Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Introduction: Interpreter of Maladies is the third story of Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of nine short stories. When Interpreter of Maladies was published in 1999 and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award in 2000. It sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Additionally, this was New York’s best debut of the year.

Summary of Interpreter of Maladies

Mr and Mrs Das were on vacation with their children Ronny, Bobby, and Tina and hired a middle-aged tour guide named Mr Kapasi to accompany them to Sun Temple. The plot centres on three central characters, with a twist thrown in by the children. Mr Kapasi is driving the car towards the sun temple. The car comes to a halt at a tea stall, where Mr and Mrs Das were arguing over who would take Tina to the bathroom. Mrs Das won the argument and took Tina to the bathroom. Bobby saw a goat and was overjoyed to give her chewing gum. Mr Das made no comment, and according to Mr Kapasi, they were far too immature to be parents. Mr Das ate snacks in the car without offering them to their children or Mrs Das, and Mrs Das was painting her nails. When Tina requests that she paint her nails as well, Mrs Das declines. As a parent, they were more akin to a sibling.

Mrs Das inquires about Mr Kapasi’s job and family during the journey; he informs them that he is doing this job as a side business because he is an expert in languages and has always desired a career as a diplomat’s interpreter, but is actually working in a hospital where his seven-year-old son died of typhoid. Mrs Das describes it as “romantic” and a responsible employment, as the patient’s healing is contingent on Kapasi’s interpretation of their ailments. Mr Kapasi developed a love interest in Mrs Das and contemplated future correspondence with her, believing that doing so would help maintain their transcontinental divide. The youngsters request that Mr. das photograph them with monkies, as they find monkies weird. Mr Das extends the invitation to Mrs Das as well, but she declines due to exhaustion. Mrs Das is seated in the first row alongside Mr Kapasi, expressing interest in him as well. Their conversation becomes private; when Mr Das and his children returned to the car, Mr Kapasi offered them the opportunity to visit another nearby monarchy as well. They all accepted. Mrs Das and Mr Kapasi were seated on a stone platform, conversing about their respective families. Mrs Das informs Mr Kapasi, pointing to an erotic structure on the wall, that her son Bobby is not Mr Das’ kid; he was born out of her adultery during a visit to their home by one of Mr Das’ friends. Kapasi’s feelings for her ebbed away as he listened to her. She told Kapasi this out of deference to his profession since she had become tired of her spouse, whom she met when she was young. She reasoned that as a shaman, he might counsel her without passing judgement. However, Mr Kapasi expresses his dissatisfaction, prompting Mrs Das to go.

Mrs Das began coming toward her family, and monkies began railing at her for having a rice puff and snacks; they surrounded their son Bobby and launched attacks in search of food. Mrs Das shouts for assistance, and Mr Kapasi rushes toward her, rescuing Bobby and returning him to his mother to clean up their son.

Theme and Message

Lahiri emphasises the importance of communication in the short storey Interpreter of Maladies, emphasising its importance for both communities and individuals within them. Much of her writing is devoted to the subject of communication and its lack. Multiple characters suffer from miscommunication or unspoken emotions, jeopardising their well-being. In a nutshell, A Temporary Matter is the best illustration of how concealment can wreck a marriage. Shukumar and Shoba become estranged from one another as a result of their sadness. They can divulge secrets they have never shared during blackouts. They are always candid and are unable to sustain the illusion that their marriage is still viable. Mrs Das attempts to alleviate her burden by sharing the mystery of Bobby’s conception with Mr Kapasi. Mrs Das, on the other hand, is the only one who can clear her of her guilt. At the conclusion of the novel, their marriage has remained unchanged since she is incapable of communicating her lack of affection for her family to anybody other than a stranger. Twinkle and Sanjeev have polar opposite perspectives on life, which initially creates friction between the newlyweds. As a result, communication is critical for good relationships, and Lahiri makes it a central theme in ‘Interpreter of Maladies.’

In each of her works, the protagonists suffer as a result of ineffective communication or a breakdown of communication and silence. Whether it is the relationship between husband and wife or the sense of exile, silence, and marginalisation experienced by the downtrodden society, all of the stories emphasise the importance of communication for both individuals and society, particularly for immigrants who face emotional isolation and cultural displacement. It is for this reason that she made the short storey Interpreter of Maladies a symbol of her own existence, as well as that of other Indian immigrants. The beauty of Interpreter of Maladies is that she leaves the reader’s closure to their own imagination while creating a debate in their subconscious. She allows readers complete interpretive flexibility by carefully positioning each narrative to ensure that they get a balanced portrayal of the society she feels required and glad to narrate. Brada William’s comment is worth contemplating here: “a sense of exile and the potential for and frequent denial of human communication can be found in all of Lahiri’s short stories.”

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