In Custody (novel)

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In Custody
First hardback edition cover.
Author Anita Desai
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date
8 October 1984
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 208 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-434-18635-X (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 11284150

In Custody (1984) is a novel set in India by Indian American writer Anita Desai. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984.

Plot summary[edit]

Deven earns a living by teaching Hindi literature to uninterested college students. As his true interests lie in Urdu poetry, he jumps at the chance to meet the great Urdu poet, Nur. Under the advice of his friend Murad, an editor of a periodical devoted to Urdu literature, Deven procures a secondhand tape recorder so that he can help transcribe Urdu's early poetry, as well as conduct an interview or even write the memoirs of Nur. However, things do not happen as he expects them to.

Devens' old friend Murad visits Deven with an offer for him to interview a great Urdu poet Nur Sahjahanabadi who lives in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi for his magazine. Deven is fond of Urdu poetry. He accepts the offer. At FIRST, He thinks that he is getting a chance to meet a great Urdu poet but after reaching his house he notices the unbearable condition of Nur's house. When he meets Nur, he refuses to give an interview by saying that Urdu is now at its last stage and soon this beautiful language will not exist. But he shows some trust in Deven. But Deven gets annoyed by the condition of Nur's house and drops the idea of interviewing Nur. Murad again convinces him to interview Nur with the help of tape recorder so that it can be further used for audio learning by Urdu scholars. Deven, who is a poor lecturer, asks for money from the college for a tape recorder. He goes to a shop to buy, where the shopkeeper, Jain, offers him a second hand tape recorder. At first Deven refuses to purchase it but later Jain convinces him that it is a machine with good quality and his own nephew Chintu will help them to operate it while recording the interview. Unwillingly, Deven agrees to purchase it. Nur's first wife promises Deven that she can arrange a room for Deven if he gives her some money. Deven arranged the money for the payment to her by the college authority with the help of his colleague-cum-friend Siddique. He then goes to Delhi with Chintu for recording. but he fails to record the interview. Now, he not only has no recording but also has to bear the expenses like payment demanded by poet, his wife, nephews of Jain etc.


  1. Deven Sharma- he is a Hindi professor in Mirpore, who is tired of his mundane life. He loves Urdu and is a big fan of Nur, a famous Urdu poet. He also gets the opportunity to meet Nur.
  2. Nur- a famous Urdu poet who laments the loss of a beautiful language(Urdu), and thereby a culture. He is a man of age and experience. He lives in misery and confusion as both his wives are constantly involved in a row.
  3. Murad- a cold and calculating friend of Deven who owns a publishing house in Delhi. He exploits Deven and deceives him throughout the novel.
  4. Siddiqui- Deven's fellow lecturer of Urdu, is a figure of the decline of the language and culture for which he stands.
  5. Nur's second wife- she is a jealous and calculating woman who is trying to steal the limelight off Nur. She is hungry for fame and wealth.


The 1993 Merchant Ivory Productions film In Custody (based upon her 1984 novel of the same name) was directed by Ismail Merchant, with a screenplay by Shahrukh Husain. It stars the noted actors Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.


  • Baena, Rosalía. “The Condition of Life and Art in Anita Desai's In Custody.” Commonwealth Essays and Studies 22.2 (2000 Spring): 59-68
  • Landow, George. In Custody on the Postcolonial Web
  • Sen, Sharmila. “Urdu in Custody.” South Asian Review 22 (2001): 57-70

External links[edit]