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AfsanaBadosh ep 1: Listen to Rajinder Singh Bedi's 'Quarantine' | Presented by Firstpost and Jashn-E-Qalam

Jashn-E-Qalam
·3-min read

Editorial support, execution and text by Neerja Deodhar | Art by Pinaki De | Episode edited by Akshay Jadhav

AFSANABADOSH

afsana (story, legend) | khanabadosh (vagabond, gypsy)

AfsanaBadosh is the coming-together of stories and a vagabond perspective to traversing the world of fiction. It is embodied by the sort of person whose head is always in a book, or who looks for stories in the places they visit and people they meet.

But it is not that cliche of an old man with a long, white beard who trades in legend and cannot rest in one place. AfsanaBadosh is us: ordinary individuals who have experienced the beauty of storytelling in different contexts €" as a way to better know the world, to find a sense of solace, and to enrich and entertain. It speaks to an ability to listen to and contend with ideas different from our own; to learn from the past and build a better future.

AfsanaBadosh is Firstpost and Jashn-E-Qalam's celebration of the spirit of storytelling through narrations of fiction written by some of Hindi and Urdu's greatest writers. These include Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadat Hassan Manto, Mannu Bhandari, Krishan Chander and Premchand.

The stories that are part of this project have been chosen for their continuing social resonance, decades after they were published. The foundation of each story is a sense of truth, whether real or imagined.

Episode 1 €" Rajinder Singh Bedi's 'Quarantine', performed by >KC Shankar.

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RAJINDER SINGH BEDI was one of the most prominent voices of the Progressive Writers Movement, and his body of work includes plays, novels, short stories and films. A prolific chronicler of the Partition, he became known for his short fiction.

He won three Filmfare awards, and was known for his collaborations with filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Bimal Roy. As a director, he had four films to his name €" Aankhon Dekhi, Nawab Sahib, Phagun and Dastak.

Bedi won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1965 for his Urdu novel, Ek Chadar Maili Si.

While reading Bedi's QUARANTINE, it is impossible to shake off the feeling that this is a story about the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown put it place to curb it, with a mere change in the name of the disease. It possesses a timelessness owing to its acute observations about human behaviour, which still stand true in a different era, and a different but equally menacing pandemic.

In the world of 'Quarantine', people's fear of being isolated for treatment exceeds their fear of contracting the disease. The State moulded this fear into messaging on posters, warning people to be safe. As we witnessed during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, people would often hide the fact that they had the plague.

Ultimately, quarantine is said to have claimed more lives than the plague itself. Those who looked at the afflicted would fall sick, and those who were sick would find themselves getting sicker in quarantine.

Told from the perspective of a doctor tasked with treating plague patients, it captures the creeping sense of alarm about constantly being vulnerable, or falling prey to disease. The sheer cruelty of the public health system, and the cheap value assigned to human life, both become evident.

But above everything else, the story lays bare how privilege plays out during a health emergency: who is more likely to suffer, which caste and class is able to isolate itself from difficult circumstances, and how self-preservation can sometimes take the form of cruelty.

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