In Custody of the Unsaid
In Anita Desai's novel In Custody, the unsaid functions to create meaning in the otherwise meaningless life of her character, Deven. By setting up a more concrete binary of meaning and the meaningless, the unsaid forces the reader to reevaluate the purpose of communication in an individual context throughout a book which, paradoxically, explicitly illustrates methods of articulation and response. In the end, Deven, a failed communicator, is left responsible for the containment of the past, unchanging and repressed. He ignores the messages of the unsaid, as they are represented in his professional and social exchanges, the stifled longings of his and his wife's suppressed fantasies, his dismissal of his wife's and Imtiaz Begum's letters, and his failure to possess significance in his interaction with Nur. The cohesion of the text is absent when one considers the reality of the said: disjointed voice and fragmented relationships. Unity only becomes evident in the dichotomy of said versus unsaid, and the struggle for voice which exists in between. Deven is trapped, trapped between the said and the unsaid, between his life and what his life could have been.
A great deal in this novel focuses on modes of communication and articulation. Deven is a teacher and thus works in an educational environment in which knowledge is meant to be shared and spread. He is also an aspiring Urdu poet who writes in Urdu on his own time as a hobby. He hopes Murad will publish his poems and further communicate their messages to the Urdu-reading public, as limited as that may be. Unable to have his own poetry published, he sets off to Delhi to form a relationship based mainly on verbal communication. When Nur seems amicable to the notion of sharing his older poetry and memoirs with Deven, Deven and Murad decide that containing this articulation on audiotape would be ideal and this technique is tried. Overtures are made to the school board, namely by Siddiqui, for money to support these ventures since they are persuaded that the audiotape will begin a audio-visual collection which will lead to their students sharing and learning from progressive forms of communication for years to come. All of these examples and methods pertain to the said of Desai's novel, its explicit communication outlined by the text in the form of objective narration, inter-character dialogue, and the presence of the given art forms of audiotape and poetry.
The great paradox of a failed communicator protagonist in a setting dependent on the transfer and success of communication establishes the construct in which to examine the aspects of the novel ignored, avoided, or never consummated. In Srivastava's collection, M. Sivaramkrishna finds that "the prime impulse behind Mrs. Desai's fiction [is] the quest for a mode of knowledge and experience which would contain not only the fact of death but our constant awareness of the "dispersed" fragmented reality. In effect, this is a quest for the unity of being—which in the existential frame is in itself a futile gesture" (18). Rendering Desai's fiction existential allows the critic to comprehend the struggle for meaning in a construct that is devoid of significance and in which the protagonist's journey is always and at once futile. Wholeness is instead reached subtextually and is developed unrealized by characters incapable of grasping its entirety.
Solanki notes that Desai's protagonists are often portrayed in times of great weakness. She states, "Anita Desai's novels are concerned with the portrayal of the most troubled part of her protagonists' life. They are at their wit's end; the world seems to be 'out of joint', and, in their helplessness, they feel like trapped birds" (22). However, in In Custody, the period of Deven's life related by Desai as the novel opens does not seem extraordinary. In fact, his effort to interview Nur will be an attempt to step away from his "out of joint" world but will land him crashing back to the place in which he started. Deven's progression is stagnant in terms of the goals he accomplishes, lives he betters, or events, people, or action he alters. Deven is a type of non-character. In the context of the function of the unsaid, one better understands how meaning is lost through the vehicle of Deven's constant ineptitude.
Desai's representation of the unsaid's struggle against the said permits the reader to analyze the forces behind the fragmented, incohesive world in which Deven participates but will never conquer. As Goel elaborates, "though reality [in In Custody] has been depicted well mainly with striking visual and auditory imagery, fantasy generally remains only at the level of words and statements—that are not felt and realized well. Consequently it is the dismal reality that gives dominating colour and tone to the novel" (94). By constructing a dichotomy which pits the said against the unsaid and forces the reader to evaluate the significance of meaning underlying this binary, Desai allows the reader to extract the forms of communication which fail to perform the textual predominance of fantasy to which Goel refers. The said breaks down and leaves the reader to face the realities of the unsaid. We are shown the forms of communication explicitly as they coalesce about the plot and we are invited to peruse their effectiveness.
