In Custody Questions and Answers
by Anita Desai

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Give a critical analysis of Anita Desai's In Custody.

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In Custody tells the story of Deven Sharma's attempts to pursue his passion for the Urdu language while working as a Hindi literature teacher. The book explores themes of modernization and cultural homogenization as Sharma finds it is quite difficult to pursue his passion for Urdu literature given the dominance of Hindi. While spoken Hindi and Urdu are mutually intelligible and both are registers of Hindustani, Hindi has become increasingly dominant in India.

The primary plot of In Custody explores Shama's journey to meet one of his heroes, an Urdu poet named Nur. Ultimately, Nur is a great disappointment, and meeting him dashes Sharma's hopes to a large degree. Sharma's grappling with the realization that the hero he had put his hopes in was not going to offer him a good solution is the heart of the story.

The fact that Desai is writing in English makes this story all the more interesting. There's a deep sadness to the way in which she writes of Sharma's passion and its clash with the reality of the decline of interest in Urdu literature. The colonial dynamics which make it far easier to publish a book in English than in Hindi further this theme: the passions of artists and their cultural heritages are at odds with the economic realities of the world, especially in post-colonial contexts such as India. While the story suggests some room for Sharma to pursue working with Urdu literature, it does not suggest the possibility of great public success or of a career. This seems like a nuanced and balanced take on the issue.

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