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The Town Slowly Empties

On Life and Culture during Lockdown

A latter-day Journal of the Plague Year. Rekindles our ties with culture, and affirms friendship, empathy and love.


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A latter-day Journal of the Plague Year. Rekindles our ties with culture, and affirms friendship, empathy and love.

How does one record an extraordinary time? Confined to his Delhi apartment, Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee unravels the intimate paradoxes of life he encounters in the first weeks of a global pandemic. His stories about local fish sellers, gardeners, barbers and lovers merge with his concerns for the exodus of migrant labourers, the challenges faced by health workers, and a mother braving checkposts to bring her son home.

Drawing inspiration from contemporary literature and cinema, The Town Slowly Empties is a unique window on a world desperate for love, care and hope. Manash is our Everyman, urging us to slow down and mend our broken ties with nature.

Written with rare candour and elegance, this meditative book is a compelling account of the human condition that soars high above the empty streets.

Chandni S Chandel
Chandni S ChandelThe Tribune (India)
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The reader shouldn’t go by the title of the book, The Town Slowly Empties, as it might incur pessimistic emotions of misery. On the contrary, it feeds your mind with much to ponder upon. The book is a delight.
George Town Literary Festival
George Town Literary FestivalClick for podcast
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[Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee in conversation with Nithiya Muthusamy for the George Town Literary Festival 2021, Malaysia.]
Sonia Ghalian & Aivinor Ams
Sonia Ghalian & Aivinor AmsThe Wire
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“The book reminds us how masks are not just physical objects of social distancing in today’s pandemic but also symbolic of the merciless history of man towards nature and other humans. [...] What we can take away from this book is the hope that perhaps this invisible virus can trigger some spiritual and ethical transformation in us.“
Anandi Mishra
Anandi MishraLos Angeles Review of Books
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“[Bhattacharjee] writes in painstaking detail about various aspects of life under the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns in Delhi: waiters in the food markets, lone dogs lying in the street, Kollam fish curry [and] reveals himself as a seasoned ethnographer of a place’s various moods [...] Bhattacharjee might have published this book too soon.”
Michelle Johnson
Michelle JohnsonWorld Literature Today
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“Somehow at home among the many literary and culture references—and discussions of nationalism, Montaigne, and 'the gospel of reason'—we find the quotidian. There, in these personal close-ups, we likely recognize ourselves.”
Sasha Dugdale
Sasha DugdaleAuthor of Deformations
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“Delightful and provocative.”
Siddhartha Deb
Siddhartha DebAuthor of The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India
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“Lyrical and evocative, this is a pandemic journal with a difference. Deftly capturing the passing of slow lockdown time in an India otherwise devoted to speed and violence, it demands that we partake in the restorative powers of love, literature, and well-cooked fish.”
Peter Riley
Peter RileyEditor of The Fortnightly Review
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“In this book of quiet meditations, Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee shows the unique value of sensible, informed and honest thought in a world torn apart by religion and politics in the grip of a serious pandemic. Ordinary acts — what you cook for breakfast, advice on how to obtain wine, friendship and love, poetry ... alongside the plight of destitute workers, the meaning of masks... The greatest contribution is the author’s sheer calm of mind in a world driven mad by anxiety.”
Aleš Steger
Aleš StegerAuthor of Above the Sky Beneath the Earth
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“Follows numerous fine examples from world literature. They all share an ethical necessity to remain awakened through language, to write and to chronicle in times of severe grief and tragedy. In his diary from the first three weeks of the surge of Covid-19 in India, Manash interweaves captivating observations, piercing personal memories and essayistic reflections with a double goal: to bear witness and to remain a human being.”
Ranjit Hoskote
Ranjit HoskoteAuthor of The Atlas of Beliefs
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“Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee negotiates the Covidocene, navigating through an everyday experience rendered radically unrecognisable by pandemic. What sustains the narratorprotagonist of this beautiful and compelling memoir of our very own plague year is his passionate, full-bodied immersion in culture.”
Keshava Guha
Keshava GuhaAuthor of Accidental Magic
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“This is a remarkable work in many ways — whether in terms of the sheer quality of the writing or the way in which the writer combines an account of the material reality of lockdown with history, literature and philosophy. The cultural criticism is breathtaking in its range.”
Joseph Schreiber
Joseph Schreiberroughghosts
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“Reading The Town Slowly Empties is akin to spending time in the company of an intelligent, poetic friend—the sort of person who always has an interesting story to tell, a poem to quote, a book or movie to recommend. To that end, this friend has been sure to leave you, his reader, with a select bibliography, a filmography and extensive notes. You are not left empty handed.”
Look Inside

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On Life and Culture during Lockdown

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

978-1-909394-75-9 (pbk)
978-1-909394-76-6 (ebk)

4 February 2021

Memoir/Society & Culture

Size & Pages
127mm x 210mm / 210



Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, and political science scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the author of Looking for the Nation: Towards Another Idea of India (Speaking Tiger, 2018) and a collection of poetry, Ghalib's Tomb and Other Poems (The London Magazine, 2013). He frequently writes for The Wire, and has contributed to The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, Los Angeles Review of Books, Guernica, The Hindu, The Indian Express, Outlook, among other publications. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, World Literature Today, Acumen, The Fortnightly Review, among others. He has taught lyric poetry and literary journalism at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.


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