Deven's inability to impact others in a significant manner, his apprehension to see beyond his own limited scope, and his failure to communicate or accomplish any of his goals creates a personal universe we will term meaningless. As readers, we first meet Deven in relation to another character, highlighting his static dependency and dimensionless existence. It is Murad's agency that brings Deven alive at the beginning of the novel. Desai's opening asserts, "[Deven's] first feeling on turning around at the tap on his shoulder while he was buying cigarettes at the college canteen and seeing his old friend Murad was one of joy—but this rapidly turned to anxiety when Murad gave a laugh— 'But I have a class just now, Murad,' he stammered as Murad squeezed his shoulders tightly as if he did not intend to let him go" (9). We can understand from the text's implication that Deven was facing away, with his back to us, until Murad's tap turned him around to face the reader. Deven is an insignificant character of the background until Murad turns him around. Once turned to face front, he is unsure of how to react. Deven feels tied to his daily pattern of classes, his daily obligation. Yet, he feels anxious rejecting Murad as well and can hardly respond appropriately to release himself from Murad's grip.
This opening to Desai's novel is very significant in terms of Deven's place in the world and the way in which his relationships will function. As Khana explains, "it is the betrayal of friendship rather than its fulfillment which is one of the themes of the novel [In Custody]. It is in the very beginning that the novelist has given us a hint as to what kind of friendship it is going to be" (49). Deven is heavily dependent on others, has very little agency, and has a difficult time communicating his feelings or desires with authority. Stimulating his own betrayal, Deven allows his life to be torn up into small, insignificant, non-functioning relationships by his ineptitude toward the explicit exchanges he is invited to participate in as well as his refusal to accept the implicit meaning of the unsaid which arises beneath and between his failed interactions.
Though Murad has evidently searched Deven out in Mirpore, his purpose is not personal, but is to persuade Deven into helping him with his Urdu publication, Awaaz. Deven comments pointedly to Murad, "If only we got payment for the articles and reviews that we write for magazines and journals, that would be of some help" (14). This line indicates that Deven has written for Murad's magazine in the past and yet has never been paid for his submissions. It is also implied that Deven has only written items requested by Murad, likely in a similar manner as this encounter portrays, since he does not mention types of writing which demand creativity. When Deven suggests sending in pieces of his own writing for the upcoming edition, Murad soundly rejects the proposal. He bullies Deven into doing work that he needs done because he is able to dominate the conversation. The exchange ends notably for the reader as the text relays the power dynamic. Desai writes, "[Deven] could not have said why but he was frightened. 'Look, will you do this feature for me or not?' 'Of course I will, Murad.' [Deven] became meek. He hung his head, looking at his fingers clutching the edge of the table" (18). Thus, Desai opens her novel with the non-hero, Deven, involved in a mainly parasitic relationship from which he cannot, and does not even recognize he should, escape. Deven ignores the unsaid within him that seeks to alert him to the dangers or truth that are inherent in the situation.
This failing will follow Deven throughout the novel, condemning the relationships and methods of communication with which he is involved. The critic Pathania suggests, "since [Desai's protagonists] are determined to maintain their identity and individuality, they fail to achieve fulfillment in human relationships" (51). Though it is certainly true that Deven does not form fulfilling and equal relationships, in this case the problem stems more from an uncertainty regarding his identity, a weakness in strongly separating himself from the will of others, and an inability to significantly and successfully impact his life or the lives of others. He lacks agency, independent will, and social fluency.
