“The Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri portrays two dysfunctional people who encounter each other on a trip to visit a sun temple. Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das secret discussion between them cause both of them pain.
The beginning and ending sentences bring the story full circle. Something happens in the story that changes the attitude of the mother which helps the family to be more loving and kind to each other. Mr. Kapasi has interpreted Mrs. Das malady, and she has internalized his advice.
The story begins with this image:
At the tea stall, Mr. and Mrs. Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet.
Several inferences can be drawn from the first sentence of the story. These are two self-centered people for whom the children are secondary. This is a married couple who bicker in from of their children. Since the child is a girl, it seems appropriate that the mother should take the girl to the bathroom. Obviously, the couple is unhappy.
Mrs. Das gives the impression that she is dissatisfied in her life. She separates herself from her husband and her children. Her sunglasses appear to be a mask that she hides behind to prevent anyone entering her space. Mr. Das uses his tour guide book to divert his attention from everyone around him.
Mr. Kapasi is the tour guide. His other job was as an interpreter for a doctor who did not speak the language of his patients. He would translate for the patients so that the doctor would know how to treat them. He is also unhappy in his marriage. After the death of his son, his wife has shut down. She seems to blame Mr. Kapasi for her problems even demeaning his interpreting job.
On the other hand, Mrs. Das becomes intrigued with Mr. Kapasi when she learns about his job. Her attitude begins to change toward the interpreter. Mr. Kapasi is flattered by her interest and infatuated toward Mrs. Das. He is included in a family picture and gives her his address to send him a copy.
Eventually, Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi are left alone for a few minutes. Mrs. Das tells a secret to Mr. Kapasi because she thinks he will be able to help her with her feelings about it. One of her children came from an affair that she had with another man. Mr. Kapasi feels hurt because he thought they had some kind of special personal connection. He tells her that it is her guilt that causes her unhappiness. She does not respond to him and immediately leaves the car.
When she returns to her family, Mrs. Das’s attitude has changed. Hopefully, her understanding of her guilt has enabled her to become a more complete wife, mother, and individual. She seems happier and more attentive toward her children. After a scary encounter with the monkeys, Mrs. Das wants to leave and go back to the hotel. As Mrs. Das opens her purse, the paper with Kapasi’s address blows away in the wind.
Mr. Kapasi observed it too, knowing that this was the picture of the Das Family he would preserve forever in his memory.
Mrs. Das has moved from the bickering mother to one that is worried about her son and combing his hair. Mr. Kapasi anger toward Mrs. Das is evident when he realizes that his connection to her was based on his unhappiness in his marriage.