Anita Desai’s In Custody: Synopsis of Chapters Ten and Eleven

Chapter 10

When Deven returns to the recording room the next day, Nur is nowhere to be found. The room is empty. To Chiku’s question, Deven replies: ‘They’re gone . . . Nur Sahib is gone’. Deven soon finds out that Begum had ordered Nur to end the interview. Deven gets this information from the tall woman after she questions Deven’s presence at the recording venue. The woman also orders Deven to pay the bill that has been sent to Begum. She threatens Deven if he fails to pay up.

Murad wants Deven to take the tapes to Mirpore instead of having them heard in Delhi. Deven says that he has to go back to Mirpore to attend to examination papers, therefore he requests Murad to join him at Jain Sahib’s shop to preview the tapes. But even Jain does not want Deven to preview the tapes in his shop. He asks Deven to take the tapes back to Mirpore and to preview them there. It is obvious that he and Murad know already that the tapes are bad. Even Chiku leaves immediately after setting up the equipment at Jain’s shop. His manner is insulting towards Deven.

When Murad arrives at the shop, he rejects Deven’s suggestion that the tapes be reviewed. It is revealed that even Murad does not know how to operate the recording machine. This heightens the theme of incompetence and arrogance in the novel, and goes on to indicate that Murad was only projecting when he derided Deven for not being in tune with the new technology. Even Jain who sold the equipment does not know how to operate it. Another boy has to be called in to work the machine.

The whole recording turns out to be a fiasco. Murad blames Deven for not constantly previewing the recording after each session. He also blames Jain for the poor recording equipment, having appreciated Deven’s anguish as the tapes were ordered by the university. Soon everyone is trading blame on the issue. Jain complains that the recording should have been done in a studio and not ‘in the middle of the Chandni Chowk bazaar’. Murad picks on Jain’s point to attack Deven who has no cogent response to give.

‘Squeezed suffocatingly in Murad’s embrace, Deven wondered what such friendship really meant’.  Deven has this thought when Murad hugs him sympathetically and asks him to return to Mirpore with the tapes and see if he could cut one useful tape for the university. Murad then leaves after reminding Deven to send his article for the magazine. In the end, Deven is left alone to face the university.

Jain tries to comfort Deven and to advise him that the tapes can be salvaged after all if they are given to a technician to edit out the noise. Jain then suggests that Deven should take Pintu, the boy who came to play the tapes, with him back to Mirpore to help with the editing of the tapes. Deven has no other choice than to take Pintu with him.

They arrive in Mirpore. The house looks deserted. It is apparent that Sarla is not back from her parents’. The next day, Deven receives a letter from Nur stating that he has cataract which must have been aggravated by the recording. The letter requests Deven to arrange for him to be admitted to Government Hospital for Eye, Ear and Nose Disease, as he [Nur] has no money and his profession is at stake if he loses his sight. He asks that the university be informed to foot the bill of his proposed hospitalisation.

Deven is now preoccupied with university work. He asks for Siddiqui’s help with the tapes. It is soon found out that even Pintu knows next to nothing about tapes and the technicalities involved/required in editing them. Maybe his knowledge only ends with playing or operating them. Siddiqui also knows nothing about tapes either, so he only pretends to help Deven. Deven gets to a point where he realises that ‘he would have to correct matters himself or be thrown out of the college for false pretences, misappropriation of funds, fraud, cheating and incompetence’.

Help finally comes in the form of Deven’s student by name Dhanu. Dhanu has a gift for mechanics. He studied radio technology through a correspondence course. Dhanu is the one who tells Deven what ought to be done to salvage the tapes: ‘Sir we must get another tape recorder. I have one at home. . . Then we must record all the pieces you want to retain on to a master tape and cut out all this . . .’ Dhanu goes as far as enlisting his friends who have similar interests to help out with the project. Deven buys a master tape recorder with his last savings in a desperate bid to save the project and save his job. But the whole project is still plagued by failure: ‘. . . there was not much the boys could do to improve matters . . .’

When the final tape is ready, Deven invites Siddiqui to listen to it. Siddiqui at first says that the recording is ‘charming’, which is an irony, especially from Deven’s perspective. In the corridor, Siddiqui asks Deven, ‘. . . Is that all?’ Siddiqui is disappointed when Deven answers in the affirmative, even after he adds that he is also writing a monograph based on the interview. Siddiqui tells Deven matter-of-factly that money was released by the university for tapes, not monograph and wonders what would happen if the board asks for the tapes at the next meeting.

Shortly after, Pintu comes along to ask for his pay! Deven is forced to pay him for doing nothing just to get rid of him. Dhanu and his friends also want to be rewarded for working on the Nur tapes. They want Deven to give them first division marks, especially because they helped him to fix the tapes. When Deven tells them that their attendance has not been good, they ask Deven why they should be studying Hindi when they could pick up some useful skills somewhere else.

‘Hindi does not help get you employment,’ one of the boys tells Deven. It is shown that the boys just want to have a degree. They go as far as threatening Deven: ‘We will make him pay. How can he not?’

Deven gets another appeal letter from Nur. This time Nur even asks that the university should offer free education to his young son because of the work that he [Nur] has done for the university. It is reported that Pintu has left and Sarla is yet to return from her parents’. Deven grades the scripts alone. The next day, Deven goes with the scores to the university. One of the boys asks if Deven has effected the scores they demanded.

