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In Custody

3.26 of 5 stars 3.26  ·  rating details  ·  523 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Touching and wonderfully funny, 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.
Paperback, 226 pages
Published June 30th 1997 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1984)
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Debdatta D. Sahay (b00k r3vi3ws)
This is one of the few cases where I have watched the movie before reading the book. Having watched the amazing movie couple of years back and Anita Desai’s name raised my expectations really high.

Deven is a Hindi lecturer, living a modest life in a small town. But nothing is okay in his life. His wife is unhappy with him, his students do not listen to him or respect him and all those around him take advantage of him. Shadowing all these is his reminiscence of his dreams of becoming a poet that
there's no question the woman can write, but i can't say i'm really enjoying this, and after being battered by her daughter's booker winner, i think i may need to give this up.
I have read one other novel by Anita Desai, so I was aware of the fine, detailed prose I would be served. The depth of the characters, their frailty and limitations etch an accurate portrait of small-town India in the 80s. It is difficult to hold on to a gut response in the matter of characters as almost each one is all too real in his/her varied hues that range from the pathetic to the the sincere. For instance, Sarla with her dream of matrimony as an entry into a life with a fridge, a televisi ...more
Malvika Jaswal
Reading morose Indian fiction is extremely trying on my nerves. It pulls me down and keeps me there for weeks after I go through any such stories. I don't mean to say that human frailty and failings do not deserve an airing now and then. Its just that I have found that Indian authors have a knack for bringing out a deep well of hopelessness in their writings that are devoid of any stray ray of laughter or happiness to alleviate the sheer darkness of despair in the lives of their main protagonist ...more
I just wasn’t prepared for how funny this book was going to be. The book starts out a little stiff and I felt very uncomfortable with the long rambling sentences all running into each other, and the overly descriptive prose. However, exactly three chapters in (I know because I took three days to read those three chapters and then zipped through the rest of the book), the writing takes a backseat, and the plot comes into play.

The humor in this book mostly comes from Deven’s bumbling attempts at t
It can be harrowing to follow the tribulations of this teacher whose misconceived master-plan (to record for posterity the voice of a local poet of some repute who, predictably, turns out to be a bit of a con-artist) lays waste to his life. Of course it conveys a rather bitter message about corruption and greed in India - what else? But it is definitely among the best novels of one of India's best novelists.
"In Custody" by Anita Desai is a war between the languages – Urdu and Hindi, innocence and corruption, good and evil, loyalty and deception, success and failure, and poor and rich. "In Custody" is a portrait of human lives as it exists in their own exclusive circumstances, of the hypocrisy and pretension lying within the human spirit, of the difference between the town and the city life, of human helplessness and oppression on the road to ones aspirations. The subtlety of a poet’s last days and ...more
It gets painful to keep reading *about* the poetry rather than the poetry itself - especially about the poetry in a language you can understand and you love. Reading the book often felt like sitting in a Mushaira with headphones on your ears listening to a commentary - "Something wonderful was just recited and everyone is having the time of their lives." I wish the book was written in Hindi/Urdu and rather than just describing how the poetry was enthralling Deven, allowed us to be enthralled by ...more
Jasreet Badyal
This is my first time reading anything by Anita Desai and I had really hoped to love her. I was super excited, so maybe I let myself down with too much anticipation? She's clearly good with words. There were parts where her use of language was brilliant and playful, but other times it just felt like she was being pretentious or spending too much time with a thesaurus. The plot was intriguing, but it didn't suck me in. It's (mostly) well-written, but it lacked soul for me.

I still really want to l
Please read the html version of this review at http://anaroiterbookreviews.blogspot.....

I have been extremely lucky to be reading books by two wonderful Indian authoresses one after the other. One was Shashi Deshpande and the other is Anita Desai. I remember coming across Anita Desai’s name a couple of time but had been unable to read any of her books till date. Thankfully the opportunity came my way and the fact that the story had been made into an award winning film piqued my curiosity even fu
Nakib Hoq
Anita Desai clearly is one of the best Indian writers of the English language. Not only is her prose very much lucid and succinct, but at the same time able to capture exactly all those emotions and sentiments that make the subcontinent what it truly is.

The writer's knack for storytelling is definitely worth recommending, and plus the fact that she is able to portray and chronicle Indian life with such ease and lucidity in the English language makes her a distinguished author. But what makes In
Don't know why I didn't pick up on Anita Desai before now, but I'm glad I got to her, finally. In Custody was nominated for the Booker in 1984. I'm not surprised. Her story is straight forward and elegantly told. Yet she uses this seemingly simple tale to burrow deep into the shadows of the human soul and pick out its harshest complexities and contradictions.

We follow the protagonist, Deven, a naive, incompetent, and unhappy bumbler, as he takes on a task he is utterly unprepared for yet is dri
The Book Outline
In Custody is a thought-provoking tale that laments the corrosion of culture and tradition in the face of modernity. With a startling array of characters Anita Desai beautifully weaves emotions and presents a wonderful portrayal of human lives and the complexity of relationships. Read the complete review of In Custody at
Tarang Sinha
This is my first book by Anita Desai. I'm glad I read her. If I could express my thoughts about this book in one line, I would say "It was a learning experience!"

This book demands depth and patience. Writing is beautiful! Words flow like a stream.

