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Analysis Of The Novel In Custody English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2165 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The last paragraph of In Custody suggested one of many epiphanies Deven endured as it marked that adversity and afflictions must be met to live life to the fullest. In Anita Desai’s In Custody, the main protagonist Deven is “in captive” or trapped on a rollercoaster ride consisting of many epiphanies and calamities. Once this rollercoaster of a storyline ends, Deven experiences the most prominent revelation of his life; realizing that life’s got its challenges to be met. Like a rollercoaster ride, life has many ups and downs. Deven looked upon Nur as a great role model and based most his poetry on the works of Nur. Desai describes Nur of once being a wonderful comet who slowly evolves into mere dust, which crushes Deven’s perception of his epic hero. Also, Sarla and Manu revealed two different symbols on Deven’s rollercoaster journey. Deven later realizes his role in life; to preserve and capture the art of Nur’s Urdu poetry by conquering the obstacles in his life. These epiphanies as well as barriers led to the most important realization of Deven. He finds out the harsh realities of life and the only way to fight it is to “learn to live thru em”.

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Nur is described as being the epitome of Urdu poetry in Desai’s In Custody. Murad even describes him as “[being] the [future] star of [his Urdu] issue. The light that blazes in the centre and sends its rays to all corners of the world where his verse is known- in Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Russia, [and] Sweden” (10). The character’s respect for Nur is undeniable especially when it comes to Deven. Although Deven teaches in the Hindi department at Lala Ram Lal College, he still loves exploring the wonders of Urdu poetry and is given the chance, “to see [Nur], his hero and talk to him” (18). As soon as Deven arrives at Nur-Sahib’s flat, he feels “a most tide of jubilation rise and an increase inside at being recognized, named and invited into the presence of a man so clearly a hero” (34). It was to him as if God had leaned over a cloud and called for him to come up and angels might have been drawing him up these ancient splintered stairs to meet the deity” (35). This represents his first ride “up” on the rollercoaster storyline as he experienced anticipation for the first time in his dull life. His excitement and euphoria was unquestionable, but it suddenly came to an end when he finally met Nur. When Deven explains the proposal to interview him for his contribution to the special issue on Urdu poetry, Nur says that Urdu is a dead language and that there is no use in writing the article. Having told Nur that he taught at a small college where there was a department of Urdu, Nur asked if he taught in the Urdu department and Deven told him the truth that he taught in the Hindi department. Nur then accuses Deven of being a spy sent by the universities to destroy the small remains of the Urdu language; hunt it out and demolish it. Deven’s vision of Nur as a godly figure is crushed into dust. The shining comet of Nur that is believed to be a good omen turned out to be a mere dust and misfortune, which also characterizes a downfall on his rollercoaster journey.

Sarla and Manu are two different symbols in Deven’s rollercoaster life. Sarla, his wife, represents disenchantment in his life. When Deven finally arrives home from his first crushed interview with Nur, he was afraid, “she would teach him not to venture out of the familiar, safe dustbin of their world into the perilous world of night time bacchanalia, revelry and melodrama” (66). Their world is filled with crushed dreams, and aspirations. Sarla does not want Deven to step out of his defeat and immerse himself in anything fun or out of the ordinary when such things are dosed off to her. We are told that Deven’s mother and aunts had arranged his marriage to Sarla. They failed to acknowledge that Sarla had dreams of her own. She dreamt the magazine dream of marriage: “stepping out of a car with plastic shopping bag full of groceries filling them into the gleaming fridge, then rushing to the phone placed on a lace doily on a three legged table…behind a flowered curtain” (67). She dreamed for an ideal American family life; essentially a perfect married life; sheer bliss. Yet having been married into the academic profession and moving to a small town outside Delhi, her dreams never came true and led her to embitterment. As a result of the obstructing of her dreams, “there was cut two dark furrows from the corners of her nostrils to the corners of her mouth as deep and permanent as surgical scars” (68) making her look forbidding. He understood her because they were both victims but this did not bring about any sodality between the two for they believed “two victims sought to avoid each other, not yoke together joint disappointments” (68). She accused him tacitly, so he spoke abusively to Sarla “hurling away dishes not cooked to his liking, bawl uncontrollably if meals were not ready when he wanted them or their small son was noisy or unwashed” (68). This was an effort to rebel against her disappointment and avenge her for accommodating it. His son, Manu, represents another “up” in his rollercoaster journey. When Deven and Manu went for an evening walk to bond as father and son, Deven experienced another important epiphany Manu made him realize. For once, he did not resent his circumstances as “the first desolation at his loss was being gradually filled [that] evening with the realization it has that loss had simplified his existence” (72) because he knew how to deal emptiness for he was used to it. This allowed him to conveniently “escape from complexities with which he would not have known how to contend” (72) for he is afraid of major change and what impact it may have on his life. Sarla was characterized as being a massive downfall in Deven’s rollercoaster ride and Manu was an uprising in his journey.

