In Custody questions and answers

In Custody questions and answers


Essay Type Questions with Answers


Q. 1. Comment on Anita Desai’s treatement on the condition of Urdu Language in the modern society in the nove, In Custody.


Ans. Written at the backdrop of language controversy in India, ‘In Custody’ by Anita Desai subtly brings out the decline of Urdu from the language of aristocrats to the protagonist’s failed attempt to preserve its last shreds. There is an attempt by Anita Desai to blend the historical realist elements with the fictitious i arrative of the text.


Opening in media res, the novel brings out the predicament of Urdu language. Through the juxtaposition of Hindi and Urdu, Desai is able to highlight the changes in the dynamics of culture after the partition. Anita Desai endeavors to draw reader’s notice to this bilingual scene in India post-partition. In the novel, she points out that Urdu now ʻlanguishes’ devoid of any patrons. Deven, the antihero of the novel attempts to preserve the last shreds of Urdu by interviewing a famous Urdu poet Nur. Interestingly, the year of the publication of the book coincides with the demise of the great Urdu poet Faiz. This encourages us to see Nur as the symbolic representation of Faiz, since the novel also ends with the death of the poet.


To highlight the bleak and pessimistic efforts made by Deven, Anita Desai describes the disturbed family scene depicting fracture between the spouses. Since Deven does not come from any elite background he is forced to live at the fringes of his culture. The whistle of the train that he constantly hears seems to be the call of life to escape his economic vows. The astonishing prospect of interviewing Nur brings a temporary hope to escape this cage like existence but it is a kind of freedom that is packed with fear and danger. This sense of danger is illustrated during his first journey to Delhi At interstate bus terminal he faces an ominous forewarning when he sees a dead fly floating in the tea. This indication is interceded through omniscient narrator who bring to fore the symbolic motif of death. The description of a dog, the crows and the fly highlights this fact. This event indicates that his journey has ended before it even started because language he desires to save is already dead.


Desa lirks the theme of language to the religion and politics , Deven when applies for leave to interview Nur, Trivedi, his head of the department, asks him to get his Muslim thoughts away from his department. He says “I’ll warn the RSS you are a traitor” (Desai, 163). This stand encapsulates the distrust and fear of the nation where language, ironically becomes marker of religion and faithfulness to the nation. The protagonist of the novel finds himself disempowered in using his mother tongue Urdu, in post-partition India. His passion and his profession are at odds with each other. Though a lover of Urdu poetry he is forced to teach Hindi in a local college for his economic stability. This indicates the rising threat to Urdu’s existence.


Anita Desai’s politics can be discerned from her attempt to trace the history of Mirpore by linking it to the presence of Muslims aristocracy, pointed by the description of pink marbled mosque, Haveli build by the Nawab after 1857. But she does not connect Hinduism with any such past. She points out that temple in Mirpore have no history. She is able to bring out the stratification of the society by indicating that police was deployed during Holi to avoid clashes between the communities. This stratification of society also points to the linguistic divisions within the community. As in the novel, Muslims accuses Hindi as the “vegetable monster” while Urdu books are not even considered “worthy” for Sahitya academy award. With the depiction of Delhi and Nur, Anita Desai attempts to form an image of old “good times” which Deven associates with Urdu language.


Murad and Siddiqui stands as the two representative Muslims in the novel. Murad tries to preserve the last works of Urdu in his journal Aawaz. His proposition to take Urdu into custody results in silences symbolizing the silence of Urdu poetry (Yakin, 6). He is nostalgic about the glorious past enjoyed by Urdu during Mughal times. On the contrary, Siddiqui and his worsening Haveli capture the vanishing culture which he represents. Being a professor in Urdu department, he is least interested in doing any efforts to save Urdulanguage. Also, he decides to sell his Haveli to a builder which is symbolic of lost Muslim affluence. This depiction emphasizes the idea that the class which Siddiqui represents can no longer be the guardian of Urdu . Through his depiction, Desai wants to highlight that not only the external pressure but the irresponsible behavior of proponents of Urdu is also a factor responsible for Urdu’s disintegration.


