“The Town Slowly Vides” is a story of misery and hope – all in a pandemic: The Tribune India
WE must consider ourselves lucky to have survived epic lockdown. Everyone was struggling against time, the various fallout from foreclosure and misery, but those like Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee were slowly, beautifully, and aesthetically emptying their minds of black and white. The reader can certainly relate to his experiences, his intellect being an added value.
The author lays bare his philosophy, thoughts, feelings, and observations as he recounts some of the Lockdown Days in a vivid account from his book. What is the tip of his journal that makes him different?
An avid reader, JNU-bred Manash has mixed in his own thoughts the prose and poetry of different authors, poets and philosophers ranging from TS Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Charles Baudelaire to WG Sebald, Fernando Pessoa, Milan Kundera , K Satchidanandan and Constantine Cavafy, many of whom would not read an ordinary reader. He quotes them on things as varied and unusual as blades of grass, mustaches, migrant workers, masks, love and friendship, stuttering, dreams, sleep.
By sifting through the pages, you get multiple perspectives. For example, when his friend shares a photo of a flower, Madhulata, on WhatsApp, he links it to his father’s flower fetish, after which he goes on to talk about Viginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs Dalloway”, where the protagonist has a thing for flowers. You don’t usually find such a clear fusion.
Once every hundred years, epidemics come to test humanity – whether it is the Great Plague of London in 1665, recounted in “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe; the plague of 1894 which is mentioned in Gandhi’s “My Experiences with the Truth”; or the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in which Eliot and his wife, Vivien, suffered. In India, the Hindi poet Nirala lost his wife and daughter to the flu. In his memoir, “Kulli Bhaat” (“A Life Misspent” is its English version), Nirala recounted similar cases of floaters in the Ganges as we saw during the Covid pandemic this year. He wrote: “The Ganges was swollen with corpses, at my in-laws I learned that my wife had passed away… my family was gone in the blink of an eye.
In these unusual times, nothing could be more relevant than the words of French thinker Michel Foucault that in ancient times “self-care” included writing. The author has quoted it and is probably one of the few to have also applied his axiom. The spectrum of thoughts justifies optimism in times of uncertainty and isolation. Speaking of the unrecognized work of migrant construction workers, he writes: “… the workers occupy the building until the last job is done… the memories of the work that make our lives possible, that build our homes, do not. not part of our memory.
The reader should not rely on the title of the book, “The Slowly Empty City”, as it might provoke pessimistic emotions of misery. On the contrary, it feeds your mind a lot to ponder. The book is a delight for social thinkers as for non-literary people because it is food for thought for the former and educational for the latter.