In the novel In Custody, what makes Deven the true custodian of the Urdu language?
Deven is the true custodian of Urdu, rather than the great Urdu poet Nur, because Deven struggles to hold on to the memory of the language at all costs, while Nur seems to have lost faith in it. As a once-great and revered Urdu poet, Nur on the face of it has far greater credentials as keeper of the language than Deven, a lowly teacher of Hindi. However, Nur keeps himself deliberately apart from mainstream modern Indian society, living among the relics of a bygone age in his haveli, keeping undesirable company and indulging in debauchery. In short, he has let himself go to ruin, reflecting his belief that Urdu, once the treasured poetical language of the country, is no longer relevant to India following the relocation of its Muslim adherents to Pakistan. He expresses his bitterness to Deven, who comes to seek an interview with him:
How can there be an Urdu poetry when there is no Urdu language left? It is dead, finished...So, now you see its corpse lying here, waiting to be buried…Those Congress-wallahs have set up Hindi on the top as our ruler. You are its slave.
Nur, then, jibes at Deven for having given in to societal pressures to teach Hindi, the ruling language of Post-Partition India. Nur considers Urdu a wholly spent force, effectively dead and buried. From this point of view, his physical ruin symbolises the demise of the language.
Deven, though, still believes in the language. He treasures his early memories of when his father used to recite it to him. Throughout all the difficulties of his adult life, his unsympathetic environment both at home and at work, he has never relinquished these memories, and in seeking out Nur, he endures the ridicule, and indeed the outright hostility, of his seniors at the college where he teaches. The Urdu language means something special to him; it is a vital part of the country's heritage which for him endures through all the political and social changes in the wake of Independence and Partition. In this sense he is a true custodian of the language.