The novel begins with Murad and Deven’s friendship but by the time we reach to the end there is a hint of breakdown and uneasiness between them. Deven is not only apprehended by the fear that he has taken the wrong project but also become skeptical about his friendship with Murad. The friendship which symbolically stood for co-existence of not only Hindi and Urdu, but also harmony between two cultures, disintegrates at last. Murad feels he is on higher ethical ground because unlike Deven, he has not yielded to Hindi. His job as an editor exhibits his allegiance to the Urdu tradition despite being bounded with the worries of thinning subscriptions, stumpy readership and swelling production costs. Deven’s lost friendship is another marker of a tradition which is lost.


The novel is replete with symbolic imageries of disintegration, hopelessness and failure. Murad is depicted as having scarred face, blemishes, pockmarks which stands as a metaphor for Urdu and his disdain for Hindi. However, Desai very cautiously is able to shun any sense of communal rejection of Hindus by Murad. This is highlighted when Murad bestows custody of Urdu on Deven. Deven not only become the custodian of Urdu language but also the custodian of heart and soul of Nur.


In Desai’s recitation Nur becomes the means to Urdu’s restitution. Nur when introduced in the novel is the poet at the end of his career. Deven is shocked to see Nur’s feet are “made of clay“. Nur and his room stand symptomatic of putrefying Urdu culture. The murky room, dirty and old furniture in Nur’s room shows the position of Urdu poetry post partition. It replicates the true picture of language which is on the verge of dying. The imagined ideal picture of the poet smashes when Deven expecting him to be encircled by ntellectuals and poets of his status, finds him surrounded with seople who are not concerned about his poetry but are all drunkards.

Contrary to our expectations Nur is unwilling to part with lifestyles of an aristocrat’s lineage and seems to be unaffected by a progressive outlook. He is preoccupied with the pigeons, his body is drenched with an excess of rich foods and alcohol, and he lives in a dusty house and entertains lavishly. His bodily ailments epitomize the dismayed state of Urdu. Attack of pigeons on him, his vomiting during a Mushaira, and Nur forgetting all his poetry all these symbolic references point to the lowly state of not only Urdu but also of poetry. His pain is personified in his alter ego, Deven. Deven is ensnared by the harsh realities of a material world. Having had the upper hand in his own domestic life, Deven is bewildered by the peculiar power structure of Nur’s household which is dominated by his second wife.


The incidence of the failure of tradition and modernity moves simultaneously. The recorder used in recording the poems of Nur is a symbol of modernity which fails to record the voice of tradition of pre modern India. Deven is suggested to record the interview but he sees it as a mocking gesture to his ideal poet. He is of the view that it will reduce his poetry to some kind of cinema. The failed recordings are symptomatic of dysfunctional state of Urdu .Chiku’s ineptitude in assisting tape recorder is a metaphor for the mishandling of the project of language revival.


It can be argued that the problem in Desai’s story is that she does not come up with any other alternative of Urdu. Her vision of Urdu is totally opposite from Intizar Husain. According to Husain, Urdu cannot be linked with only one region and culture because it is hybrid in nature and adaptable to new regions. Can we then say Desai’s Urdu is fated to wilt away in the summer of Mirpore unable to uphold the hopes of its sustenance?


So, Desai uses English to depict the nostalgic attitude of her characters for the past glory enjoyed by Urdu. Desai in her novel questions the ‘imperialism of Hindi’ (Salman Rushdie) which is considered as the only voice of modernity and means for material prosperity. She questions the segregation of tradition by portraying a lamenting farewell to a language which is encapsulated as a practice only left for remembrance rather than continuing. Despite his attempts Deven is unable to fill in the metaphorical gap betweenMirpore and Delhi as Nur points out “Urdu is suppose to have died…the city of Delhi has absorbed another memory” (Desai, 39). Therefore, her novel can be read as a microcosmic representation of decaying Urdu language and culture in India.


Q. 2. Comment on the character of Deven in, In Custody.


Ans. In Custody marks a departure from Anita Desai’s earlier novels where the concentration was on the internal consciousness of the individual. In Custody depicts a world beyond the individual. This novel has a male protagonist who comes from a lower middleclass family and who seeks to reach out into a wider world in the hope of self-fulfillment. Deven Sharma is a lecturer in Hindi in a college in ore, a small town near Delhi. He is portrayed as an average man completely lacking in initiative because of his timidity. However, he has literary aspirations and longs for distinction. The conflict between fantasy and reality is one of the themes in the novel. The story revolves round his weaknesses, and his trials and travails to become a success He thinks that life so far has been empty” and that “marriage, a family and a job had placed him in (a) cage” (p. 131). He resents the fact that he is chained to the necessity of “earning a livelihood” in order to “support his family”. He longs to transcend the entirely static and stagnant backwaters of his existence (p. 104) and the liberating event is to be his interviewing the famous Urdu poet Nur Shahjehanabadi. The interview and recording of his memoirs end in a fiasco leaving his literary aspirations crushed. However, these humiliating experiences bring about a sudden change in Deven and he begins to look within to find his own strength and to know his realself.


