BLURP : In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small town scholar in the north of India. An impoverished college lecturer, Deven, sees a way to escape from the meanness of his daily life when he is asked to interview India’s greatest Urdu poet, Nur – a project that can only end in disaster.
” They sat there on the terrace, like a pair of nawabs stranded in the backwaters of time.”
In custody was a heavy read. There were bits in this novel that I liked and the other bits that I thought were stretched to the limit that it could put people to sleep.
Anita Desai, in her way, is trying to painting a picture of Delhi, the capital of India, in the 1990s but somehow gets carried off so much that she completely misses the point.
Our “antihero” Deven is a Hindi teacher at a college. He unexpectedly gets a request from his childhood friend Murad to interview a famous Urdu poet, Nur. Muard is a very exploitative friend and was a character that really put me off throughout the novel, which we will come to later.
Deven, our dear chap, who secretly always loved Urdu is elated at the prospect of meeting Nur, the poet who was a huge inspiration for his father. He agrees to the plan and is sent to Delhi where he is asked to talk to Nur and collect enough material to write an article for Murad’s magazine, which by the way is an Urdu journal.
So, this way the novel starts.
For starters there are a lot of metaphors used by Anita Desai which would’ve been difficult to pick out if it weren’t for the fact that this novel is also in my course.
” Good causes are lost causes, Sharma Sahib.”
The novel was engaging, it surely kept me reading. Some of the things that really bothered me where the fact that even when Deven knew that Murad was always face-bashing him why did he still sit at his feet, not literally though.
At numerous instances we see Murad humiliating Deven or tricking him into doing things he doesn’t like and yet Deven doesn’t speak up. Deven pissed me off a lot of times, he was a classic example of an A-LEVEL escapist and was such a shallow, grey character.
The same Deven who is quick to form an opinion about Nur’s second wife and treats his own wife as a piece of absolute nothing.
I felt like the author was deliberately trying to make Deven seem foolish in our eyes and if that is what she was aiming at,then she did a comendable job.
A scene where he finally gets to record the poet’s verse is riddled with so much idioticity in Deven’s part that it is hard to believe the multiple personalities that he has.
But in no way does all this folly of his make us less sympathetic towards him. Instead I understood a lot of view points and the pressure that he must be feeling as a teacher who is paid little to nothing.
The novel, though was very articulate and impressively written, didn’t do much to charm me.
There were lines which were beautiful
” We must engrave our name in the sand before the wave comes to sweep it away and make it a part of the ocean.”
And then there were times when I wanted to put the book down and not pick it up ever.
Even though it isn’t one of the best novels I’ve read,it certainly made me feel a lot of things and think about a lot of issues which will probably and hopefully stay.
In this case, I believe the novel did justice to itself.
– Painting Stories.