The fictional Indian town of Mirpore in Anita Desai's In Custody is a dying place, a place of squalor and decay. It is one of those towns, small, dusty, and seemingly immobilized by a grinding sense of apathy, that seems stuck in a time-warp, unable and unwilling to develop economically or culturally.
In one notable passage, Desai admirably sums up what kind of place Mirpore is, where it's been and where it's going:
Although it lacked history, the town had probably existed for centuries in its most basic, most elemental form. Those shacks of tin and rags, however precarious and impermanent they looked, must have existed always, repetitively and in succeeding generations, but never fundamentally changing and in that sense enduring. (19)
The reference to the tin shacks indicates clearly that grinding poverty is a way of life in the town. That they must always have existed tells us that poverty is a permanent condition of the people unfortunate enough to live there. Other Indian towns and cities will also have widespread poverty, but at least some of them have developed, at least some of them are centers of culture and learning.
But not Mirpore. This is a place where nothing ever really changes. To a large extent, this is because the citizens of Mirpore, who are described as "petty tradesmen," are concerned with commerce and nothing else. Unlike those who live in agricultural areas, they have no spiritual connection to the ground beneath their feet, which is little more than dust. Such dust, and the cultural desolation it represents, is as useless for developing a rich cultural life as it is for growing crops.