Delhi Proustians – Cemetery of Montparnasse, Paris
Searching for Proust’s people.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is the address of a number of people who were related to novelist Marcel Proust.
The Delhi Walla is in the cemetery of Montparnasse, on the left bank of Paris. The tomb of writer-feminist Simone de Beauvoir, covered with lipstick marks made by her devotees, is adjacent to the entrance. But I’m looking for Charles Baudelaire, Proust’s most beloved poet. Man Ray, the only photographer to have taken a photo of Proust on his deathbed, too, is lying here. I’m also hunting for the grave of Brassaï, the photographer of nighttime Paris who died shortly after finishing work on his study of Proust. Samuel Beckett, who wrote a landmark manifesto on Proust in 1930, is also somewhere in this graveyard.
According to my 1937 edition of Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs, the cemetery is also home to 19th century literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, against whom Proust started writing a severely critical essay that later transformed into his seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time.
Guy de Maupassant, inferior to Proust but still a great author, is also buried in Montparnasse.
But the cemetery is too large with too many dead people. Making my way through graves – so many of them are Jewish with stones placed on them – I try to look for Proust’s people, but I’m getting very tired and cold; it’s a windy and cloudy afternoon.
Many tombs are dotted with tufts of wet-green grass. Many others are buried under dry leaves. One tomb shows the sculpture of a man sitting against a book-lined wall. Another tomb has the bust of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Looking for Brassai, I stumble upon Susan Sontag – she was buried in Paris?! Somebody has placed yellow flowers on her black grave.
I walk and walk.
Not long after I return to the main avenue, and turn to take one final look at the cemetery. I then walk out, with my copy of Marcel Proust.
The society of Marcel Proust