In Custody

In Custody Study Guide

In Custody was published in 1984 by author Anita Desai and is one of her best-known novels. The American-Indian author has won a number of awards, including the British Guardian Prize, and In Custody was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 1993, Desai's novel was adapted into a film of the same name.

The novel is about the classic Indian poet Nur, who is interviewed by Deven, a disillusioned literature teacher. Nur has always been a great idol of Deven's, and so the interview is highly anticipated. However, the reality is vastly different than Deven's expectations, and he finds that the great poet Nur is not what he seems to be. In an interview from 2009, Desai spoke about the genesis of the novel: "But this was my world. It was the world of Old Delhi, in those pre-Independence days, when one was really very much aware of Muslim culture having made Old Delhi, just the way the British made New Delhi, and they are two very different worlds actually. The world I grew up in was that of Old Delhi in which one still heard Urdu poetry being recited. When I went to school, half of the population there was studying Urdu, the other half Hindi. So I was very aware of that historical, multi-cultural world. In that sense, in 1947, with Independence and Partition, we had the most traumatic moment in Indian history, for my generation certainly. That was when it was all coming apart. So perhaps, again, in a very subconscious way, it was an effort to put them together again, these broken pieces, to hold them together again."

The novel received a great deal of praise. The Times Literary Supplement called her "most subtle and mature work to date," The Evening Standard deemed it "a memorable book, the best that Anita Desai has written," and The New Yorker called it a "rich Chekhovian novel by one of the most gifted of contemporary Indian writers."