Anita Desai engages thequestion of survival and existence in most of her novels. The author attempts toblend the historical elements with the fictitious narrative of the text. Thenovel ‘In Custody’, is basicallyconcerned with the fall of Urdu language and literature. Written at the languagecontroversy setting in India, the novel cleverly brings out the decline of Urdufrom the language of nobles to the protagonist’s failed attempt to save itslast shreds. It argues that, what is ‘Incustody’ is Urdu language which is on the edge of dying. This paper is anattempt to read the novel in the light of Hindi – Urdu conflict in 20thcentury in India. The narrative sensationalizedthe highly politicized issue of languages in India and investigates its socialand artistic consequences.
Desai examines the death of Urdu poetry and thedecline of a minority culture possessing a minority language. In an interviewwith Magda Costa in 2001 , Desai states”I was trying to portray the world of Urdu poets. Living inDelhi I was always surrounded by the sound of Urdu poetry, which is mostlyrecited. Nobody reads it, but one goes to recitations. It was very much thevoice of North India.
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But although there is such a reverence for Urdu poetry,the fact that most Muslims left India to go to Pakistan meant that most schoolsand Universities of Urdu were closed. So that it’s a language I don’t think isgoing 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 studyUrdu in school and college anymore, so who are going to be their readers? Whereis the audience?” Keywords: Linguistic conflicts,minority, exile, marginalization, language politics etcIntroductionIndia is a country of diverse languages andcultures. Each language has its literature and characteristics but the politicsof language has been caught in the socio-political issues of the country afterpartition in 1947. The regional languages oppose the imposition of Hindi andfight for the preeminence of their own regional languages. Anita Desai’s novel,’In Custody’ , Published almost three decades ago, raises current linguisticconflicts at the present time.
Desai’s narrative charts the changing social andcultural 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 branchesof the same language, but Urdu has Persian, Arabic and Turkish influence inaddition (it is in fact the language of the Muslim community of India andPakistan). Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and is one of the 23official languages of India (and yes, it’s one of the 15 languages in theIndian banknotes!).
The status of Urdu in India is declining and this is whyDeven, the protagonist, is forced to teach Hindi literature, instead of Urdu poetry.