During Deven’s second visit to Nur, he realized that his role in life has changed from being an ordinary college teacher to the guardian of Nur’s poetry. There were barriers in the way of Deven’s dreams though such as his family, his job and Nur’s wife Imtiaz Begum. These downfalls were redirected back up with his will to chase his dreams and a little help from Nur’s first wife. Directly after Deven’s unsuccessful first interview with Nur, he felt he “[could not] lose [his] job, [his] salary, [his] family” (76) just to chase his dreams but soon realizes “being trapped like an animal” was not worth it. Deven realized that it was Nur’s genius and art that was bringing about a transformation in his life “the hither to entirely static and stagnant backwaters of his existence” (110) was banished. He was now given a role in life; to preserve Nur’s poetry and his family was not going to stand in the way of Deven’s ambition. Nur’s second wife, Imtiaz Begum was also characterized as being a major downfall in Deven’s rollercoaster journey. He thought that the unexpected friendship with Nur has allowed for the door of his “trapped life” would open “but a closer familiarity with the poet” (142) has proved that what he thought of as the wider world was just an illusion and that he would only “blunder into another cage inhabited by some other trapped animal” (142). Deven thought that meeting Nur would be one of the most influential events in his life but finds out that they were in similar situations where both their marriages kept them confined in a cage. Just like Deven, being imprisoned in a cage because of his family and job, Nur had been confined from his obnoxious wife, Imtiaz. Soon after, Deven discovers another rising on his rollercoaster adventure when he encounters Nur’s first wife who believes “[he should not] let [Imtiaz] stop [him]” (132) from interviewing Nur. She provided Deven and Nur with some solitude by isolating him in another building where the interview would be hidden from Imtiaz Begum. There he could gather the necessary information for his interview tape. Obstacles such as his family, job and Imtiaz Begum were in the way of “the dear shining horizon” (156); his dream, as they were conquered with the help of Deven’s determination and with the help from Nur’s old first wife.

Although Deven got support from Nur’s first wife, debt issues as well as technical difficulties were factors that affected the interview with Nur. Deven soon experiences the harshest epiphany of his journey; that life has its challenges and calamities and the only way to live through them is fighting back. This also marked the end of Deven’s rollercoaster adventure. Although Nur’s first wife had offered help, she wanted a payment. She asked Deven: “are poets’ families to starve while you and your kind from the colleges feast?” (135). At first Deven was incredulous in continuing the interview with Nur because of the fee, but decides he needs to finish what he had started. Since he was experiencing debt problems of his own, he had borrowed the money from Lala Ram Lal College from their funds. During the interview, distractions and chatter had disrupted the interviewing process. Chiku, Deven’s technical assistant “fumbled with the machine and [did not] take any of [Nur’s verses or memoirs] down” (167). The interview failed to live up to Deven and the college’s expectations. In fact, the tape recording was hardly based on Nur’s poetry and was mainly on worthless conversations that went on during the interview. Deven feels his one shot at redemption was destroyed when he failed to get the tape with content academic value. As a repercussion his marriage would be destroyed and his relationships with his colleagues cut off. Deven believed when the board members see it, they would accuse Deven as having cheated the money of the college funds and because of that he fears for his censure or dismissal of his occupation. Not only would this bring him down, Sarla and Manu would fall too because he would not be able to support them, and thus Sarla and Manu would be forced to return to her parent’s house while he paid off their accumulated debts; tarnishing in the process his son’s view of him even more when he tried to patch things up. With all the debt issue Deven endured, he finally realizes life has its tragedies and challenges and the only way to survive this cruel world is if “he [runs] to meet them” (226). He finally sees that structure and form is what is missing in his life and expected “thorns” to lie ahead. Deven was finally ready to hop off the generic rollercoaster life and live by his own pattern. This epiphany also marked a rebirth in Deven’s life. This is proven when Deven declines Murad’s offer of paying off his debts for sole rights of Nur’s interview tape as he finally stands up for himself, which he was not able to in the beginning of the novel. Deven’s role in life altered as well to being an ordinary Hindi teacher to the “custodian of Nur’s genius” (225). He realized that friendship with Nur still existed and that “[their] alliance could be considered an unendurable burden-or else a shining honour” (225). Despite having a tape filled with disastrous memories and hardships, Deven felt he had a duty to preserve it. At the end of Deven’s rollercoaster adventure expedition, he finally realizes hardships and anguishes will always be a part of life and he has accepted these challenges.

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In the novel In Custody, Deven is trapped in a storyline consisting of many of “ups” and “downs” of epiphanies and challenges. Once this rollercoaster journey ends, Deven experiences the harshest epiphany of his life; realizing that life’s not what it is meant to be and the only way to cope with it is to live through them. Deven thought of Nur as an epic figure; the embodiment of Urdu poetry but he came to know Nur as a drunkard, old and shrivelled and defeated by the obstacles in his life. Deven’s wife, Sarla and his son, Manu both symbolized different motions on his rollercoaster journey. Deven also has many obstacles to conquer which are in the way of his dreams and in the end that he recognizes that life has its calamities and the only way to fight it is to meet the expectations. Deven proves in the end of the novel that life is what you make it. Deven proved he was mature enough to cope and make the difference in his life.


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