Read the full review on my blog:
Philip Lane
I thought this book was very well written with a poetic lilt to the prose. That is appropriate because it's protagonists are poets or devoted to poetry. It reminded me a little of Kafka as the main character Deven gets involved in a series of events which all seem to go wrong. The fact that things go wrong is not the worst of it though for he is looked on by all those around him as responsible due to at least incompetence or at worst fraud. This made the book ever more depressing even though I d ...more
Privy Trifles
This book is I had to describe in one word it would be – enchantingly beautiful. Well I have a strange norm not to watch movies based on books and luckily I haven’t watched one that was made on this movie. That ensured I basked in the beauty of this book completely.

Read full review here
This is as depressing as a book can get. Deven, the protagonist, is a teacher of Hindi literature, but his true interest is in Urdu poetry. He sets about doing an interview of the great Urdu poet Nur, but ends up finding himself fleeced by the poet and his family, his colleague and his former schoolmate Murad. Depressing, because everyone in the book makes a hell of Deven's existence; what's worse is that Deven's life appears to be heading for more gloom and doom after his failed project to reco ...more
This book was a solid read for me. I was assigned it for a World Literature course I'm taking.

I enjoyed the characterization of Deven and Sarla; their relationship was really complex. Nur was almost as ridiculous near the end as Murad was throughout the whole thing. Beware of manipulative and stingy friends: that's a bad combination.

The novel touches on a lot of deep things such as the importance of literature and the arts, failure versus success, the dangers of idolizing someone, and how expec
Very well-written but did not hold my interest. The characters were one dimensional but the landscape and scenes were very well described. I enjoyed the picturesque scenes but did not care for the characters or the storyline.
Deven is a poor college lecturer who works in Mirapore, India. A " two cigarette man". He wanted to be a poet, but becoming a poet does not pay the bills, and with a wife and son to support he is enmeshed in his dead end job. His students don' t listen to him, his wife does not like him, and Deven feels life has passed him by. He sees a way of escape when an old friend asks him to write for his paper, and to interview a famous Urdu poet called Nur.

Nothing goes quite to plan and Deven ends just a
Niharika Sharma
Finally i finishd it after a very long time, this book has only around 200 pages still i coudn't finish it soon. Language is simple and very straight forward, i liked the discription part of this book, but overall the story didn't touched me. There is honesty in Anita Nair's style and tone. For me it was a tough reading experience at times i had to force myself to read it because i don't like leaving a book half read. I'm definately not going to read this one again, but i'll read other books wri ...more
Although the way the story is told is pleasant. Descriptive and straight forward it never gets of the ground.
I felt quite irritated at one point that the main caracter doesn`t seem to show any personal growth even at the end although the author seems to think he does.
The only time my heart started speeding up was when the letter arived from wife no.2 and i thought that rhis was going to be it.
I expected this big surprise twist but it didn`t materialise.
Not one to recomend.
Raka Majumdar
I have never really liked Anita Desai when I had to read her while in school. Maybe it was too heavy or the topic too intense to comprehend then. So this is one author i had a mental block about. What I learnt when I read her years later was that a lot of patience to read her, this is only because her writing is intense and it makes you think and sometimes it becomes a state of your mind.
Lindsay Goto
This story was billed as humorous, but I found it to be depressing at best. The only good part about it was that I could look at the story and go alright, my life sucks, but it's not as bad as Deven's. I did finish the book and in some ways enjoyed it, but it's a book that leaves you feeling depressed afterward and not in a profound way.

I'm glad I read it, but it's not a book I ever want to read again.
I wanted to like this and felt I should but at times this book was tedious. I am beginning to get the feeling that all Indian novels never seem to be able to get beyond the hopelessness of their characters and when Deven sees a chance to escape the ordinariness of his life by interviewing India's greatest Urdu poet, Nur we know this will be a project that can only end in disaster.
Margaret Pitcher
As others comment, it's not an easy read, although beautifully written. Sit on the crowded bus to Dellhi with Deven, walk through the narrow streets into the high walled house, feel the the embarrassment, shame and disappointment when he meets the poet. I think you have to have a very whimsical sense of humour to find it funny. However, Deven ends up down but not quite out.
I've never read anything like this before ...I hated all the characters; especially the protagonist.. he's such a coward and meek person; so easily bullied, can't take control of his life, don't know who his real friends are... I had such a great urge to get inside the book and punch him in the face..!
Other than that, I think Anita Desai writes very well.
I am acquiring a taste for writers from India. Desai's prose is colorful, clear and tantalizing. The characters are quirky and written in great maybe neurotic detail. Maybe the wife is sketched a little lightly. But these characters suffer for poetry as much as in other genres who suffer from love or crime. I must read more.
Lauren Albert
A 4 for her writing and a 2 for the story, this averages out to a 3. Reading the reviews, I was glad to see I was not the only person to feel that following the life of a man going through one humiliation after another was not necessarily the best way to spend those hours of my life.
Laced with dark humour, Anita Desai weaves a depressing tale of a gloomy college professor who sets out to interview a once famous Urdu poet in Chandni Chowk. Moving from one blunder to the other, the prof finally ends up as a miserable loser. This is one book that can be safely avoided
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Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. Sh e is a member of the Advisory Board for English of the National Academy of Letters in Delhi and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London. Anita Mazumdar Desai is an Indian novelist and Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technol ...more
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