Deven is told by the watchman that a staff meeting is ongoing. The meeting is a repetition of what was said last year: fallen standards, poor grades, poor class attendance and the need for action. Deven hands over his scores to be pasted and leaves. Jayadev invites Deven for a cup of tea. Over tea, Jayadev asks Deven why he looks so ill. Deven lies that it is because he worked so hard during the holidays. Jayadev asks Deven why he works so hard, wondering if all his hard work has brought him promotion. Deven says that his hard work might even fetch him dismissal. Jayadev comforts him and tells him to be positive. He shows Deven a postcard a friend sent him from America. The friend’s name is Vijay Sud and he is teaching in Indiana State College. Jayadev thinks that Deven should also leave India, Mirpore, which he refers to as ‘dustbin’. Deven sarcastically asks Jayadev if he is going to America to teach Hindi. This hurts Jayadev deeply. He regrets offering Hindi; he thinks they should have studied science subjects in order to secure a good future. Deven tells Jayadev: ‘We have no future. There is no future. Only the past’.

Deven receives two more letters – one from Sarla and one from Nur. The rent for the room used for the Nur interview is 500 rupees and Deven is asked to pay it. Deven neglects to read Sarla’s letter; perhaps he forgets.

Deven returns to Delhi. Murad tells Deven that the magazine is not yet out because he [Deven] sent in his article late. Deven shows Murad the bill for the Nur project but Murad is unwilling to foot it. Murad does not even want to pay Deven for the article until the old man puts in an appeal as well. Murad says he will only pay for the article, not the rent of the recording room.

Deven is suddenly taken ill in Murad’s office. He is given a glass of water to revive him. As Deven is leaving, Murad tells him to give him the sole right over the master tape of Nur’s interview in return for his clearing the debts incurred during the project after he might have sold it to HMV or Polydor.

Deven pushes Murad away, saying that the tape is the property of the university. Murad tells Deven to get the college to clear the debts. Deven seems to have resolved to be strong on his own henceforth. He returns to Chandni Chowk, which is the area where Nur lives. But he does not visit the great poet. Instead he moves towards Darya Ganji. He considers visiting Raj’s aunt to apologise and explain why he left without saying his goodbyes. But he changes his mind. He rather goes to a small park and sits on a bench among the children who are playing in the park. He is in a mood of cogitation. He reflects on his last conversation with Jayadev and thinks of the envy of the people who studied science. He envies science subjects’ ability to have direct answers to every question.

‘If art, if poetry, could be made to submit their answers, not merely to contain them within perfect, unblemished shapes, but to release them and make them available, then – he thought, then – But then the bubble would be breached and burst, and it would no longer be perfect. And if it were not perfect, and constant, then it would all have been for nothing . . .’ Science has its truth and the process of obtaining it; so does poetry and the other arts. And both should be respected.

Chapter 11

Deven returns to Mirpore to find that Sarla is back to the house. Deven asks why she did not inform him of her return. Sarla points to her unopened letter. At that moment, Deven accepts Sarla the way she is, as part of his humiliation. He then asks of Manu. Sarla replies that Manu has gone to show the neighbours the new clothes her parents bought for him. Deven accepts this indirect insult as well.

Sarla is happy to resume her wifely duties in the house. She asks Deven if she should make him tea. She really misses this duty and the control it gives her. Deven reads another letter from Nur’s first wife who accuses Deven of deception and insult. But she has enclosed in the letter her own poems for Deven to read. This implies that she now recognises Deven’s authority as an expert, connoisseur and custodian of Urdu poetry. Deven tears the letter and its contents. Sarla calls them rubbish littering the floor that she has just swept.

Deven goes to see the registrar in order to explain everything and to prevent the recording project from being tabled at the resumption meeting. He does not want the tape to be heard anymore.

Deven receives another letter as he leaves the house. He does not read the letter yet. Manu asks him to buy watermelon for him on his way back. Deven finds that the registrar is in a meeting with the Principal of the college. Deven leaves and goes to see Siddiqui. He needs someone to stop Nur from sending more letters.

Deven meets Siddiqui’s house being demolished. This is symbolic as it indicates that things are changing and that the old is giving way to the new. Siddiqui explains that he had an offer from a Delhi business man who needed the land to build a block of flats for business purposes. He had accepted the offer because the money was good.

Deven tries to persuade Siddiqui to attend the board meeting to speak in favour of the Nur project, but Siddiqui is too busy supervising the demolition to give Deven his full attention. He, however, collects the bill from Deven. Siddiqui says that Deven should have been more vigilant to have avoided being cheated, just as he [Siddiqui] is being vigilant with the housing project to ensure that no one cheats him.  

Deven reads Nur’s letter on his way home. It talks about his pigeons dying of an unknown disease. Nur threatens to cease from writing poetry when the last of his pigeons die, and to also die with them. He asks Deven to arrange for him to go on pilgrimage to Mecca. Deven is nearly hit by a rickshaw driver. He then sees two of his students who had threatened him.

The night before the board meeting, Deven goes for a walk, following a group of devotees. But he soon turns right while the religious group take left. Is this symbolic? Deven thinks of the possible outcome of the day’s meeting as dawn breaks. Will it be blame, criticism or dismissal? He keeps referring to himself as a ruined man, and it is Nur’s project that has ruined him.

As Deven walks on, he begins to accept his new office as the custodian of Nur’s poetry. It appears that he is ready to accept everything that goes with the office, good or bad.

And that is the end of the synopsis. Other aspects of interpretation will follow in due course.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!