In Custody

In Custody Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Delhi, India, 1980s

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person omniscient, mostly focused on Deven

Tone and Mood

Tone: zealous, ebullient, questioning, despairing, insecure, resigned

Mood: anxious, confining, futile, passionate

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Deven. Antagonists: Murad, Imtiaz, and Deven himself.

Major Conflict

Will Deven be able to sit down with Nur and take the dictation of poems and get what he needs to write his interview article?


Deven and Murad listen to the tapes and realize they are a complete and utter disaster, and there is very little they can do about it.


1. When Deven is uncomfortable and nervous around Murad at the very beginning of the novel, it foreshadows the complicated relationship they will have regarding Nur and the magazine article.
2. Deven sees the comet as "something to be was a bad omen" (18), which foreshadows his terrible time with Nur.
3. The dead fly Deven finds at the bottom of his teacup before meeting Nur is also a bad omen (29).
4. When Murad tries to reassure Deven the tape recording will go well, "His voice was a little slow and thoughtful though" (109), which foreshadows the project's doom.




1. There are numerous allusions to the conflict between the Indian languages of Urdu and Hindi (see "Other" in this ClassicNote).
2. Holi is an ancient Indian festival celebrating the love of Radha Krishna (21).
3. Murad accuses Deven of being hypnotized by "Gutenberg" (91), which is an allusion to Johann Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press.
4. Nur has a fondness for English poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley, and quotes "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by Keats, as well as "To a Skylark" and "Ode to the West Wind" by Shelley (157).
5. A Delhi street, Tolstoy Lane, is named after Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer.


Anita Desai uses imagery to great effect in the novel, such as: contrasting the quietness of Mirpore with the hustle and bustle of Delhi; conveying just how dissolute and dirty and overwhelming Nur's life is through his environs; and suggesting the hollowness of Siddiqui in his crumbling manor and the lackluster nature of Deven's life and marriage through his "derelict" home.





Metonymy and Synecdoche

"they tingled with the possibility of the long arm of the administration reaching out and hauling them up to be introduced to Someone High Up" (95).


1. " languishes in the back lanes and gutters of the city" (15).
2. "a voice that could grasp him, as it were, by the roots of his hair and haul him up" (40).
3. " was to lay the blame on upon her, remove its clinging skin from him" (68).
4. "Before Time crushes us into dust we must record our struggle against it" (113).
5. "consciousness still had its fine, twisted hooks in his flesh and gave another and another tug, bringing him back unwillingly to the surface" (132).
6. "The day would begin, with calamities. They would flash out of the sky and cut him down like swords. He would run over to meet them" (204).