Analyze the character of Imtiaz Begum from In Custody.

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Imtiaz Begum is the second wife to Nur: a female poet and, overall, a rather complicated character. Other characters define Imtiaz as manipulative, cold, and vain. She does not possess the soft grace or the feminine obedience one would want from a woman by the standards of a deeply patriarchal environment. However, it is made clear to us that Imtiaz boasts an impressive level of creative prowess and fierce sense of independence. Towards the end of the novel, Imtiaz writes a letter to Deven and the reaction is thus:

The elegance and floridity of her Urdu entered Deven’s ears like a flourish of trumpets and beat at his temples while he read. The essential, unsuspected spirit of the woman appeared to step free of its covering, all the tinsel and gauze and tawdriness, and reveal a face from which the paint and powder had been washed and which wore an expression that made Deven halt and stumble before he could read on. (195)

Imtiaz forges a path into the world of men through Urdu poetry. Her style and form are outrageous coming from a woman and obviously offends the sensibilities of the men (and some of the women) in the book. Yet she does not falter. She asserts the validity of her work and states explicitly that it deserves judgment by the same rubric as the work of any man.

In many ways, we can understand Imtiaz as a "New Woman." That is, a woman who does not build her life solely based on submission to her husband and dedication to domestic responsibilities. Imtiaz has the courage to rebel against a social structure designed for and by men, to assert her creative individuality and merit. While she may not be entirely likable, she is certainly admirable as a character. Perhaps the author intentionally makes Imtiaz so, such that even the reader must learn to accept (or even embrace) a woman who is not simple or polite but forceful, complex, and bold.

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