Anita one goes to recitations. It was very much

Anita Desai engages the
question of survival and existence in most of her novels. The author attempts to
blend the historical elements with the fictitious narrative of the text. The
novel ‘In Custody’, is basically
concerned with the fall of Urdu language and literature. Written at the language
controversy setting in India, the novel cleverly brings out the decline of Urdu
from the language of nobles to the protagonist’s failed attempt to save its
last shreds. It argues that, what is ‘In
custody’ is Urdu language which is on the edge of dying. This paper is an
attempt to read the novel in the light of Hindi – Urdu conflict in 20th
century in India. The narrative sensationalized
the highly politicized issue of languages in India and investigates its social
and artistic consequences. Desai examines the death of Urdu poetry and the
decline of a minority culture possessing a minority language. In an interview
with Magda Costa in 2001 , Desai states

“I was trying to portray the world of Urdu poets. Living in
Delhi I was always surrounded by the sound of Urdu poetry, which is mostly
recited. Nobody reads it, but one goes to recitations. It was very much the
voice of North India. But although there is such a reverence for Urdu poetry,
the fact that most Muslims left India to go to Pakistan meant that most schools
and Universities of Urdu were closed. So that it’s a language I don’t think is
going to survive in India ………There are many Muslims and they do write in Urdu;
but it has a kind of very artificial existence. People are not going to study
Urdu in school and college anymore, so who are going to be their readers? Where
is the audience?”

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Keywords: Linguistic conflicts,
minority, exile, marginalization, language politics etc


India is a country of diverse languages and
cultures. Each language has its literature and characteristics but the politics
of language has been caught in the socio-political issues of the country after
partition in 1947. The regional languages oppose the imposition of Hindi and
fight for the preeminence of their own regional languages. Anita Desai’s novel,
‘In Custody’ , Published almost three decades ago, raises current linguistic
conflicts at the present time. Desai’s narrative charts the changing social and
cultural values as India progress towards a global ethos.

On the background of the novel,
there is the decadence of the Urdu language in India. Urdu and Hindi are two branches
of the same language, but Urdu has Persian, Arabic and Turkish influence in
addition (it is in fact the language of the Muslim community of India and
Pakistan). Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and is one of the 23
official languages of India (and yes, it’s one of the 15 languages in the
Indian banknotes!). The status of Urdu in India is declining and this is why
Deven, the protagonist, is forced to teach Hindi literature, instead of Urdu poetry.