Consider Deven as a memorable character in In Custody.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Desai's In Custody, Deven Sharma serves as our point of view into the story. He is nominally the protagonist but certainly not in the heroic sense. He is unmotivated, indecisive, insecure, and a bit self-obsessed.

He does not appear to be a good teacher or a good husband, but to understand him, you have to imagine his feelings of powerlessness. He is in an arranged marriage in which neither party is satisfied and stuck in a town he sees as a prison. He teaches Hindi, but his great passion is for the Urdu language. Imagine what it must be like to be so far from what you consider to be your true self that you don't even speak the language you prefer.

When his rich friend Murad arranges for him to interview the great poet Nur, Deven believes he is about to touch the divine. He worships Nur and when he sees that such a learned, passionate man lives in squalor—perhaps even worse than Deven's home—he fails to make what seems like the logical conclusion: that people are all flawed. Instead, he continues to worship Nur (somewhat).

His "friend" Murad also contributes to his feelings of hopelessness by continually putting him down in overt and subtle ways. Murad lords his wealth and status over Devan, who again reaches the wrong conclusion. Instead of seeing Murad for what he really is, he internalizes the insults and continues to believe that his existence is what is wrong with the world.

Primarily, what Desai seems to be saying is that conditions in the "modern" India are not much different from the oppressive, class-based societies of the past. She appears to suggest, through Deven, that India is in the midst of an existential crisis. Deven believes in his powerlessness and does not have the will to change his circumstance, even when he is shown evidence that some of his existence is due to outside forces.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team