City Reading – The Delhi Proustians XXXV, Mehrauli
A la recherche du temps perdu.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Today is the 35th 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 outside the family graveyard of former Indian President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad. This enclosure is within the complex of Khwaja Qutub Kaki’s Dargah in Mehrauli, South Delhi. The tombs belong to the relatives of Ahmad but he himself was buried elsewhere in the city.
A few days ago I attended the burial of Mumtaz Begum, a friend. She lived alone in Chawri Bazaar. In her sixties, she was unwell and unhappy in her last days. When I saw her, just before she was to be buried, I was surprised to find her look so calm and young, very young.
How did it happen?
I turn to page 357 of The Guermantes Way, the third volume. This is the last passage of the volume’s first part. The narrator’s grandmother has died after an illness. He is looking at her.
But now, on the contrary, it alone set the crown of age on a face grown young again, from which had vanished the wrinkles, the contractions, the swellings, the strains, the hollows which pain had carved on it over the years. As in the far-off days when her parents had chosen for her a bridegroom, she had the features, delicately traced by purity and submission, the cheeks glowing with a chaste expectation, with a dream of happiness, with an innocent gaiety even, which the years had gradually destroyed. Life in withdrawing from her had taken with it the disillusionments of life. A smile seemed to be hovering on my grandmother’s lips. On that funeral couch, death, like a sculptor of the Middle Ages, had laid her down in the form of a young girl.
I sit still for some time, thinking of Proust’s grandmother and of Mumtaz.
The 36th meeting of The Delhi Proustians will take place on December 22, 2012. The venue will be soon announced.
In search of lost time