23 July, 2013

#BookReview :: In Custody by Anita Desai

Touching and wonderfully funny, In Custody is woven around the yearnings and calamities of a small-town scholar in the north of India. An impoverished college lecturer, Deven, sees a way to escape from the meanness of his daily life when he is asked to interview India's greatest Urdu poet, Nur - a project that can only end in disaster.

This is one of the few cases where I have watched the movie before reading the book. Having watched the amazing movie couple of years back and Anita Desai’s name raised my expectations really high.

Deven is a Hindi lecturer, living a modest life in a small town. But nothing is okay in his life. His wife is unhappy with him, his students do not listen to him or respect him and all those around him take advantage of him. Shadowing all these is his reminiscence of his dreams of becoming a poet that he had to give up in order to bring in money for his wife and son. When he gets a chance to interview Nur, a relatively famous Urdu poet, his enthusiasm knows no bounds. But as always, nothing is simple in Deven’s life… Starting with a faulty recorder, things only go downhill as Deven tries to hold on to his enthusiasm for the language, poetry and this opportunity.

Characters in this story have similar shades even though they have different background and Deven’s story really touches you. Throughout the story you wish that life would finally give him a break. You hope for a happy ending, at least for his sake right from the first half of the book. Nur is a character that again somehow will strike a sad chord in your heart. Deven’s wife is a character I could understand but not really sympathise with.

From downright comical situations to the absurdities of Nur’s life to Deven’s own sad little life, the story flourishes with each stroke of life’s different colours. I admit that it is not a happy-go-lucky or fun book. It accentuates the failures of a man’s life and that makes the pace of the story feel a bit slow. Yet it was difficult for me to put it down. Frankly, this book is not for everyone. It is for more matured readers who is okay with reading a bit of heavy material, understanding that life is not all roses and petals and that most people outside the world of fiction have a lot of thorns to pick up in their lives. Even then, not all can get to the rosy petal part of their lives.

This may not be Anita Desai’s best, at least to me, but it certainly lives up to her standard in prose. Loved it!

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