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Monday, July 07, 2014

Book Review : ‘In Custody' by Anita Desai

I remember reading Anita Desai for the first time in school. Her book, ‘The Village by the Sea’, was a lovely read for my school days. It had its touching moments and it drove me to finish it. 

Now, after all these years, I had ‘In Custody’ in my hands. The book was written in 1984, and is a break from the usual set of novels. The book is about a small town teacher, Deven Sharma who teaches Hindi at school but his love remains for Urdu, the language and its poetry. 

His childhood friend, Murad who is a publisher of an Urdu magazine in Delhi, comes looking for him, to the town of Mirpore. Murad wants Deven to interview Nur Shahjehanabadi, a famous poet in his times and a favourite of Deven’s for his magazine.

Deven who feels Urdu poetry is a means of escape from his unsatisfactory life, in which he expresses his frustration by barking at his wife, takes the opportunity. Nur, who is now impoverished, coupled with two wives, who are dominating, and Nur himself who had lost his poetic touch, and prefers to squander away his money, is no longer the idol he was. He spends his time chatting with his so-called fans, and brings in no money.

Deven tries to have a talk with Nur about the interview. He does manage to do so, by getting his college to put up money for a tape recorder. The tape recorder is a second hand version, which he must record with in the few days that he manages to get the poet, away from home. A series of goof ups and mistakes follow this, turning it into a hilarious rigmarole.

‘In Custody’, however remains a wonderful book. It does have the poetry, and even the melancholic touch of loneliness and sadness. Blending all this, with a touch of humour was Desai’s effective touch to this novel.

In Custody’ was also made into a film, by Merchant Ivory in 1993 starring Shashi Kapoor and Om Puri.


Author: Anita Desai

Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184000139
Price: Rs 299/-
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