Book Review – In Custody


Title: In Custody (1984)

Author: Anita Desai

Publisher: Heibemann

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Publishing Date: 8 October, 1984

Genre: Novel, Fiction

Pages: 208 pp (first edition hardback)

ISBN: 0-434-18635-X (first edition hardback)

Format: Print-hardback and Paperback

Review: The whole novel portrays the tragedy and struggle of Deven to fulfill his dream to meet his idol and then running out of money combined with miseries and misfortunes.

Author Anita Desai

A short summary: Novel starts with a small village Mirpore, where Deven, the protagonist struggles with his daily life to earn something to support his family. He teaches Hindi Literature at a college but has his interests in Urdu Poetry. His life is still miserable until his childhood friend Murad comes to his rescue. Murad is an editor of Urdu magazine and wants some Urdu poetry to be published but first wants someone to interview the famous poet Nur Shahjenahabad. He asks Deven to do so as Deven is too fond of Nur and thinks him as his idle for Urdu poetry. Over-excited and enthusiastic Deven runs for the opportunity and goes immediately to Delhi. He is accompanied by some technician who knows how to starts the recorder while Nur speaks and everything is getting recorded for the magazine. In the end, due to worse conditions, Deven fails to record the interview properly and is bombarded with the expenses if tape recorder, technical assistant, Nur’s first wife on the pretext of giving room etc.

Themes: Read this novel, you’ll find a lot more miseries and humour as well as get an introduction to the lives of those people and what was it to be like an Arts student when there was no scope of it in the job market. The novel subtly deals with the serious themes of social and cultural repercussions of politically independent India. Desai has explored and developed the themes of identity and language. This is important because considering the context Desai has set so many of her works. Her novels are based on post-partition and the massive upheaval that occurred as Pakistan was created and many Hindus and Muslims had to relocate.

Themes & Conditions: In the novel, the poverty and helplessness of both these characters are entwined are portrayed well and they touch upon the subject of hegemony or dominance of the language. The novel is also a reflection of the fact that the art, heritage, and history of the country are threatened in front of the immerging technological boom of the globe. Urdu poetry is diminishing, just for living Deven has to teach Hindi and even couldn’t get his Urdu poems published. As Deven himself an amateur of it and when asked for leave to interview his idol Nur, is strongly discouraged and frowned upon by the department head and even asked to leave the college if he intentions to ask for any more work leave.

The Circumstances: The twist in the tale comes up as Deven sees the deprived and impoverished condition of his idol, not only the poverty of material goods but the poverty of mind, the psyche. The novel also questions the meaning of friendship when Murad uses his best friend Deven and lure him to meet Nur on accounts of money and fame. Deven’s bond with his wife is also not as good as the ongoing fights are seen. Deven is actually very upset with the education system and fears that one day, Urdu poetry will vanish after the upcoming techs.

In Custody: The novel can be regarded as the optimistic take of both as in spite of repeated hurdles pessimisms hovering in their lives. One very big example is because Nur at the end finds himself a custodian to leave the rest of Urdu poetry to Deven and Deven takes the custody of it forever, not recorded on tape but at least in his mind.


Book Cover: 3.5/5

Book Title: 3.5/5

Story: 4/5

Writing Style: 3.5/5

Grammar and Punctuation: 4/5


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