The Town Slowly Empties


Paperback with flaps
129 mm × 198 mm



*For sale in the Indian subcontinent only


How does one record an extraordinary time? Confined to his Delhi apartment, Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee unravels the intimate paradoxes of the 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.

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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.

‘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, thinking about flowers and grass — such things enter a sequence 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.’

Peter Riley, editor of The Fortnightly Review

‘What does a poet and an intellectual do when “the world had turned into a zoo” and “no visitors were allowed in”? Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee 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.’

Aleš Steger, author of Above the Sky Beneath the Earth

‘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.’

Siddhartha Deb, author of The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India

‘Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee negotiates the Covidocene, navigating through an everyday experience rendered radically unrecognisable by pandemic. What sustains the narrator-protagonist of this beautiful and compelling memoir of our very own plague year is his passionate, full-bodied immersion in culture. Even as he engages with the quotidian acts of survival around him, he endows them with the sumptuous, unpredictable beauty and sublimity of the poetry and fiction he has read, the films he has seen, the food he has known as folk memory, recipe and dish. The besieged imagination, which, as Manash reminds us, is both an aesthetic and a political force, refuses to renounce its resilient, intransigent mobility.’

Ranjit Hoskote, author of Hunchprose

‘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.’

Keshava Guha, author of Accidental Magic

‘A compelling account of the “intimate paradoxes” of a country and its people.’

The Hindu

‘Written with cadence and rhythm . . . a meditative work [that reminds of] our resilience, vivacity and the power of memory.’


‘A journey within, of an eternal every day.’

The Wire

‘In these personal close-ups, we likely recognize ourselves.’

World Literature Today


Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680 [email protected]

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