Maheep's Reviews > A Free Man

A Free Man by Aman Sethi
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May 20, 12

Read in October, 2011

** spoiler alert ** It is a different book, if you don’t read much into the cover. Should you see it in one of the
bookstores and are slightly fazed by indecision, wondering if you should pick it up or not, then you
should!

Here’s why:
No matter where you are in Delhi you must know that the hands that have borne Delhi into its ever-
changing shape are those hands that live on a daily wage. These hands that go through an almost
similar fate everyday: The Morning Tea, Everyday (a country distilled whiskey), Brushes, Hammers,
Chisel and the fate of covering ones face from the destiny that repeats itself. ‘A Free Man’ is about
how these daily wages lead a construction worker to be – lawaris with azadi and akelapan.

These homeless rebuilders of this megalopolitan – who stray on the footpaths of a chowk named
Bara Tooti in Sadar Bazar. A small refuge, that became, after the demolition of illegal colonies in
preparation of Commonwealth Games in the year 2010. This book looks closely into their lives
and their state of economy in an ever growing state of Delhi, lived on the daily wages (a quite close
account infact). How, these mavericks build a city – where everyone is running away or towards
something, while they sit, wait and ponder – how a lawaris finds his own identity while life gushes
off full-stream.

The story revolves around the protagonist – Mohammad Ashraf, a safediwalla (white-washer)
working on daily wages while he whitewashes houses. His mornings starting with the bare
minimum of two rupees for the “morning special chai” and two more for the digestive results of
the former; in the evening lounging about with his “medium-type” friends near about the chowk
and doing away his drinking while giving his witty remarks about life in Delhi – “kacha chaba jati
hai sabko!”. “Aman-bhai” also finds some time to hear about other people in vicinity who wait for
jobs to come to them and their stories of the past, the present in Delhi and their hopeful schemes
of a richer tomorrow. These stories are weld together with the craft of interesting moorings by
the writer, giving away the lives that lie under the debris illegal construction and its demolition of
colonies in the heart of the heart of India.

Aman Sethi, the author – has carved a new facet for the journalism in India. After spending five

years with the homeless-with-heart (putting a black mark on the saying “home is where heart is),
Sethi devels deeper into the safediwallas, pahelledars, mazdoors and the slightly better off mistri’s,
and rolls into their life’s longing and the burning for it. A similar book, A City of Dijnns by William
Dalrymple (who takes a fleeting attempt on such matters), does not match with the probing writing
style of Sethi. The man behind the pen, while writing A Free Man has taken utmost interest in trying
to relay his logic and reasoning behind the happenings of the veiled life within Delhi. Another
reason why this book becomes an intriguing read, with a funny bone and a few amusing curses.

Simply put: Very well researched (almost, lived I would say), brings out the element of daring, in
the man, to see an uglier dressing on the trifles of an ever changing Delhi.
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