Deven's characteristic role is played out over the course of the novel in many of his personal and social interactions. Desai tells us that his mention of money to Murad is extremely uncharacteristic and if it had not been an extraordinary situation, he would have been motivated more by invisibility and ineffectiveness than by any need for a pro-active measure. She writes, "The desperation of [Deven's] circumstances made him say something he never would have otherwise. All through his childhood and youth he had known one way to deal with life and that was to lie low and remain invisible" (14). Though not quite invisible in his ordinary interactions, Deven's life does little to affect others in a positive or significant manner.
The reader learns that due to his failed attempt to write Urdu poetry and the occurrence of Sarla's pregnancy, Deven has given himself over to a life teaching Hindi solely because he needed the security of the occupation and the money it offered. Yet, instead of making the most this situation may have had to offer, he stagnates in it. In the classroom, for instance, Deven commands neither attention nor respect because of his virtual absence from the experience and his perpetual inability to communicate his knowledge to others. Desai writes, "He had for years been practising this trick of ignoring his class and speaking to himself, or someone outside, invisible. That was what made him a boring teacher who could not command attention, let alone win the regard, of his unruly class" (12-13). His effect on these students with whom he spends the majority of his time is insignificant. His passionate feelings on poetry and language are not communicated to the students, who in return do little to form a bond with him.
The unsaid that Deven leaves hanging in the air, unarticulated, is destructive to his command of the class and his satisfaction as a teacher. The students' expressions as they look toward Deven reflect the manner in which he impacts their lives. "The expression he saw -- of boredom, amusement, insolence and defiance -- made him look away quickly and focus his eyes upon the door 'opened on to the passage, freedom and release', Desai illustrates" (12). The two bodies of communication, the teacher and students, meant to operate in this classroom appear not to connect, as Deven moves his eyes, speech, and command to another part of the room, toward an invisible, perfect student who does not exist (13). He looks for freedom but his interactions with those outside of this classroom and the manner in which he conducts himself shows his world out in "the passage" to be far from a utopian release.
Furthermore, Deven's position in the school, relative to the other professors and the school administration, is tentative and dependent. He commands as little respect from the majority of them as from his students, existing mainly in a subordinate position. Deven's insignificance in the context of the college becomes clear as Desai describes the unusually celebratory day of the Annual board meeting. Deven himself is too meek to approach any of the members of the administration, even those he considers on the lowest rung, and so he must wait in the background as a colleague of his, apparently holding no greater rank than he, makes the contact. Desai describes the awkward, meaningless position that Deven occupies by showing him in relation to a professor of equal status and an administrator of barely greater rank. She writes, "Deven remained in the background, his hands clasped behind his back, not quite certain why Siddiqui should think it necessary to flatter a minor functionary—but feeling he ought to leave the matter to Siddiqui since he had no clue himself as to how one went about making requests for finance" (102). Not only is Deven standing in the background, a mere observer to a request which seemingly would mean a great deal to him, but he stands in a position of servitude, hands resting behind his back. He is passive and ineffective.
Although Siddiqui's conversation will result in money for Deven to use in his endeavor for Murad, one cannot suggest that Deven's abilities helped to gain the money. Deven's personal thoughts remain unspoken, unsaid. Utterly ineffective and insignificant concerning the relations, encounters, and transactions of the college, Deven lacks the fundamental power to make choices and carry out action. His participation in the life of the college, an educational institution that by its very nature assumes the meaningful exchange of knowledge, is truly meaningless for all he encounters.
Beyond the college grounds, Deven exerts little more agency and purports little more significance than he manages at the college. In comparison to his wife and son, Deven realizes his own passivity and distance. In a moment of household peace, Desai describes Deven's condition in relation to his family by stating, "sprawled upon the broken cane chair in the veranda, he listened to Sarla moving about the house inside, and watched his son playing on the steps. They were busy, he idle. They were alive, he in limbo" (69). Except for outbursts of anger, Deven remains mainly an observer in his family environment, relegated to the background of his own home. He even goes so far as to see himself between death and life, so greatly distanced he feels from the world of interaction and exchange.
