How does Nur in In Custody represent the state of Urdu language and literature in India?

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The character of Nur represents the state of Urdu language and literature in India as having sharply declined from its formerly great status. Nur is a renowned poet who has lost his talent and is surrounded by fawning sycophants.

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Anita Desai develops the character of Nur as a formerly illustrious man of letters who has suffered numerous reversals in the years since Partition. Because Urdu is a minority language in the new nation of India, in contrast to its dominant status in Pakistan, popular interest in Urdu literature has waned. The reduced interest in Urdu language and literature has seriously affected the protagonist, Deven, who must concentrate on Hindi if he is to teach at the university. In the early part of the novel, Desai presents Nur as an abstraction or symbol of Deven’s worship of Urdu literature. He is overwhelmed by the idea that he would be entrusted to interview this great man.

Upon meeting him, however, Deven sees that the reality of Nur’s present existence presents a marked contrast to the idealistic vision that Deven holds. The author presents Nur as an elderly man whose mental faculties are declining but also as a vain man who relies on the flattery of others. His detachment from mundane life goes along with his living in the past. The harshness of Partition in dividing Urdu-speaking people into living in two countries is reflected in Nur’s separation from his former life, both in terms of his talent and his fame.

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