Firstpost and Jashn-E-Qalam present AfsanaBadosh: Listen to stories by masters of Hindi, Urdu fiction

AfsanaBadosh episodes 1-3 feature the works of Premchand, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Mannu Bhandari.

Jashn-E-Qalam December 29, 2020 11:35:55 IST
Firstpost and Jashn-E-Qalam present AfsanaBadosh: Listen to stories by masters of Hindi, Urdu fiction

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. The stories that are part of this project have been chosen for their continuing social resonance, decades after they were published.

Here is a look at the first three episodes from the series:

Episode 1 — Rajinder Singh Bedi's 'Quarantine' | Performed by KC Shankar

In the world of 'Quarantine', people's fear of being isolated for treatment exceeds their fear of contracting the plague. 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.

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.

Episode 2 — Premchand's 'Sawa Ser Gehun' | Performed by Vicky Ahuja

In 'Sawa Ser Gehun', Premchand opens our eyes to the greed and exploitation that plagued our past, and continues even in the present. He presents a searing critique of money lenders who live off the labour of peasants and labourers. The author also did not shy away from pointing out how caste is embedded in the evils of money lending.

He tells the story of Shankar, a simple, poor farmer who is far from being meddlesome or having evil intentions. Neither was he interested in profiting from others, nor was he fearful of being cheated. He is the sort of man who goes about life sans complaint — when he didn't have any food to eat, he would make do with water.

He borrows a small amount of grain on loan from a moneylender — sawa ser gehun — to feed a sage who has visited his home. Little does he know that it will take him his whole lifetime to pay off this 'debt'.

Episode 3 — Mannu Bhandari's 'Alagaav' | Performed by Shashwita Sharma

In ‘Alagaav’, Mannu Bhandari lays bare the vicious cycle of apathy and lack of accountability in Indian society and its justice system.

Bisesar, a man in his late 20s, is described as 'sar-phira' and meddlesome; his crime is that he rouses and encourages labourers and residents in the Harijan tola, or backward caste settlement, to demand better wages from their employers and fairer interest rates on loans. He was also an avid teacher in the village, who especially enjoyed spending time teaching underprivileged children.

One day, Bisesar's corpse is found on a small bridge, but the circumstances aren't mysterious to anyone who understands how power works in the village.

The thousands of Bisesars who live across the country are India's real human rights defenders. They work tirelessly and selflessly for those who don't have a voice. It is no wonder then that they are viewed as a threat, that their spirits are broken, and their lives are reduced to statistics, either by ensuring they languish in jail, or in more unfortunate circumstances.

Stay tuned for more episodes in January.

Editorial support, execution and text by Neerja Deodhar | Art by Pinaki De | Episodes edited by Akshay Jadhav and Aneesh Arora.

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