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Written by Polly Barbour
The Decline of Urdu
Although the novel is essentially driven by its characters rather than its themes, each character represents a theme and the key one of these is the decline of Urdu and the loss of an old culture, symbolized by Siddiqui, Deven's fellow Urdu lecturer. Everything he stands for is encapsulated in the Urdu culture and consequently he feels as though he is losing his identity.
Nur is an Urdu poet, but he realizes that the language is slowly dying out. Eventually, it will be studied as something historical and ancient, rather than kept alive He is aware that he is a representation of things that are dying and this seems to be making his life unravel as well.
Deven is similarly concerned about the dying of Urdu. He sees it as something more interesting and romantic than modern life can offer. With the slow death of Urdu comes an almost Westernization of India which not everyone is in favor of. Therefore, the death of a language, and the culture that is dying with it, is seen as a sort of cut-off point between the way things used to be and the way that they are becoming.
Bullying and Maniuplation
Most of the characters in the book are highly manipulative and do not get along well with others. Murad is a bully; he is also very adept at playing Deven for a fool and knowing exactly what to say in order to get him to do what he wants. As a publisher, he wants Deven to interview Nur so that he can make money out of it, but he tells Deven that the interviews will be helpful in assisting scholars of Urdu to learn, knowing that this more altruistic take on the interview will persuade Deven back to Nur's house.
The more peripheral characters in the book are also extremely manipulative. Neither of Nur's wives gets along with the other and their relationship is both acrimonious and also built on a foundation of competition. His second wife is particularly driven to steal his thunder and to make herself more important, using his fame as a poet to do so.
Negative View of Feminism
Nur's second wife, Imtiaz, is a determined woman who uses Nur's fame and hard work to gain accolades and fame for herself. Her character embodies the theme of feminism primarily because in the culture in which she lives, this is what feminism is taken to be. Her ambition and boldness are seen as negative qualities, and the novel shows that feminist women are manipulative and bully others. Feminism in the novel is not shown to be a positive force as there are no other characters who are strong women who are shown as anything but manipulators.
Deven's wife, Sharm, also highlights the need for feminism within the culture she lives in. Her dreams are far smaller than Imtiaz's; she wants a better refrigerator and does not want to spend her life doing household chores, but she is unable to provide this for her. She is consequently seen as a henpecking wife for wanting something better than the status quo.
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