Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Custody

Read Anita Desai's In Custody. Its about the life of Deven - a Hindi lecturer in a small college in a small North Indian town. He is passionate about poetry, especially in appreciating Urdu poetry, but is a weak person, and considers himself a failure in almost everything else. The town is dusty, hot and ugly, he leads a loveless life with drooping, thin, disappointed wife. He hates his classes, he is paid badly. But one day, his school friend, publisher of a small Urdu literary magazine in Delhi, visits him, asking him to interview a great Urdu poet (Nur), who has fallen into tough times. Following this is the story of Deven trying to get this done, involving in an enterprise that looks like a romantic dream from outside- meeting and talking to the great poet himself, publishing an interview which takes notice of the Urdu literary academia - "even in places like Jamia Millia and Aligarh Muslim University" - brings him a break out of the monotonous, sad life, and some money and a confirmation at his lecture position. But for such an enterprise to work, it takes a lot more than mere love of poetry, and a weak person like Deven is utterly unfit to do such a task. I'll leave the story there.

The book brought into me the forgotten world of Urdu literature in India (which "died in 1947"), and of Old Delhi, with several Muslims drinking alcohol, eating biriyanis, enjoying dance, music and poetry, their contempt for Hindi poetry of Pant and Nirala... "Safe, simple Hindi language, safe comfortable ideas of cow worship and caste and romance of Krishna". Here's sample Hindi mock-poetry:
Sun, moon, stars, sky,
Planets, clouds, comets, I,
God made them all as he made me,
A star too I must be.

Butter, milk, curds, ghee,
Sweets, drinks, food for me -
God made them all and God made me,
Butterballs all, butterball me.
Lack of money. Lack of interest in teaching. Lack of interest in talking to one's own kid. Pointlessness of teaching and learning Indian languages. Loveless-ness. And even when there is some love, the ego and the power relation that comes in the way of expressing. Of weak persons, whose weakness brings them shame from everyone - their kids, their friends, even people who want to help them.

After finishing the book, I found out that a movie has been made of it by Ismael Merchant, and a good torrent is available online. I downloaded the movie, and glimpsed through it. But, what's with movies made out of the book? Why do they need to twist the characters so much, to break all the images you have deep in your mind? Is it because in the movie the characters are defined a lot faster and with a lot more precision, while the book gives you space to imagine, or is it because it is actually very different in the movie from the book? Anyway, you get a very different idea of characters from the movie. For example, in the book, the wife of Deven is drooping, thin and ugly dressed, with a sad face, always angry with him. But in the movie, you have a nice looking compassionate housewife. In the book, the events at Nur's house when his wife is in concert is totally different from the movie, which can be seen in this video. And, it is Shabana Asmi, how beautiful is she!!

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