In Custody by Anita Desai was published in 1984. It is set in Delhi and was shortlisted for the Booker prize India. In Custody explores the issue of Identity and language using the Urdu language. Through this book, Desai tries to lift the issue of Urdu poetry and language and how it is vanishing from our culture.
Deven Sharma, the protagonist of the novel is a Hindi literature teacher, even though he loves Urdu poetry. He finds it an escape to avoid his daily life. He finds his job very unsatisfactory because he loves Urdu but had to settle with the Hindi literature teaching job to support his wife. Deven’s married life is loveless and they both let each other know by their harsh words that they are not happy. Deven gets a lifetime opportunity to interview an elderly Urdu poet Nur Shahjehanabadi. Deven meets the poet in the uppermost room of a high build house by climbing stairs. This climbing incident is symbolic of Deven’s rising above his current situation. But Deven’s dreams and hope shatter when he sees the poet surrounded by drunkenness, fighting, and darkness. The situation of the poet symbolizes the near-death of Urdu poetry and the Urdu language as well. The house of the poet is filled with the characters with lost identities where everyone is trying to find out their role in-house and in the society too. Badi Begun who should have been a queen because she married a famous Urdu poet, is trying to get more money from places to feed her house because her husband is not bringing enough. Choti Begum is trying to lift her reputation in society by using Nur’s poetry.
In the journey of finding Urdu poetry’s remains Deven finds himself lost. Even the recorder which was supposed to record Nur’s poetry did not do its job well and only recorded voices of Nur’s snoring and outside noise. The question if someone can save or have last remains of Urdu language in his custody remained unanswered.