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

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Overview

“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”—Katherine Boo
Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage.
Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of ...

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

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Overview

“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”—Katherine Boo
Like Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and Alexander Masters’s Stuart, this is a tour de force of narrative reportage.
Mohammed Ashraf studied biology, became a butcher, a tailor, and an electrician’s apprentice; now he is a homeless day laborer in the heart of old Delhi. How did he end up this way? In an astonishing debut, Aman Sethi brings him and his indelible group of friends to life through their adventures and misfortunes in the Old Delhi Railway Station, the harrowing wards of a tuberculosis hospital, an illegal bar made of cardboard and plywood, and into Beggars Court and back onto the streets.
In a time of global economic strain, this is an unforgettable evocation of persistence in the face of poverty in one of the world’s largest cities. Sethi recounts Ashraf’s surprising life story with wit, candor, and verve, and A Free Man becomes a moving story of the many ways a man can be free.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In the crowded, tangled streets of India's Delhi reside 800,000 slum dwellers. Moving almost invisibly in this city within a city is Mohammed Ashraf, described by one watcher as a "laborer, drifter, free thinker, alcoholic." For five years, award-winning journalist Aman Sethi mingled on and off with Ashraf as he and his raffish associates plotted for jobs and hid from beggar police in a local roadside and back-alley market. Conscientiously elusive, Ashraf holds our attention and sympathy by retaining his sense of dignity even in the midst of adversity: "If you had studied psychology, you would know that if you sleep without washing your feet, you get nightmares." Sethi's engaging and often surprisingly hilarious biography gives us a passport into a realm that most of us otherwise would be afraid to visit.

Publishers Weekly
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.)
New York Times Book Review
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
Katherine Boo
“A deeply moving, funny, and brilliantly written account from one of India’s most original new voices.”
Siddhartha Mukherjee
“Funny, poignant, and deeply moving, A Free Man is an extraordinary vignette into an extraordinary life.”
Michael Ondaatje
“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.”
Sylvia Nasar
“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.”
Esther Duflo
“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.”
Hari Kunzru
“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.”
Arundhati Roy
“Funny and disturbing.”
Sonia Faleiro - New York Times Book Review
“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.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Important [and] powerful.”
Christian Science Monitor
“As raw and disturbing as it is wryly humorous and poignant.”
New York Times Book Review - Sonia Faleiro
“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.”
The New York Times Book Review
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
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist ingratiates himself with a band of day laborers on the mean streets of Delhi, India. In 2005, Sethi, a young reporter eager to undertake an investigative study of Delhi's working poor, befriended vagabond Mohammed Ashraf and his crew. Six years later, he found himself still involved in Ashraf's life, providing him with both emotional and financial support. Although Sethi initially expressed frustration with Ashraf's reluctance to provide a linear timeline of his life story, he soon fell under the spell cast by this streetwise raconteur. Like many others in his circle, Ashraf had run away to Delhi to escape a tempestuous home life. During times when he could find work, he painted houses and did other manual odd jobs; during times when there was either no work to be had or no work that he wanted, he drank heavily, spun tall tales and fantasized about opening his own business. Sethi excels at empathetically depicting what could come across as a miserable existence: he allows Ashraf and the other mazdoors (laborers) to share their stories without either judging them or pretending to be one of them. For all the injustices that these men face every day, the book offers ample humor. In the most poignant chapters, Sethi accompanies Ashraf's friend to a tuberculosis hospital. The bureaucracy and despair of such an institution becomes painfully clear when Sethi portrays the panel of admitting doctors, all wearing masks and looking away from their patients. Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781470826246
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/22/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 5
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Aman Sethi was born in Bombay in 1983 and attended the Columbia School of Journalism. He is a correspondent for The Hindu and the recipient of an International Committee of the Red Cross award for his reportage.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 13 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2012

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2012

    Cat

    I believe you have a spy among you, Aero.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    Lily

    "Thank you Aero!" I smile and run to find Fallensnow. Lily

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Flare

    Ok.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    Summer

    "Ulsan!" I call briskly~Summer

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Tagg

    I go by Tagg when I talk about my rl
    I am not staying long, not long enough to fully train Faith. Please find another animal (not Moon, either) to. Thank you, -

    Starr

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Chaia

    She bows her head, and sits down, waiting for her mentor to come on.

    ~€haia

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2012

    Dragons

    Bluefire, Blurrwing, Blurrstone and Blueice shrink to a size of a cat. They watch a cerimonty.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    Ulsan

    "Coming!" Ulsan ran up to Summer. Faith waited for Areo, squirming restlessly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2012

    To Aero

    "Hello?" I pad in. My dark black coat glistens in the sun as I walk to Aero. I am Piper I would like to join you. Her amber eyes sparkle. I am a wolf from the beyond I was abanded in the woods when as a pup and survived because of Sarah McDonagan who raised me. She told me my mom was a Freedom Chaiser but i never meet her. So I would like to join. Piper looked down on Aero, Piper was a good 4 feet of the ground from head to paw so Aero was very small. Piper hoped she could join.- Piper

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2012

    Pine

    (Post in 2nd res, Piper. Im sure Areo/Summer will let u join. Im deputy, btw)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2012

    Raven

    "Ready to train?" I ask Wick.
    #Raven

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2012

    Aeiro

    I AM LOCKED OUT OF RESULT 2, MOVE CAMPS TO "free lands" ALL RESULTS!!!!
    ~Aeiro

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