Summary of In Custody by Anita Desai

6 June 2016

“This is a novel about a small-town man,
Deven, who gets the opportunity to go
interview his hero, the great poet Nur, the
greatest living Urdu poet. Having always loved
Urdu poetry and missed the chance to be an
Urdu language professor, he is charmed into
going to Delhi the big city. Even though he
shrinks at the idea of possibly being exploited
by his sharp and selfish friend Murad, the
dream of meeting Nur draws him on. So he
sets off on a number of adventures on
Sundays, the one free day that he should have
spent with his wife and son.
What Deven finds at his hero’s house is
misery and confusion. Having sunk into a
senile old age, surrounded by fawning
sycophants, married to a younger calculating
wife who wants to use his glory to win herself
fame, Nur is not what he once was. Or
perhaps he always was this.
Deven, a shrinking and weak man, is
somehow drawn to this old poet, wishing to
help and protect him even as he cannot
defend himself. Perhaps it is the tie of Urdu
poetry that he remembers from his treasured
times as a child with his father.
In order to save the name and works of Nur
for posterity, he decides to record his voice on
tape for his small-town university. In the
process Deven is exploited monetarily and
emotionally, where Nur’s family and hangers
on demand money to keep themselves happy,
Murad refuses to pay him for submissions to
his self-proclaimed literary magazine. His
wife Sarla is indignant at his time away, his
fellow professors think he is having an affair
in Delhi or push him to get a taping of Nur’s
voice. The saddest part is the result of the
sessions. Drunk and encouraged by his
admirers who follow him along to the
sessions, Nur offers nothing new or novel.

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