A Free Man

21 11 2012

A Free Man


Aman Sethi

(Review by Karthik Keramalu)

“My recorder seems to have died of its own accord.” And so it begins Aman Sethi’s fastidious short epic A Free Man.

Made from the purest whim of bringing a mazdoor’s (worker) realm to a broader section, this non-fiction work is apparently a ringing bell to the towners. A Free Man reaches beyond imagination; it offers what a PhD can’t. The dedication the writer gives his subjects – the theme and the man both included are mind-boggling. His penchant for the little details in Ashraf’s life is immensely applaudable. He lives and drinks and breathes a mazdoor’s life.

The beleaguering dreams in Sadar Bazaar start with chai and end with the local whiskey. Ashraf, the central figure in A Free Man narrates his life and the untrodden sight of the places he has lived in. His desires are wafer thin. He needs money for shitting, eating and drinking. And to satiate his sexual want. The wordy jabs Ashraf offers are strong messages to the dunking palette in a developing economy like ours. The narrative dispels many clouded abbreviations of a villager.

People in the book are innocent common workers who fail to see the transparency. Munna, a worker like Ashraf runs away from a Government hospital thinking that he would have to pay for the plaster cast. An old man makes Eighty Thousand Rupees when his brother gives him a share of their shop, but he glibly drinks it away in less than eighty days. Satish, a TB patient is thankful to the writer’s sister for paying him a visit. He hadn’t been bathed since he was admitted to the hospital about a month ago. The displacement of 8,00,000 slum dwellers is a mere ‘hmm’ by the authorities. The process is described as a necessary and painful part of urban renewal. Lalloo’s handcart is lost in a game of cards to some man. He sells his utensils in exchange for several bottles of alcohol. These are real stories, stories that do not dwindle but are bundled by the writer in this excellent reportage.

The ordinariness these people bring to the book serve the orderly mind with a possibility of rendering knowledge of the slum dwellers’ psyches. The city that unites these men also divides them. For the impeccableness, Ashraf possesses, he says “If you leave a mazdoor and return a mazdoor, then what have you achieved?” Yet his soul wanders cities and never misses an opportunity to gulp down country liquor and be a runaway.

In this speckless, spineless work Aman Sethi delivers a package that needs to be opened to be enjoyed, revered and treasured and may be help our drooling economy by eradicating poverty (which has been kind of an eclipse topic). Ashraf bhai and Aman bhai seem to form an umbilical cord cut only towards the end. But there’s always hope and phone to reunite them.

(Aman Sethi)