Murad Quotes in In Custody
Why should a visit from Murad upset him so much? There was no obvious reason of course—they had known each other since they were at school together: Murad had been the spoilt rich boy with money in his pocket for cinema shows and cigarettes and Deven the poor widow’s son who could be bribed and bought to do anything for him, and although this had been the basis of their friendship, it had grown and altered and stood the test of time. But Deven did not like him appearing without warning during college hours and disturbing him just when he needed to concentrate; it was very upsetting.
The desperation of his circumstances made him say something he never would have otherwise. All through his childhood and youth he had known only one way to deal with life and that was to lie low and remain invisible. Now he leaned forward on his elbows and said emotionally, “If only we got payment for the articles and reviews that we write for magazines and journals, that would be of some help.”
“Now I am planning a special issue on Urdu poetry. Someone has to keep alive the glorious tradition of Urdu literature. If we do not do it, at whatever cost, how will it survive in this era of—that vegetarian monster, Hindi?” He pronounced the last word with such disgust that it made Deven shrink back and shrivel in his chair, for Hindi was what he taught at the college and for which he was therefore responsible to some degree. “That language of peasants,” Murad sneered, picking his teeth with a matchstick. “The language that is raised on radishes and potatoes,” he laughed rudely, pushing aside the empty plates on the table. “Yet, like these vegetables, it flourishes, while Urdu—language of the court in days of royalty—now languishes in the back lanes and gutters of the city.”
If it had not been for the colour and the noise, Chandni Chowk might have been a bazaar encountered in a nightmare; it was so like a maze from which he could find no exit, in which he wandered between the peeling, stained walls of office buildings, the overflowing counters of shops and stalls, wondering if the urchin sent to lead him through it was not actually a malevolent imp leading him to his irrevocable disappearance in the reeking heart of the bazaar. The heat and the crowds pressed down from above and all sides, solid and suffocating as sleep.
“Urdu poetry?” he finally sighed, turning a little to one side, towards Deven although not actually addressing himself to a person, merely to a direction, it seemed. “How can there be Urdu poetry where there is no Urdu language left? It is dead, finished. The defeat of the Moghuls by the British threw a noose over its head, and the defeat of the British by the Hindiwallahs tightened it. So now you see its corpse lying here, waiting to be buried.” He tapped his chest with one finger.
Fatefully, it was the head of the Urdu department, Abid Siddiqui who, in keeping with the size and stature of that department, was a small man, whose youthful face was prematurely topped with a plume of white hair as if to signify the doomed nature of his discipline. It was perhaps unusual to find a private college as small as Lala Ram Lal’s offering a language such as Urdu that was nearly extinct, but it happened that Lala Ram Lal’s descendants […] had to accept a very large donation from the descendants of the very nawab who had fled Delhi in the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny and built the mosque. […] It was promised a department in which its language would be kept alive in place of the family name.
Later Deven could not understand how it all come about—how he, the central character in the whole affair, the protagonist of it (if Murad were to be disregarded), the one on whom depended the entire matter of the interview, the recording and the memoirs, to which Siddiqui was no more than an accessory, having arrived on the scene accidentally and at a later stage, and in which he played a minor role—how he, in the course of that evening, had relinquished his own authority and surrendered it to Siddiqui who now emerged the stronger while he, Deven, had been brought to his knees, abject and babbling in his helplessness. How?
Deven put up both his hands and pushed him back as far as he could on the small landing, till his back was against the wall. “I can’t do that,” he hissed, “it is the property of the college.”
Deven went down the wooden staircase as steadily as he could although his knees shook weakly. Murad’s perfidy filled him with the iron of resistance and he felt steady, straight. As he reached the foot of the stairs, he heard Murad call over the banisters, “One last time I am offering to help—one last time. Sole rights! Only sole rights!”
Deven went towards the exit without looking back.