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A Free Man: A True Story of Life and Death in Delhi Hardcover – October 22, 2012
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“Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, A Free Man is an extraordinary vignette into an extraordinary life.” (Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies)
“A Free Man is a brilliant capturing of the language and bloodstream of a city. Aman Sethi has made a book that’s remarkable in its voice and evocation.” (Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient)
“A Free Man is stunning. It reminds me of that Victorian masterpiece of investigative journalism, Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor. Aman Sethi ‘gets’ modern India better than any other journalist I know. Not only is he a remarkable reporter and storyteller, but he possesses a novelist’s ear for language, sense of the absurd, and perfect pitch. I’m bowled over, totally.” (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius)
“A Free Man is a beautiful work of journalism, sympathetic and graceful. The author follows, and progressively befriends, a homeless day laborer in Delhi. What starts as classic ethnography becomes a gripping story, and ends as a homage to a lost friend.” (Esther Duflo, author of Poor Economics and MacArthur Fellow)
“With A Free Man, Aman Sethi comes to the forefront of an extraordinary new generation of Indian nonfiction writers. His compassion and humor is matched by a fierce determination to tell the stories of ordinary Indians, too often forgotten in the scramble for the spoils of the economic boom.” (Hari Kunzru, author of Gods Without Men)
“Funny and disturbing.” (Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things)
“A Free Man makes no promise of a happy ending. Perhaps no book about contemporary Indian society can. But it delivers more. It takes readers on a journey they might otherwise not go on. And that the destination is neither secret nor hidden shows that sometimes what matters isn’t what’s beyond our reach. It’s what’s before our eyes.” (Sonia Faleiro - New York Times Book Review)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Sethi's many frustrations in dealing with the slippery customers are often hilarious, but clearly he has devoted a huge amount of time, understanding and sympathy to these people. His easy-going style gives way to terribly moving passages, and make this one of the most important non-fiction narrative books to appear from the burgeoning Indian literary scene.
The writing was decent however the author appears regularly in the story-telling which I find gets in the way of it being an immersive experience like Katherine Boo's book.
Once you pick up this book you will not be able to put it down.
India’s vast working class — mistrys, beldars, karigars, mazdoor, rickshaw-pullers, plumbers — are largly rendered invisible. They are everywhere you see, and yet, nowhere seen.
You meet these people, live their lives, laugh and cry with them.
The author's narrative is held together by his attempts to interview Ashraf. Over a period of time, he forms a bond with Ashraf and his labourer friends — the crazy Lalloo, the muscular Rehaan, the dying Satish, Kaka the tea seller, and many others. He smokes with them, drinks with them, gets stoned with them, and becomes more involved in the lives of his subjects than a journalist might be expected to, something that is impossible to avoid when professional interest develops into a human relationship.
You also get to meet Sharmaji, a raiding officer for the Department of Social Welfare. Sharmaji’s job is to catch beggars and have them tried and punished at the Beggars Court in north Delhi. And he is under a lot of work pressure because his department has to make Delhi “beggar free in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010.”
Ashraf's last words to Sethi the journalist who is trying to get the timeline of his life:
“That’s it, Aman bhai. Now you know everything about me — sab kuch. Like a government form: name, date of birth, mother’s name, place of residence, everything. Our faces are pasted in your notebook, our voices are locked in your recorder — me, Lalloo, Rehaan, Kaka, JP Pagal, everyone. Now you know everything. What will we talk about if we ever meet again?Read more ›
This is the world of old Delhi. It is a world the authorities are determined to put an end to. The year of this interview, 2009, over 800,000 people had been displaced by the leveling of slums. Vagrancy is illegal, but one can prove your profession by the calluses and discolorations of certain professions. Everyone comes to Delhi with a plan to get rich. One woman who runs a semi-legal bar has done so. The rest are reliant upon the eventual ownership of a motorcycle and two phones; a goat; or a pair of pigs. Dreams drift through the drinking sessions in the evenings.
I was hesitant on the first page, piqued by the second page, and enthralled by the third page. Despite the constant problem of a coherent life story, these characters acquire real dimensions. Sethi becomes an additional character as he struggles with the role of interviewer. And the Chook, or employment market becomes yet another character of its own. This is a different side of the story, short of many of the ennobling stories that often accompany a story of a slum in India. Yet the stories are noble in their own right. Give it a try. It is a different world.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Okay read. Loses the focus somewhere in middle so you will be left wondering "whaaaat"Published 21 months ago by priyanka
Eh, it's no Midnight's children. Pretty slow pace to start but there is some interesting partsPublished 22 months ago by Aaron
An unusual narration of lives we see everyday around us but know little about. NGOs , social workers and others interested to help the hard working poor of India should read the... Read morePublished on April 30, 2014 by flutterby
I have long admired Sethi's writing in The Hindu - well written, informed, pieces that make the subtleties and complexities of situations comprehensible. Read morePublished on July 25, 2013 by Robert Aikenhead
A day laborer and his friends from New Delhi slum philosophize, evocate through hope and despair, illness and health, and sometimes the haze of alcohol about their livelihood. Read morePublished on May 31, 2013 by Daniel
Anyone who has traveled in India and loved India will relate to this book. However, it also has a universal appeal. Read morePublished on March 5, 2013 by A Reader
Journalist Aman Sethi spent five years on and off with a homeless laborer, Mohammed Ashraf and his cohorts in a Delhi slum. Read morePublished on February 28, 2013 by L. Young