His relationship with his wife Sarla and their son Manu is strained at best. When Sarla is planning to visit her family at their home, she is upset that Deven will not accompany her and Manu on the trip. Yet her dissatisfaction with the situation stems not from her love of Deven or her desire to be with him, but from the need to keep up a good appearance for her family. In response to his announcement, Sarla replies after a moment of shock, "And -- and what am I to tell my parents? How am I to explain all of this?" (146). Deven represent only a token to Sarla. Their relationship has degenerated to such an extent that her only concern at this juncture is how to explain his absence to her parents. She personally does not care whether Deven will accompany them or not. His insignificance is further illustrated by the return of Sarla and Manu from her parents' home. By the end of the novel, even Deven's role of provider has been usurped from him. After Sarla alerts Deven that her parents have given Manu new clothes and shoes, his response is typical. "[Deven] nodded, entirely accepting this slap to his pride and dignity as a breadwinner. He deserved their insults—When had he last bought his son anything?" the text recounts (194). Desai depicts the empty, meaningless shadow in which Deven lives his life, having little bearing on his own family. His existence in their household lacks significance beyond his earning money or occupying a role for Sarla's parents, both roles at which he proves himself inadequate.
Although the two are joined in marriage and have consummated a bond through the act of having a child, Deven and Sarla hold a disdain and embitterness toward one another that prevents any successful understanding between them. Estranged, failed man-woman relationships are common in the work of Desai. As Khana testifies in her critical analysis, "in [Desai's] novels we hardly get a glimpse of the delights and exultations of mutual, reciprocated love; instead we meet with the agonies, the heart-aches and the shocks of embittered man-woman relationships" (27-28). Note her use of the terms "mutual" and "reciprocated". These terms suggest the functioning of good communication paths in order for a relationship to be successful. Truly, Manu is the only entity that remains to connect them in a normative manner.
Upon examining the relationship of Deven and Sarla, we observe that the unsaid plays a major role in the collapse of their marital or amicable bond. The ties between them have been severed by an inability to properly and successfully communicate their wishes, goals, and feelings to one another. As Desai relates, both Sarla and Deven once dreamed of grander lives and more fulfilling existences. The failure of either to enact the futures they once imagined leaves the two embittered and unwilling to support and nurture whatever life they have left to lead. Desai writes, "Although each understood the secret truth [the defeated aspirations] about the other, it did not bring about a closeness of spirit, any comradeship, because they also sensed that two victims ought to avoid each other, not yoke together their mutual disappointments" (68). The unsaid that exists between them has forged a gap and produced further forms of failed communication. Deven's speaks to Sarla mainly in the form of angry outbursts or contained condescension. Their strained rapport creates a tense household where little love or comradeship is accomplished. Unable to explicitly communicate the feelings he wishes to relate, Deven resorts to immature behavioral episodes to garner attention and enact revenge. As the text states, "Tearing up a shirt she had not washed, or turning the boy out of the room because he was crying, [Deven] was really protesting against [Sarla's] disappointment; he was out to wreck it, take his revenge upon her for harbouring it" (68-69). Sarla's unsaid disillusionment tortures Deven to the extent that, since he is unable to speak with her on the subject, he feels the need to punish her.
They combat each other daily, rarely expressing their actual feelings or concerns, in more of a warlike atmosphere than a familial one. Deven knows to expect that Sarla will often react to his rage in silence, another example of the failed communication connection. When Deven alerts Sarla that he will not be accompanying her to see her family, he wonders what her reaction will be, knowing that the unsaid would likely replace a reaction of defiance yet unwilling to grasp the power it could represent. His account of her ordinary behavior, her usage of the unsaid in her exchanges with him, follows, "Sarla never lifted her voice in his presence -- countless generations of Hindu womanhood behind her stood in her way, preventing her from displaying open rebellion. Deven knew she would scream and abuse only when she was safely out of the way in the kitchen, her own domain. Her other method of deference was to go into the bedroom and snivel, refusing to speak at all" (145-146). Therefore, not only does the unsaid point to the breakdown of inter-personal relationships by skewing the paths of communication, but it also indirectly reveals the hostile subordination of women. The unsaid appears to be Sarla's only channel for release.
