City Reading – The Delhi Proustians – XI, Indian Coffee House
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 11th 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.
It is 7.05 pm and The Delhi Walla has arrived without his copy of Lost Time. Somebody flicked it in the metro. No worries. I’ve many Marcels at home, and it is nice to discover that there is at least one pickpocket in Delhi who prefers Proust, and not a wallet.
A slim man is approaching the table.
“Hello, I’ve come to attend The Delhi Proustains,” he says.
Abdul Muqhtadir is a law student in Delhi University. Sitting down on the torn sofa, he says, “I’ve never read Proust but I decided to come here hoping that I could meet interesting people.”
I say, “Today I’m not carrying my copy, but if it’s fine with you, we can talk about Marcel Proust.”
“I’m not much informed about Proust except that he was a French novelist,” says Mr Muqhtadir. “In fact, I first got to know about him through your website.”
“I’m glad to have introduced you to Marcel,” I say. “I hope you will stick by this club and together we can perhaps finish the entire Proust. His writing is very simple, as if he is chatting with somebody. Some parts, I fear, could be demanding but… since today, I don’t have Lost Time, let’s talk about… just what do we mean by the term ‘Proustian’?”
A woman walks to our table.
“May I?” she says, pointing to an empty chair.
Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a scholar from Germany. She is writing a book on the Indian Coffee House.
“I haven’t read Proust but I will like to know why you have chosen this place for your club,” she says, switching on her dictaphone.
“Yes, Indian Coffee House is a odd choice to read In Search of Lost Time,” I say. “Marcel was a spoilt rich kid. He frequented the best cafes of Paris, and this place stinks of piss. See, this sofa is broken. Some tables are of plastic. Here, the coffee is watery. The dosa is greasy. It’s not air-conditioned. Marcel actually belongs to Khan Market. Yet, this place has something elegant about it.”
Mr Muqhtadir says, “It’s different from modern coffee shop chains like Costa Coffee or Café Coffee Day. I’m never comfortable entering those cafes, but here, I’m feeling at ease.”
Another person joins us.
We are now four(!)
This is unprecedented in the history of The Delhi Proustians.
Manish is a law student from Bangalore.
“I’m visiting Delhi to attend hearings in the Supreme Court concerning gay rights,” he says. “I’m a reader of your website and I thought it would be nice to drop by.”
Since not a single one of us has come with a Proust, I point to the pale blue colour of our table, and say, “Right now, there is nothing Proustian about this shade of blue. Now, let’s say that we four never get to meet again. Let’s say that by next week we have forgotten about this evening. Let’s say that 25 years later, you are in Boston, you are in Berlin, you are in Bombay and I’m in Bareilly. And suddenly, Muqhtadir, yes, you… after 25 years, you are entering this café in Boston, or may be it’s a hospital or a travel agency office and you come across this exact shade of blue… on a table, or on the wall… and then… the colour seems remotely familiar… you think you have seen it somewhere but… but you just can’t figure out where and suddenly, it all comes back. Suddenly, you see all of us in your mind’s eye. And as our images flash through your thoughts, you are able to pull out other memories that are a part of you at this time… and consequently you are able to create an entire world that exist in you now, which you go on to weave into your life as it will be 25 years later… well, I suppose that is ‘Proustian’, but I’m not sure… I still have to read Proust and only then I can determine the exact meaning of ‘Proustian’…”
The meeting ends.
The 12th meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on 5 March, 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
Abdul Muqhtadir, the new Proustian in town
Manish with Bhaswati Bhattacharya
We Proustians are never boring
Talking ‘Proustian’ (photo by Bhaswati Bhattacharya)
A moment in time