City Reading – The Delhi Proustians XVIII, Indian Coffee House
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 18th 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 pm and The Delhi Walla must make an announcement.
The Delhi Proustians society is moving out of the Indian Coffee House. This place is economical and its torn sofas strike a chord with romantic sensibilities, but the coffee is revolting. And Proust was especially particular about his coffee.
If Marcel lived in Delhi, he would have never stepped inside the Indian Coffee House. The stewards wear unwashed uniforms. The menu is unimaginative. Some corners of the coffee house smell of urine.
This is no place to read Proust.
A man of leisure, Marcel never wore the same underwear twice. He had a refined taste in painting, music, food, literature and history. Raised in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of Paris, his social life existed in the drawing rooms of old aristocratic families. He was a regular at the bar of the Ritz. He travelled about in taxis and never walked except on carpets and parquets. He was always spotted carrying gold-topped cane and wearing his pale yellow chamois leather gloves. His towels were of very fine cotton and there were twenty-five of them in his toilet at any given time. His sartorial sense was impeccable. He knew his perfumes.
Describing his style, Celeste Albaret, Proust’s housekeeper in his last years, writers in her memoirs, Monsieur Proust:
He sought perfection in what he wore, too. There was the same fastidiousness in that as in all his tastes, and here, too, he showed attachment to the past. I know that in his last years there were some people, especially those who only knew him when he was famous, who said he seemed to belong to another age. That was because although fashion had changed considerably with the war, he kept to the old tailoring and to his stiff high collars. But nobody in his right mind would have thought him ridiculous or failed to sense the extraordinary natural elegance he maintained. I’m sure that for most of those he knew, or who met him, he was always the grand seigneur he was for me that first time, and forever. He had the supreme elegance of being quite simply himself.
Most of us will never be able to buy as many underwears as Proust. To dive into the atmosphere of his novel, we can pretend to be rich. As for acquiring a sophisticated taste, we can educate ourselves in Indian painting, music, food, literature and history.
The 19th meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on May 7, 2012. It will be in a new – and an exclusive – venue, which will change every week. We will not just read Proust, but live Proust.
Proust can’t eat this
We won’t miss you
Finding a home for Proust (Photo credit: Unknown)
The adjective ‘exclusive’ does not sound very encouraging. Why don’t you just go to Paris instead?
Then he’d have to change the name of the society…
Maybe the L’Opera outlet in Vasant Kunj? Better and bigger than the original in Khan Market. And you get madeleine.
Touche. Though given the eclectic and limited membership of the club, I am sure no one will mind.
In case that doesn’t happen, who the hell is going to pay the price of these Proustian sensibilities?
Reading and writing,indeed, are the pleasures for riches.
It’s up to you where you want to go. But you know the history of the Coffee House well. This is not a place that should be treated with the kind of language you used to pull in Delhi crowd. Step in Calcutta CH or even Bangalore CH (old one was better). But still, the one in the capital is part of the long chain of CHs. Proust or no Proust, if you go on at this rate, do keep in mind that you will stumble one day and hurt yourself. You can buy some people for some time but pretension don’t last.
Oh come on, you know he truly LOVES the Mohan Singh Palace Indian Coffee House. It’s just not suitable for reading Proust. Sure, some remarks may have been offensive, but read it in the context of “What would Proust have done?” and the writing actually captures some of that je ne sais quoi of the excerpts quoted in the past few weeks.
Hey, maybe I’ll finally get around to joining the society! Let me see if it’s available on Kindle for Android.
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