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In Custody

3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  821 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
THE BOOK: When Deven is asked to interview India's greatest Urdu poet, Nur, he sees an opportunity to escape the miseries of his life as a frustrated small-town scholar. But Deven's hopes for fame and fulfilment soon turn to disaster. The dissolute old man he finds deep in the bazaars of Old Delhi bears no resemblance to the idol of his youth, and as Deven is fooled, cheat ...more
Paperback, 226 pages
Published June 30th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1984)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Seemita
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

It is befitting to quote Rumi to introduce the middle-aged protagonist of this book who sends swirls of a bruised dream into the air even while chugging along life with a rusted body. Deven, a teacher in the small town of Mirpore, finds his humdrum walk thrown off guard when his college buddy, Murad, a cunning fox and an accidental two-penny publisher, flummoxes him into interviewing Nur, a legendary poet of yesteryear and Deven’s idol in yout
...more
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
...more
Ian Laird
Dec 25, 2015 Ian Laird rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, fiction
A weak-willed, poorly paid intellectual, Deven, gets put upon by almost everybody.

Well, up to a certain extent. There are moments, admittedly rare, when Deven looks as though he might assert himself, but generally he does not.

Deven is a teacher of Hindi in a small college in Mirpore, a dusty rural town not far from Delhi. The school has a small Urdu department, the result of a bequest from a minor Muslim noble, forced to flee to the quite backwater, when Delhi became too difficult, at the time o
...more
Ravi Gangwani
Jul 22, 2016 Ravi Gangwani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Before time crushes us into dust we must record our struggle against it. We must engrave our name in the sand before the wave comes to sweep it away and make it a part of the ocean"
"He sifted through alternatives like torn pieces of grey paper ... "


I think the mellifluousness of prose was beautifully sparkling its aroma in the pages. This book quickens its pace with very promising start. The story of Deven tricked from his astute, dishonest friend, Murad (Even I know some people like Murad in
...more
Valerie Penny
Jan 19, 2015 Valerie Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anita Mazumdar Desai was born in Mussoorie, India in 1935.Her mother was German and her father was a Bengali businessman. She grew up speaking German at home and Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English outside the house, but, did not visit Germany until later in life as an adult. She first learned to read and write in English at school and as a result English became her preferred language in which to write. She began to write in English at the age of seven and published her first story at the age of ni ...more
Anna
Jul 05, 2007 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
NikolayM
Nov 28, 2015 NikolayM rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Så var kunde man finna friheten? Var fanns frisk luft att andas?"
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
Sanjukta
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
Lynda
This is the subtle and charming story of the rather hapless lecturer Deven who dreams of escaping his humdrum limited impoverished position in a small college in a backwater town close to Delhi. He has the opportunity of interviewing the renowned Urdu poet Nur who lives in the glamorous squalor of the great Chandi Chowk bazaar in Old Delhi bullied by his wife and surrounded by sychophants.

From the first Deven"s mission is fraught with problems connected primarily with money and status and he fa
...more
Pascale
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.
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.
Ananya
Aug 01, 2013 Ananya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Vani
Jan 07, 2016 Vani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is written in the Anita Desai prosaic style, which is admirable and has a sense of humour. It points to the struggles of life, the funny characters hanging all around us and the peculiar situations we can get into. It's a must read for all the prose fans.
Sandra
Jan 23, 2017 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like her writing but the neither the story itself or the characters engaged me. This novel has a farcical quality, and farce is one of me least-favorite genres of literature.
Soleneu
Mar 12, 2017 Soleneu rated it it was ok
I find this quote particularly relevant to encapsulate the book's spirit:
"What is this all for? What is this about?"
Koel
Dec 22, 2012 Koel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Samidha Kalia

” 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 unexpec
...more
Manika
Jan 05, 2015 Manika rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century, asia
Being my first time reading Anita Desai and knowing nothing about her, I didn't know what to expect.I think this is one of the best way to dive into an author's work.

This story is about resignation, despair, expectations not met, false hope and how to live with it, the frustation created by all of this.
Poetry has a central place in this story, it connect everyone in some way or another. She writes about the power of poetry, how it is important to have such art in one life.
The depiction of the ch
...more
Nishita
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
...more
Pamela
Jul 29, 2010 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
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
...more
Abhaga
Aug 31, 2014 Abhaga rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-challenge
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
Akshay
Jun 01, 2014 Akshay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Priyank Bhavsar
Deven, a professor of Hindi in Mirpore college, lives morose life full of certainty and stagnancy. His is the 'life of non happenings'. When his childhood friend Murad provides him with an opportunity to interview his hero, the grand Urdu poet Nur, he sets out on an adventure to only realize the frugality and futility of his friendship with Murad who is nothing more than the swindlers Deven encounters in his life. He sadly discovers the plutonian, hopeless life his idol, grand Nur Shahjehanabadi ...more
Mahima
May 21, 2016 Mahima rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know how to feel about this book. I did like it quite a lot, but something was just amiss. The question of poetry's place in life deeply resonated with me. I love poetry. But can poetry get me anywhere in life? I thought the book might answer the question in terms I hadn't thought of. But it didn't. And that was disappointing. What was also disappointing was Deven's character. He was puzzling, and while having anxiety myself I could understand his anxiety to an extent at times, the other ...more
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
Ayushi Sharma
Dec 31, 2015 Ayushi Sharma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The death of a language which in turn reveals the decadent state of its pioneers, the story is very touching. My friends hated Deven but I kind of relate to him. An ambitious man who had one love, the love for Urdu poetry somewhere becomes a victim.
Failed relationships and pessimism are the elements of this novel. The description of society is very apt. Stagnancy drives the novel. The place where Deven currently resides is arid shown through vivid metaphical descriptions of lifelessness of wate
...more
Maxwell
Mar 20, 2014 Maxwell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, 2014, man-booker
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
...more
Kyc
Mar 30, 2013 Kyc rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Anita Desai was born in 1937. Her published works include adult novels, children's books and short stories. She 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 Technolo ...more
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