Solanki says about the female characters in Desai's fiction, "[one] finds a reflection of the situation of women in the male dominated world wherein their growth of persons is stunted and obstructed—The wholeness which they desire to achieve, at any cost, still eludes them" (175). Similarly, Sarla is stunted and obstructed as a character. Her wholeness, most easily represented in the union of her marriage, is fragmented, symbolizing the pervading disunity in her life. And yet, in this Desai novel, we are shown very little of Sarla's agency or the disjointed wholeness from which she suffers. We observe Sarla's struggle instead through her contained submissiveness and the words of her husband. The reader is often denied much of what she has to say beyond Deven's description of her embitterment or her methods of dealing with anger. She is snapped at like a child because Deven is incapable of relating to her on a more humane level.
Deven's justification for the strained, degrading treatment of Sarla is a misogynist view of the existing communication dynamic in place between himself and Sarla. As Deven returns from his final trip to Delhi, he is less offended than usual by the mere sight of Sarla and the dissatisfaction she has come to symbolize for him. Desai writes, "[Deven considered touching [Sarla], putting an arm around her stooped shoulders and drawing him to her. How else could he tell her he shared all her disappointment and woe? But he could not make that move: it would have permanently undermined his position of power over her, a position that was as important to her as to him" (193-194). Even at this conciliatory point in Deven's thinking, he is incapable of producing a gesture of communication. His patterns are too ingrained and the healing power of the unsaid is actively avoided by him.
Singh erroneously analyzes such man-woman interactions in Desai's novels by declaring that "despite acting superior and indifferent, the men in Anita Desai's fictional world do not either scorn or abuse women. They are able to admire secretly the woman's ability to adjust and her indomitable courage in facing various odds in life" (125). To the contrary in In Custody, Deven scorns and abuses. Singh falsely attributes the secret acknowledgment of strength as a progression toward reuniting the entity of the married couple. Instead, Deven consciously recognizes the union the unsaid could form between him and Sarla with a simple hug but is incapable of taking this step because of the prejudice he holds toward the woman's position and the fear of communication he is unable to conquer. Deven attempts to stifle the pain of unfulfilled dreams by leaving the world of unity and congruence between him and Sarla unsaid.
Another instance of the meaning created and missed in terms of the unsaid arises when Sarla notifies Deven of her return from her family stay. In this case, she writes from her family's house to inform Deven as to when she is coming home. However, Deven ignores the envelope with Sarla's handwriting and promptly forgets he has ever received it. Her handwriting threatens and alienates Deven as it is the gateway to a physical emblem of communication and articulation, equality and unity. He actively and decidedly chooses to leave the letter unread upon receiving it. As Desai illustrates, "[Deven] recognized Sarla's handwriting on one [letter] and dropped it on to the table, then opened the other with the more familiar, more compelling writing" (186). By ignoring the letter completely, he leaves the said unopened and it becomes unsaid. Neither the reader nor Deven ever know exactly what Sarla writes to him or the manner in which she says it. Deven denies responsibility for its contents by ignoring its existence and thus chooses to widen the communication gulf between him and his wife.
Evidently, Sarla's voice is inconsequential to Deven as he has blocked her from participating in his life. Singh's evaluation of Desai's motive is questionable in this circumstance as well. She writes, "Anita Desai's fiction aims not at acceptance but existence with all its divergent connotations" (124). Deven and Sarla exist together and even hold a level of acceptance toward each other on a silent, unsaid level. By ignoring any attempts to bridge the gap between them, Deven can promote his view of Sarla's role, one of the many "divergent connotations", and exacerbate her dissatisfaction and subordination.
