Communilisation and Disintegration of Urdu in Anita Desai Incustody by Amina Yaqin

Topics: Urdu, Delhi, India Pages: 24 (8424 words) Published: August 19, 2013
 

The Communalization and Disintegration of Urdu in Anita Desai’s In Custody 1

Introduction

T  of Urdu in India is an extremely layered one which needs to be examined historically, politically and ideologically in order to grasp the various forces which have shaped its current perception as a sectarian language adopted by Indian Muslims, marking their separation from the national collectivity. In this article I wish to explore these themes through the lens of literature, specifically an Indian English novel about Urdu entitled In Custody by Anita Desai. Writing in the early s, Aijaz Ahmad was of the opinion that the teaching of English literature has created a body of English-speaking Indians who represent “the only” overarching national community with a common language, able to imagine themselves across the disparate nation as a “national literary intelligentsia” with “a shared body of knowledge, shared presumptions and a shared knowledge of mutual exchange” (, ).2 Arguably both Desai and Ahmad belong to this “intelligentsia” through the postcolonial secular English connection, but equally they are implicated in the discursive structures of cultural hegemony in civil society (Viswanathan , –; Rajan , –). However, it is not my intention to re-inscribe an authentic myth of origin about Indianness through linguistic associations, An earlier version of this essay was first presented as a paper at the Minorities, Education and Language in st Century Indian Democracy—The Case of Urdu with Special Reference to Dr. Zakir Husain, Late President of India Conference held in Delhi, February . 2 See also chapter  “‘Indian Literature’: Notes Toward the Definition of a Category,” in the same work, –. 1



A Y •  but to critically assess the value of Anita Desai’s intervention in a communally charged Hindi-Urdu debate. The key questions I raise in this essay are about the kind of cultural memory Desai is constructing in her text, and how this depiction can be read in relation to the actual machinations of Indian politics with regard to the language question. As a successful author, writing for an international publishing market, she is invested with a certain power to imaginatively represent an “authentic” India. While she is not a writer who bombards us with an epic style narration, purporting to offer “the great Indian novel,” her exploration of individual identities and selfformations work in a subtle and problematic way, creating instead miniatures, and guiding the reader’s responses through a combination of omniscience, internal focalization, indirect speech and symbolic tropes. In Custody, short-listed for the Booker Prize in , can retrospectively be read as a literary narration of the communalization and disintegration of Urdu in post-Partition India. The year in which it was published was coincidentally the same year that saw the death of an Urdu literary legend, the master lyricist Fai¤ A√mad Fai¤ who stirred the hearts of millions with his haunting melodies and sustained hope for many with his romantic vision of a return to a beloved homeland. Symbolizing optimism, his poetry revived disheartened nationalists with its belief in a destination which had as yet not been realized, a desire that marked even his most pessimistic poem “¿ub√-e ¥z≥dµ: August ” (“Freedom’s Dawn”) with its important ideological rejection of the “pock-marked dawn” of freedom from colonial rule: The time for the liberation of heart and mind Has not come as yet Continue your arduous journey This is not your destination (In Hasan , )

It is interesting that Fai¤, stylistically wedded to the traditional form of the ghazal, was concerned with forging themes of modernity in his poetic message, constructing a new direction for his Urdu listeners and readers, while Desai, working with a modernist narrative, takes it back toward a sensibility rooted in tradition and...

Cited: Ahmad, A. . Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London and New York: Verso. ——. . Lineages of the Present: Political Essays. New Delhi: Tulika. Ali, Agha Shahid, ed. . Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. Anderson, B. . Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London: Verso. Benjamin, W. . “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” In his Illuminations, edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken.
See Certeau (), where, in chapter , he discusses the dominance of a centralized culture which imposes itself as a singularity and expects celebration of “culture in the singular” in the twentieth century.
14
 • T A  U S Bhabha, H.K., ed. . Nation and Narration. London: Routledge. Bose, S., and A. Jalal. . Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. London: Routledge. Brass, P. . Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Certeau, M. de. . In Culture in the Plural, edited and with an introduction by Luce Giard; translated and with an afterword by Tom Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Coppola, C. . Urdu Poetry: The Progressive Episode. Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago. Costa, M. . “Interview With Anita Desai.” . Desai, A. . Clear Light of Day. London: Penguin Books. ——. . In Custody. London: Penguin Books. Dryland, E. . Faiz Ahmad Faiz –: Urdu Poet of Social Realism. Lahore: Vanguard Books. Eagleton, T. .The Idea of Culture. Oxford: Blackwell. Fai¤, Fai¤ A√mad. . Pakist≥nµ Kal±ar aur Qaumµ TashakhkhuΩ kµ Tal≥sh (Pakistani Culture and the Search for National Character). Lahore: Ferozsons. Farouqui, Athar. . “Urdu Education in India: Four Representative States.” Economic and Political Weekly ( April): –. Gupta, J.D. . Language Conflict and National Development: Group Politics and National Language Policy in India . Berkeley and London: University of California Press. Hasan, K., ed. . The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl: Poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Translated by Daud Kamal. London: Independent. Hasan, Z. . Quest for Power: Oppositional Movements and Post-Congress Politics in Uttar Pradesh. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Husain, I. . “Urd∑ k≥ Tehÿµbµ Miz≥j” (The Cultural Disposition of Urdu). The Annual of Urdu Studies :pt.: –. Jaffrelot, C. . “The Sangh Parivar Between Sanskritization and Social Engineering.” In The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India. Edited by Thomas Blom Hansen & Christophe Jaffrelot. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Kiernan, V., ed. and trans. . Poems by Faiz. Lahore: Vanguard Books. Khilnani, S. . The Idea of India. London: Penguin Books. King, C. . One Language, Two Scripts: The Hindi Movement in Nineteenth Century North India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Latifi, D. . “Urdu in UP.” Nation and the World ( August): –. Lee, C. . “‘Hit It With a Stick and It Won’t Die’: Urdu Language and Muslim Identity and Poetry in Varanasi, India.” The Annual Of Urdu Studies :pt.: –.
A Y • 
Lelyveld, D. . “The Fate of Hindustani: Colonial Knowledge and the Project of a National Language.” In Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia. Edited by Carole Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Narang, G.C. . Urdu Language and Literature: Critical Perspectives. New Delhi: Sterling. Rai, Amrit. . A House Divided: The Origin and Development of Hindi-Urdu. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Rajan, R.S. . The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Robinson, F. . Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims –. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Said, E.W. . Culture and Imperialism. London: Chatto & Windus. Shackle C. and R. Snell. , Hindi and Urdu Since : A Common Reader. London: University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. Viswanathan, G. . Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. London: Faber & Faber.
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay on Anita Desai
  • Anita Desai Essay
  • Essay about Anita Desai
  • Urdu Language Essay
  • Anita Desai Essay
  • Fasting Feasting by Anita Desai Essay
  • A Village by the Sea
  • Anita Desai

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free