A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi

Aman Sethi, Author
Aman Sethi. Norton, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-08890-8
Reviewed on: 06/25/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
Paperback - 230 pages - 978-0-393-34660-2
Compact Disc - 978-1-4708-2623-9
MP3 CD - 978-1-4708-2625-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-4708-2624-6
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-4708-2627-7
Open Ebook - 226 pages - 978-1-4481-3009-2
Hardcover - 240 pages - 978-0-224-09690-4
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-393-08972-1
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Sethi, an award-winning journalist for The Hindu, delivers a moving and irrepressible work of narrative reporting that captures the lives—and voices—of the homeless laborers in the Bara Tooti Chowk in Old Delhi. The chowk is literally a labor market where every alleyway, lane, and dead end has a story. Sethi focuses on a homeless middle-aged house painter and construction worker, Mohammed Ashraf, who finds jobs by waiting in the early morning on Bari Tooti’s main road. Before coming to Bari Tooti, Ashraf was a biology student, then a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice. He once had a wife, a home, and two children, whom he hasn’t seen in decades. Ashraf’s life story unfolds through a series of vignettes as the author accompanies him and others to various haunts: Kaka’s tea, the Old Delhi Railway Station, a secret illegal bar everyone knows made of “interlocking sheets” of cardboard and plywood, and the TB wards of the city hospital. Delhi is a frenzied city “splintering under the strain of fundamental urban reconfiguration,” where 800,000 slum dwellers, including Ashraf, were violently displaced when their settlement was bulldozed. Ashraf’s voice—acerbic, bombastic, and philosophical—makes for wonderful reading, and Sethi’s remarkable prose and impeccable sense of timing renders his subjects with pathos and humor. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Oct.)
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