous ancestors was a naked Armenian Jew whose Sufi shrine lies outside the eastern gate of Jama Masjid mosque. Hazrat Proustuddin didn’t know a single word of French. In fact, he wrote his seven-volume novel, Ghantaghar (The clocktower), in Persian. Before the book could have been published, Claude Martin, the 18th century French adventurer from Lucknow, stole the manuscript and dispatched it to his relations in Paris. Years later, one of his descendants, a publisher called Bernard Grasset, translated the novel into French. Not only that, Monsieur Grasset cunningly changed all the Delhi references in the long story to those of his own city and also changed the Delhiwalla characters into Parisians.
Today, Ghantaghar is known as À la recherche du temps perdu and is considered to be the greatest monument to French literature.
But it is the greatest tomb to Delhi literature.
But the world continues to live in false truth.
Forgive us, Hazrat Proustuddin.
Marcel Proust’s shrine