In this novel, Deven is portrayed as “a diffident and awkward hero” and who feels himself a victim of circumstances. These dominant traits of Deven’s character are doubly emphasized by the delineation of his background. Almost the first impression the reader gets on reading the descriptions of the background is its dreariness. Primarily, the protagonist is portrayed against two backgrounds Mirpore and Old Delhi both of which have been portrayed by the novelist in the most uninspiring and dreary terms. “Carignano’ in Fire on the Mountain symbolizes the psyche of Nanda and Rakawith its bleak landscape. So also Mirpore with its dullness and barrenness reflects Deven’s own personality. A series of negative images characterize the description othe town and the landscape to evoke the very sense of desolation and aridity of the place. Lacking a river the town had an artificial tank in which water is concealed by a covering layer of bright green scum.


Water the source of life is beyond the reach of the town-dwellers indicating their State of lifelessness Almost the first thing which strikes the reader in the description of the place Mirpore is the numerous references to ‘dust’; so much ‘dusť becomes a metaphor, an image characterizing Mirpore, which is symbolic of the dull arid life of Deven. As Viney Kirpal says Dusť with its connotations of unproductivity, sterility and death is more real to the people of Mirpore than soil, associated with vitality, creativity and growth.”


The citizens of Mirpore could not be blamedfor failing to understand those patriotic songs and slogans about the soil, the earth. To them it was so palpably dust (p. 19)


Even the violence of religious riots causing diversion in the otherwise uneventful life can be buried easily by this ubiquitous presence of dust (p. 12). The neem tree outside Deven’s house has covered the entire courtyard with its branches like “a dusty canopy” (p. 13), shutting out the sun and the air.


While travelling by bus to Delhi to seek an interview with Nur, Deven is beset with doubts as to whether this “rare opportunity would not also turn to dust” (p. 26). After his terrifying experience in the perilous world of night-time bacchanalia” (p. 60) of Nur, Deven feels relieved to come back to the “safe dustbin” (p. 60) of his world in Mirpore. He wearily sinks back “onto the dust heap like a crust thrown away and moulder” (p. 67). Deven considers his family and his job as “heaps of rubbish” that obstruct his way towards fame and glory. But it is his own obsessive sense of insecurity and inadequacy and habitual timidity that become the stumbling block He likes to project the view that he is the victim of other people and situations; but in fact he is the victim of his own doubts, a fact whid he is aware of Thus, Mirpore becomes an objective correlati projecting the dullness, boredom and apathy of Deven’s life.

If Mirpore stifles Deven with its dust and aridity, Delhi, the land of promise and glory is no better. The great city was “certainly larger, crowded and chaotic” (p. 33). It too has its share of dust. The surroundings of his adored poet, Nur in the crowded Chandni Chowk how obvious signs of decadence which comes as a jolt to Deven. He refuses to connect this decadence to the life of the old poet, so greatly did he romanticize the poet and his world. But after observingNur’s life from closer angles, Deven comes to understand that even the poet, once a fiery symbol of Urdu literary world, has degenerated into a drunken, complaining, ill-tempered and whining old man. The sense of futility is accentuated by the house of Nur which is a picture of neglect and lethargy. The predominant impression conveyed by the descriptions of Nur’s house is that of gloom and darkness, even as dust symbolizes Mirpore.


