In Custody

In Custody Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Symbol: Nur's Stairs

When Deven visits Nur, he realizes that the poet lives in a very tall building. As such, he must climb the stairs to visit Nur, which, to Deven, represents his ascent above his own mundane life to the world of poetry and idolization. However, his ideals come crashing down once he realizes how terrible the conditions are in Nur's house. The symbol is thus one of Deven's own making, not a larger one represented as true within the overall context of the narrative.

Symbol: Deven's Dream

Deven's dreams are revealing of his fears and doubts: "He often had nightmares in which he struggled toward an unspecified destination but was repeatedly waylaid and deflected, never in any stretch of sleep arriving at it any more than he did in waking. His feet seemed to be enmeshed in the sticky net of the nightmare..." (31). This dream in particular symbolizes his inability to move forward, his futile attempts to achieve his dreams. He is fated to remain "enmeshed," to see the path leading to money, literary fame, pride, and reputation remaining just as interminable as ever.

Symbol: Pigeons

When Deven visits Nur for the first time, he is surprised by many aspects of the way Nur lives. At one point, Nur is attacked by the neighborhood pigeons, whose "greed was monstrous, they coated him with their gluttony" (47). The pigeons, commonly viewed as dirty creatures, symbolize all of Nur's hangers-on: all of the young men (and, in Imtiaz's case, young women) who flock to the great poet, eating his literal and poetic scraps and offering very little in return.

Symbol: The Crash of the House

When Deven goes to visit Siddiqui for the second time at his home, he is surprised to see that the manor is being demolished. Deven complains to Siddiqui about the project's continuing troubles, and at the end of their meeting, "his whisper was drowned out by an enormous crash of bricks and plaster on to the terrace from where they split and spread, with a sad sigh, over what had been the lawn" (200). This can be viewed in two ways: a symbol of Deven's dreams crashing down around him, or the longevity and significance of Urdu crashing down. Neither of these two things—Deven's reputation or Urdu itself—was ever easy to promote or even salvage, but the disaster that is the interview with Nur makes both of them nearly obsolete.

Motif: Omens

Deven is constantly noticing omens, especially on his first trip to see Nur. He thinks, "it is the revelation that all the omens of the day had come together and met at the bottom of the glass he held between his fingers. In it lay the struck dog, the triumphant crows, the dead fly—death itself, nothing less" (29). Earlier, in his first meeting with Murad, he had thought "the comet was to be was a bad omen, not lucky" (18). Deven is thus consumed with thinking that the universe wants him to fail and that all of his efforts will come to naught.