Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies” presents three adults who suffer from their own maladies. The story takes place in India in modern times. The Das family, who are Indian, has come to holiday in India although they are Americans. The other character in the story is Mr. Kapasi, the tour guide and driver, who is also the “interpreter of maladies.”
Mr. and Mrs. Das are not a happy couple. Mr. Kapasi describes them as acting like brother and sister. The husband sticks his nose in a travel guide and ignores the family as much as he can. Mrs. Das seems to be the ultimate self-centered woman who wishes that she were someone else and someplace else. She does not share her snacks, tries to avoid doing anything with her children, and subtlety fusses with her husband.
Mr. Kapasi is not only a travel guide but an interpreter of maladies. He works for a doctor that does not understand the language and interprets for the patient what he is suffering from. His life has not gone as he wanted. With an affinity for languages, he intended to be a diplomatic interpreter.
Now, he observes this family and thinks about his own family situation. He and his wife have a lost a child to illness. Neither of them has been able to comfort the other. The wife blames her husband and cannot stand to hear about his work. They have no intimacy between them.
During the ride, Mrs. Das shows an interest in Mr. Kapasi when he tells her about his second job. She seems to give the job a prestige that Mr. Kapasi does not readily understand. She includes him in the family picture and even asks for his address to send a copy.
Mr. Kapasi begins to imagine the two of them having a special relationship…he is intrigued both sexually and emotionally by her attention. When they finally are alone, Mrs. Das shares her guilt over her affair with her husband’s friend and the subsequent birth of her youngest son. Because of his job as an interpreter for a doctor, the misguided lady believes that the Mr. Kapasi can help her.
“Well, don’t you have anything to say? About my secret, and about how terrible it makes me feel. I feel terrible, always terrible. I have terrible urges, Mr. Kapasi, to throw things away. One day I had the urge to throw everything I won out the window….Don’t you think it’s unhealthy?”
He realizes that she looks at him as a father figure. Her confessions depress him. Ironically, he does, in fact, help her identify her feelings as coming from the guilt that she feels from her indiscretion. His diagnosis shocks and troubles her, but as she contemplates what Kapasi has told her that she seems to absorb his explanation. Disturbed, she exits the car.
Kapasi dislikes Mrs. Das as she has forced him to confront his own problems. He must face the silence of his own marriage, which “now oppressed him.” He looks at them as she accidentally lets his address blow away. The family seems to convey a scene of normal familial happiness which is what Mr. Kapasi will remember about them.