“Interpreter of Maladies” is the debut collection of stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was written in 1999 and got Pultzier prize in 2000. Jhumpa Lahiri is an American of Indian origin. The stories contained in the collection are about Indian people who immigrated to the USA for this or that reason. In a way, these people are caught between their original Indian culture and the new one, and they are trying to get used to the new one without losing their identity. The author skillfully depicts the life of these people, their relationships and problems. She writes about everyday life of ordinary people; that is why those stories are so close to every reader. The stories are very true to life and make the reader think about his life and relationships after reading. The details of Indian culture and life of Indian people are entwined into the narrative. Reading the stories one can feel the aroma of India, which is novel and exotic to the European or American reader.
I have read all the stories with great interest but “Interpreter of Maladies” was the most memorable for me. The main characters of the story are Mr. Das and Mrs. Das – Americans of the Indian origin, and Mr. Kapasi – the tour guide that took the family to see some sights of India. Mr. and Mrs. Das have their three children with them too. As the narration goes on the reader realizes that neither of the parents cares much about the children, they are reluctant to give them any discipline or to fulfill their requests. In my opinion, Mrs. Das behaved like an infantile lady, which she could not afford to be being a mother of three. It is evident to the reader that the only person she really cared about was herself – not her husband or children.
Mr. Das appeared to be a passive parent, not knowing how to care for his children, which was also surprising considering that the oldest child of the couple was eight years old. So Mr. Das was not new to parenting, as it would seem, but he did not care to learn something about bringing up of children. Mr. Das’ attitude to India was the one of a tourist – he was reading his tour guide constantly and taking pictures of the sights. It was strange to read about this because he was of the Indian origin and one would expect more connection of Mr. Das with the surroundings and more interest in the country of his ancestors.
Mr. Kapasi was the man in his forties. The readers finds out as the narration goes on that Mr. Kapasi once dreamt of becoming a dimplomat and knew a few languages. But life did not turn out as Mr. Kapasi planned and he ended up being a tour guide and an interpreter in the doctor’s office. He acquired this job after his son has died of typhoid. Apparently Mr. Kapasi’s wife was blaming him for their son’s death, and the man’s marriage was not a happy one.
Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das seemed to get interested in each other. It is apparent that both of the characters romanticize each other. Mr. Kapasi noticed Mrs. Das’ pretty appearance, and being himself unhappy in his marriage he started to imagine how his life could be with the young and beautiful woman. He did not notice such traits as selfishness and self-centeredness in Mrs. Das, because this did not fit with the romantic image that he drew in his mind. Mrs. Das in her turn romanticized Mr. Kapasi and viewed him as the father figure or helper that she needed to solve her marriage issues, at the same time not noticing that Mr. Kapasi might not fit this role. She basically pressured Mr. Kapasi into listening to her story about her unfaithfulness to her husband, and she did not seem to notice how uncomfortable Mr. Kapase felt. She was expecting him to give her the answers that she was seeking for, ignoring his words that he could not help her.
Another thing that draws the reader’s attention is the difficulty in communication that all the characters experience. First of all, even though both Mr. Kapasi and the Das couple are Indian, their view at the world is different. It was shocking for Mr. Kapasi to hear about Mr. and Mrs. Das’s marriage – even though their marriage was unhappy at this point, they did fall in love with each other when they were young, and they got married because they loved each other. Mr. Kapasi’s marriage was arranged, and he did not love his wife. So, even both marriages were unhappy, they were different, and it was hard for Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das to understand each other.
There are other signs of the lack of communication. Mr. and Mrs. Das did not communicate because she was hiding behind her sunglasses and he was reading his guidebook all the time. Their children lacked understanding with the parents, and did not listen to them or to Mr. Kapasi. Mr.Kapasi in his turn lacked understanding with his wife and was trapped in his unhappy marriage. It seemed that Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das could find the understanding that they both needed, but this failed because of them being not completely open to each other.
The name of the story “Interpreter of Maladies” is quite symbolic. Apparently Lahiri is talking about moral maladies of her characters – loneliness, isolation, inability to communicate their feelings. The unhappy marriages symbolize the failure of the characters to understand each other, and not try hard to make others understand them; to love, but not to demand love from their partners.
Overall the story left quite contradictory impression on me. It was the feeling of pity for the characters and their unhappy life, their failed marriages, their negligence to each other. At the same time, there was a thought that such pieces of literature are very important for us as readers to avoid such mistakes and failures in our lives. It makes one think about how to live the life so as to not make your close people unhappy, and the same time not to be disappointed yourself. Marriage is a two-way street, and if two people have decided to step on this road together they are both responsible for making it work.