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Last Updated on June 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

Deven Sharma is the main character of In Custody by Anita Desai, which takes place in India. The story spans the period between the 1980s and 1999, a time when customs and attitudes were changing in India. Deven lives a discontented life with his wife, Sarla, and their young son....

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Deven Sharma is the main character of In Custody by Anita Desai, which takes place in India. The story spans the period between the 1980s and 1999, a time when customs and attitudes were changing in India. Deven lives a discontented life with his wife, Sarla, and their young son. He teaches Hindi literature at a school, but the Urdu language is his true passion. The reader can easily compare Deven's feelings of failure with the failed caste system and other negative value systems in India. Deven has settled, having failed to become a writer of Urdu poetry, but like his countrymen, he is still searching for a source of meaning in his life.

Then something wonderful happens: Deven is invited to interview the famous Urdu poet Nur, who lives in Delhi. Though wary of the involvement of his shifty friend Marad in this opportunity, Deven is intrigued by the possibility of fulfilling his dream. When he gets to the big city, he is appalled by how disgustingly dirty it is. However, as he climbs his way up the many stairs leading to Nur's home, Deven's spirits begin to soar. The author uses this particular scene to suggest upward mobility in much more than physical terms.

When Deven finally meets Nur, he gets the worst surprise of his journey. As often happens in life, talent and fame do not naturally lead to happiness. Nur is old, and lives in a run-down and messy home; his mind is going, and misery surrounds him. Though initially taken aback, Deven resolves to help Nur, whose work he has long admired. Deven decides to memorialize the poet's words by recording them on tape. Nur is initially resistant to this proposal, telling Deven to give up and accept that Urdu will soon be a dead language. Nur's wife and the others hanging around him demand that Deven pay for the chance to interview Nur, which Deven struggles to do. Meanwhile, Sarla becomes angry that her husband is away, and Deven's colleagues assume he is having an affair in Delhi.

This novel reflects the reality that many Indians, especially those among the lower classes, may have expected dramatic improvements in their lives following the social change and modernization that has occurred in India. Like them, Deven has great expectations when he sets out for Delhi—yet possibly the most redeeming feature of his trip is that he manages to get Nur's words on tape. Ultimately, this story does not discourage a search for the better things in life, but it reminds us not to expect too much, for disappointments and change will always happen.

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