This pictorial image is replete with words evoking an atmosphere of gloom-like’semi-darkness shadowy gloom murkiness’ etc. As in the other novels of Desai, the places and houses assume symbolic significance. They foreshadow certain crucial events that are central to the theme of the novel and important to the growth of the central character. Nur’s house offers Deven, not the glories of poetry or the divine life of the poet but darkness, emptiness, secretiveness and death The darkness of Nur’s house signifies that his creative vision is gone into eclipse and that his entire life is darkened now with depravity and mediocrity. Deven has romantic visions of poets and their lives in sharp contrast to his own dismal existence. But Nur’s place mocks at his fantasy with its unspeakable filth and noise. Another impression evoked by Desai’s descriptions of the locale of Mirpore is that of imprisonment, and the descriptions abound in words like ‘prison cage ‘trap’. Deven regards Mirpore as a prison where he is doomed forever to live a dull and empty life. He feels trapped in a net of mediocrity and inadequacy. But once he gets bogged down in the mire of Nur’s life, he shockingly realizes that he is trapped equally in Delhi. Deven begins to feel that help offered by others to complete the project of interview with the poet is also an attempt to trap him further.


Deven’s fantasy about the poet is shattered when he realizes that Nur was as trapped as Deven was, that in fact Nur’s cage was more prominent. Deven is now forced to accept Nur’s life as another facet of reality.


The drunken revelry, the noisy melodrama enacted evening in Nur’s house seem to serve the purpose of driving awa his loneliness But it was too much for Deven who “hoped his forta life of nonevents, non-happenings, would be resumed, empty a hopeless, safe and endurable” (p. 183).


Another aspect of Deven is colorsymbolism. He regards his life as “grey clay” and a “field, bat: of grain”. “Grey’ is the only prominent color in this novel in keepin with the drab world of the protagonist. It is colorless an meaningless. When he takes his son for a walk, in one of the experienced happy moments “One brilliant feather of spring green fluttered down through the air” (p. 73) which is symbolic of the moment of laughter that enlivened the lives of father and son only for a brief moment. The color “green’ which normally represents prosperity s to Deven to signify death and destruction as yellow signifies dryness and lifelessness.


Thus, in this novel, the city and the town, Nur’s crowded house with its noise and Deven’s shabby house evoke the same sense of despair, besides a stifling feeling of imprisonment. Here, the city is not an antagonist as it too is smothered in dust and squalor objectifying the central character’s plight. As in Mrs. Desai’s other novels, here too, the landscape and the house reflect the psychic state of the protagonist.


Deven could never see any beauty or comfort even in the landscape. The stretch of land between Mirpore and the capital was so short that there was no really rural scenery withered fields and tin smokestacks emitting black smoke, cement factories, brick kilns, motor repair workshops were all the landscape one sees along the highway overtaking what might once have been a pleasant aspect and obliterating it with all the litter and paraphernalia and effluent of industry; concrete, zinc, smoke, pollutants, decay and destruction (p. 24). Landscape reflects the transition of the society. Even the prospect The Delhi does not of meeting Nur, his idol, while travelling to make even happy owing to his own anxieties.


The misery and wretchedness of his physical existence is paralleled by the bleak, melancholic surroundings. As Inamdar remarks, the wasteland outside correlates with the wasteland of Deven’s mind.”

But these two settings Mirpore and Delhi and his shuttle between them teaches Deven to come out of his illusions and to face reality untlinchingly, gathering up the inner reserves of strength. Thus, though theportrayal of places and houses denote dereliction and death, they bring about a positive effect on the protagonist seen towards the end. As a critic remarks, the background of the city is used in the novel to concretize the process of Deven’s defeat and his awareness of reality.


Towards the end of the novel, when everyone deserts him, Deven suddenly finds his own strength and learns to accept his responsibilities with fortitude. He realizes that having accepted the gift of Nur’s poetry he becomes the custodian of Nur’s very soul and spirit, and this great distinction certainly has elevated him. Viney Kirpal states, “This realization is indicative of his growth as a human being. Deven welcomes the “greyness of his life as it is better than darkness.


The sky was filling with a grey light that was dissolving the dense darkness of night. It glistened upon a field of white pampas grass which waved in a sudden breeze that had sprung up, laughing, waving and rustling through the grass with a live, rippling sound.


Consequent upon the resolution of the protagonist’s inner drama, nature cover and splendor. The sunlight dissolving the darkness of the night before is symbolic of the emergence of the new courageous ‘self of Deven dispersing his previous timid, vulnerable self. His vague yearnings and illusory dreams are dissolved in the clear pool of reality. In this beautiful visual image of the landscape, the positive 8 aspect of ‘white’ is brought out corresponding with the new mood of the protagonist. There is a delightful fusion of color, light and sound reflecting the regenerated spirit of Deven. It also indicates the I joyous affirmation of life that Deven arrives at after a long and arduous journey of the self….


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