In Custody Themes
by Anita Desai

Start Your Free Trial

Download In Custody Study Guide

Subscribe Now

In Custody Themes

Physical and Mental Confinement

While the title In Custody suggests detention or incarceration, the characters in the work are figuratively, rather than literally, imprisoned. The relationship between physical and mental confinement, therefore, is one of the major themes.

Desai develops the theme of the confinement through the three main characters: Deven, the protagonist; his long-time but disloyal friend Murad; and the famous poet Nur. Surrounded by wives and sycophants, Nur is not free at all—he is confined by his language, age, and even his reputation.

Meanwhile, Deven is constrained by his job where he teaches Hindi, even though Urdu poetry is his passion. He feels that he might be liberated—even saved—by the assignment to interview the great Nur. His physical confinement is the small village where he lives and works, and his mental confinement is in his dissatisfaction with both his married and professional life. Murad seems to have considerable freedom, but his independence effectively means that he, and others of his generation, will be confined by his heritage. Although he gains permission to publish in and about Urdu, his dreams are confined to a tiny corner of someone else’s office.

Owing to Murad’s manipulations, Deven finds himself immersed, albeit temporarily, in the lofty world of poetry, which of course is not as he imagined it would be. While he will never be a poet himself, his admiration for its magical powers is boundless. The adventure of interviewing the legendary Nur, despite not yielding the results he desired, ultimately serves an even more important purpose for Deven, which in turn aids his family. He begins to understand that his feelings of confinement are largely mental and that chafing constantly against the injustices of Indian ethnic and social politics had not improved his situation. Even a tenuously improved connection with...

(The entire section is 478 words.)