Deven manages to displace Sarla from her own person, recreating her as a vehicle through which to view the other forms of communication he wishes to avoid. For instance, he implies that it is Sarla's will which leads him to open the letter from Imtiaz Begum. The text reads, "It must have been Sarla's hand that guided [Deven], by remote control, because the letter he at length picked up was not one in Nur's familiar handwriting at all" (194). The connection to Sarla is vague it would seem, seeing as she is present in the room but is otherwise uninvolved in which letter Deven picks. Yet, directly before he looks to the unopened letters, a moment elapses when Sarla has the upper hand in the relationship. Her push to face the unsaid, to open the thoughts and feelings of another woman that Deven would rather ignore, stereotype, and control, is felt in the transition that occurs in the text. "Deven only shook his head, saying nothing. She began to get irritated by his inaction. He started to tell her—but—he was much too tired. He knotted his hands together and stared at the unopened letters on the table beside him", Desai recounts (194). During Deven's period of silence, Sarla's influence on him is much more felt than said, moving him to open an envelope which he could have easily left forever unread.
Yet Deven quickly loses the ability to face the truth represented in the letter he opens. The femininity of the letter is evident in the prose that Desai chooses. Deven is met with amazement as "The elegance and floridity of [Imtiaz's] Urdu entered Deven's ears like a flourish of trumpets—The essential unsuspected spirit of woman appeared to step free of its covering, all the tinsel and gauze and tawdriness, and reveal a face from which the paint and powder had been washed and which wore an expression that made Deven halt and stumble before he could read on" (195). The letter represents a form of woman unmasked and free from restraint. Not surprisingly, Deven is unable to handle the meaning it would impose on his life. Imtiaz Begum asks in her letter to Deven, "In this unfair world that you have created what else could I have been but what I am?" (196). The collection of Urdu poetry she encloses urges the blurring of boundaries and restrictions that Deven would rather ignore.
Likely, had Deven chosen to read her poetry, he would have been forced to admit to the power of articulation and art which women can wield and which Deven himself is incapable of wielding. Thus, Deven never reads it. The reader is never allowed to read it. Imtiaz's poetry, written in the beautiful, florid Urdu by which Deven is captured, remains unsaid. Desai describes Deven's rejection of the letter, stating, "He did not have the will or the wherewithal to deal with this new presence, one he had been happy to ignore earlier and relegate to the grotesque world of hysterics—If he were to venture into it, what he learnt would destroy him as a moment of lucidity can destroy the merciful delusions of a madman. He could not allow that" (197). Deven admits to the reader his conscious avoidance of meaning by rendering unsaid the significance and relevance he recognizes Imtiaz Begum's poetry would likely hold. Desai uses the unsaid in Imtiaz Begum's poetry and Sarla's homecoming letter to highlight the meaning which Deven continues to mask and resist, explaining the stagnant state of his progression throughout the novel and his utter insignificance in relation to the surrounding characters and environment.
Although the reader may argue that Deven attempts to remedy the squalor of his existence through his interviews and encounters with Nur, his meaningless passage through life is little changed at the end. This episode does provide him with a sense of purpose, however, which we have found to be stifled or misused in the remainder of his life. Still, his ultimate failings in relation to this purpose simply function to compound the utter lack of significance Deven purports as a character. Desai provides an instance of Deven himself looking back on the entire affair and recognizing his ultimate meaninglessness in what had seemed his own great project. She divulges, "Later Deven could not understand—how he, the central character in the whole affair, the protagonist of it—the one on whom depended the entire matter of the interview,—had relinquished his own authority—been brought to his knees, abject and babbling in his helplessness. How?" (141). We, the readers, however are not as surprised at Deven's fall from a moment of assumed importance. He is unable to sustain control over any of the circumstances surrounding the recording or the memoirs. More generally, he retains little control over his relationships and fails to successfully communicate in his personal interactions. He is doomed, it appears, to reach a point of insignificance regardless of the more courageous intent with which he approaches Nur because of his avoidance and dismissal of the meaning inherent in the unsaid.
