City Reading – The Delhi Proustians XXXIII, GB Road
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 33rd 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, a multi-volume novel sometimes also known as Remembrance of Things Past
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 sitting in Kotha no. 300, a brothel in GB Road, Delhi’s red light district. I’m lying on the bed where the women entertain their customers. The walls are plastered with the posters of Hindi film stars.
I have been coming to this kotha for years. This room is always occupied, but today the customers are few, and the women are waiting for them on the stairs. I have the room to myself. I lie down on the bed, and randomly open The Guermantes Way, the third volume. It is page 122. I read from somewhere in the middle.
It has been said that silence is strength; in a quite different sense it is a terrible strength in the hands of those who are loved. It increases the anxiety of the one who waits. Nothing so tempts us to approach another person as what is keeping us apart; and what barrier is so insurmountable as silence? It has been said also that silence is torture, capable of goading to madness the man who is condemned to it in a prison cell. But what an even greater torture than that of having to keep silence it is to have to endure the silence of the person one so loves!
My new book is on this place. It has arrived in the bookstores. What will the readers make of it? Could I be misunderstood? Last night I was reading a passage in Guermantes, which resembled the first emotions of an author surprised to come across a cruel review of his book, a book that he has written with much love.
… the image that other people form of our actions and demeanor no more resembles our own than an inaccurate tracing, on which for the black line we find an empty space and for a blank area an inexplicable contour, resembles the original drawing. It may happen however that what has not been transcribed is a non-existent feature which only our purblind self-esteem reveals to us, and what seems to us to have been added does indeed belong to us, but so quintessentially that it escapes us. So that this strange print which seems to us to have so little resemblance to us bears sometimes the same stamp of truth, unflattering, certainly, but profound and useful, as an X-ray photograph. Not that that is any reason why we should recognize ourselves in it.
What happens when the impressions of the author and his reader fails to land on a common plane?
I was to register in the case of others than myself, living placidly in the midst of a collection of photographs which they had taken of themselves while round about them grinned frightful faces, invisible to them as a rule, but stunning them with amazement if some chance revealed to them, saying: “It’s you.”
“Soofi,” Mamta says, entering the room. “You go now. I have a customer.”
The 34th meeting of The Delhi Proustians takes place on 3 December 2012.
Where Outside (Old) Delhi railway station Time 7 pm Nearest Metro Station Chandni Chowk
In search of lost time
4. (Photo by Unknown)