In Custody


Anita Desai

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Deven Sharma

Deven Sharma, protagonist of In Custody, is a middle-aged Hindi teacher who lives in the small, dreary city of Mirpore, near his native Delhi. Meek, idealistic, and uninterested in wealth and status, his only… read analysis of Deven Sharma


Deven’s old friend Murad is the editor of the Urdu literary magazine Awaaz (which Murad’s father, a wealthy Kashmiri carpet dealer, bought for him). In the first chapter, Murad visits Mirpore and asks Deven… read analysis of Murad


Nur Shahjahanabadi, the legendary Urdu poet whom Deven Sharma idolizes, is the central character in Desai’s novel. While he is rumored to be a wise, reclusive ascetic, in reality, he is a bitter, sickly extrovert… read analysis of Nur


Sarla is Deven’s long-suffering wife, whom he describes as “plain, penny-pinching and congenitally pessimistic.” She is a dutiful, obedient, traditional Hindu housewife: she cooks and cleans for Deven every day and never raises her… read analysis of Sarla


Manu is Deven and Sarla’s young son, who is in primary school during the events of the novel. In Chapter Four, after returning from Delhi—and seeing how Nur treats his own son—Deven decides… read analysis of Manu
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Imtiaz is Nur’s second wife, the mother of Nur’s only son, and an accomplished poet. She is passionate, intellectual, and beautiful—she usually dresses in white and silver. She is also several decades younger… read analysis of Imtiaz


Safiya is Nur’s first wife. A shrewd old woman with black teeth, she takes pride in having married Nur before Imtiaz—even if she resents Imtiaz for being more beautiful, writing poetry, and giving… read analysis of Safiya

Abid Siddiqui

Abid Siddiqui is the sole member of Lala Ram Lal College’s Urdu department. He is loosely related to the minor 19th-century Muslim nobleman who funded the department and the construction of Mirpore’s primary mosque, and… read analysis of Abid Siddiqui

Deven’s Father

Deven’s father was a timid, sickly man who died when Deven was a child. He adored Urdu poetry—especially Nur’s work—and sparked Deven’s passion in the same subject. Still, Deven primarily views his father… read analysis of Deven’s Father


Mr. Jain’s nephew Chiku is Deven’s “technical assistant” for recording the interviews with Nur. Unfortunately, Chiku is lazy, incompetent, and completely ignorant about poetry. He constantly falls asleep on the job and… read analysis of Chiku


Ali is a servant boy who works for Nur. He is constantly helping Nur walk, serving him food and rum, and cleaning up his messes. Nevertheless, Nur treats Ali with cruelty and indifference. This… read analysis of Ali

Nur and Imtiaz’s Son

Nur and his second wife, Imtiaz, have a young son. When Deven first visits Nur’s house, Nur drunkenly goes downstairs to wake up this son, whom he claims is a talented singer. Deven follows… read analysis of Nur and Imtiaz’s Son


Jayadev is one of Deven’s colleagues in the Hindi department at Lala Ram Lal College. Deven hates Jayadev because he’s shallow, unimaginative, and slimy: he pretends to be Deven’s friend, then gossips behind his… read analysis of Jayadev


Pintu is Mr. Jain’s nephew, who accompanies Deven to Mirpore under the guise of helping him edit the (completely worthless) tapes of his interviews with Nur. Just like Mr. Jain’s other nephew (… read analysis of Pintu


Dhanu is one of Deven’s Hindi students at Lala Ram Lal College. Dhanu has been studying radio technology during his free time over the summer break, so he agrees to help Deven salvage what… read analysis of Dhanu

Mr. Jain

Mr. Jain is the manipulative electronics store owner who sells Deven the defective secondhand Japanese tape recorder, sends his nephew Chiku to operate it, and then sends his other nephew, Pintu, to try… read analysis of Mr. Jain


Raj is one of Deven’s childhood friends from Delhi. He was “born with one leg shorter than the other,” and they used to play cricket together. He never appears in the novel—he is supposedly… read analysis of Raj

The Tailor

The tailor who works downstairs from Raj’s family apartment has started living there with Raj’s elderly, widowed aunt. He claims that she feeds and houses him in exchange for “protection,” but in reality… read analysis of The Tailor

The Widow

The widow is Deven’s friend Raj’s elderly aunt; she lives in Raj’s family apartment in Delhi. Like many Hindu widows, she is socially ostracized and spends her time trying to win back favor… read analysis of The Widow
Minor Characters
Murad’s Office Boy
The office boy performs odd tasks for Murad at work and guides Deven to Nur’s house on his first visit to Chandni Chowk.
V.K. Sahay
Sahay is an elderly man who runs an Urdu printing press and rents a small portion of his office to Murad. While Murad claims that Sahay believes in his mission to revitalize Urdu literature, Sahay actually appears to pity his failure and disapprove of his dishonest business practices.
Chotu is the servant boy who works for Siddiqui. He is a gifted singer, and he wins money off Siddiqui in their poker game. However, he acts sullen and resentful toward Siddiqui, who orders him around cruelly.
The Brothel Owner
The brothel owner rents Deven a room near Nur’s house for his recordings and then kicks him and Chiku out when Nur decides to stop attending.
The Principal
The Principal is the head of Lala Ram Lal College, where Deven teaches. Deven hopes to meet with the Principal in order to win support for his research on Nur, but he never does.
Mr. Rai
Mr. Rai is the registrar at Lala Ram Lal College, where Deven works. He is a college friend of Siddiqui, who convinces him to fund Deven’s research with Nur.
Mrs. Bhalla
Mrs. Bhalla is Deven and Sarla’s nosy, widowed neighbor.
Bulu is the bouncer at the brothel where Deven interviews Nur.