Moreover, the critic Goel is wholly unimpressed by the language interactions that take place between Deven and Nur, pointing to the role of the unsaid in this arena. She writes, "the novelist has succeeded in presenting one aspect of Nur that relates to the depressing and harsh reality. But the other aspect of his personality that relates to the poet in him...has not been realised well...[Desai] steers clear of such situations...very cleverly by just giving hints of his poetry being good and describing its effect on the audience" (177). Throughout Deven's period with Nur we are left with very little direct, meaningful dialogue between the two since it is often interrupted by his admirers or his wife, given over to Nur's own lamentations on his pitiful state, or replaced by the voice of another in the room.
Most painfully for Deven, the few bursts of poesy disclosed by Nur are jumbled by the chaos of the environment and relegated to the background through the process of recording. Desai illustrates, "When [Chiku's] impatient fingers had finally put things in working order and switched on the machine, it was too late: Nur had come to the end of his recitation and was reminiscing about pigeons and the races" (153). The uselessness of Deven's project to contain Nur's poetry on tape is evident in the end product. The editing process strips the tape down to nearly nothing, relegating much of Nur's voice to the unsaid, unable to save much of anything else. His poetry remains virtually unsaid for the school's library as well as for the reader.
Instead, the reader is left with the pleading, coarse notes sent to Deven by Nur that, unlike his wife's letter or the poetry of Imtiaz Begum, are always read by Deven in their entirety. Deven's inability to grasp what is significant in his interactions is a direct product of his active and ignorant dismissal of the unsaid. His ineptitude leads him to attempt to contain the contaminated past of Nur instead of recognizing the meaning of the unsaid in his daily interactions with students and colleagues. His yearning for power in a life where he holds very little power leads him to maintain his fragmented, faulty relationships and to repress the unity conceivable in the acceptance of a woman's voice.
By the last pages of the novel, Deven remains fearful of his failure and without the means to make a difference, mirroring his situation at the beginning of his story. Deven recounts, "[Sarla] would have to be sent back to her parents to his eternal disgrace, and the boy would grow up to consider his father a failure -- a disgraceful, thoughtless, irresponsible and hopeless failure...Why, seeing it all so clearly, could he not halt it?" (202). Why? Deven is incapable of impacting, through his own agency, the lives of those around him in any significant manner. The novel details his effort to overcome this unfortunate position but offers no reasonable evidence to believe that he should.
Deven deludes himself at the end of the novel that as "custodian of Nur's very soul and spirit", by possessing the unchanging, repressed voice of Nur's poetry of old, he will be able to enact change and agency in his life (204). His ignorance of the meaning of the new voices and his inability to successfully utilize Nur's voice without editing, corrupting, and killing the original state before it reaches an audience, suggests that Deven's existence will continue to be a nonexistence. Desai makes very clear the type of communication that will perpetuate the link between Deven and Nur as she states, "When Nur was laid in [the grave], would this connection break, this relation end? No, never -- the bills would come to him" (204). Deven's inability to promote the unsaid to a level of meaning is the lasting remnant of Nur that Deven will hold. The breakdown of the relationship into more bills and entreaties is symbolic of Deven's disunited relationships, fragmented attempts at articulation and response, and his disjointed existence on the whole. The reader learns that the missed opportunities in Deven's life, his failed communication and contacts as well as the events and encounters ignored by Deven, especially concerning the presence and power of women, constitute his eclipsed means of redemption. It is through the unsaid in Desai's novel that the reader discovers meaning and cohesion, the unity in Deven's environment that he avoids.
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