Interpreter of Maladies

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518

In the story “Interpreter of Maladies,” an Indian man named Mr. Kapasi serves as a tour guide in India for the Das family, who are Americans of Indian descent. Mr. and Mrs. Das have three children—Ronny, Bobby, and Tina—but they seem, in many ways, to be more like siblings of their children rather than the parents. The Dases are young, and Mrs. Das, especially, acts in a childish way at times. She appears to be generally irritated with her children for wanting her attention, and she dresses very youthfully.

On the day the story chronicles, Mr. Kapasi and the Dases set out on a drive to the ruins of the Sun Temple at Konarak. Mr. Das always seems to have his travel guide to India or his camera in front of his face. In general, the children do not really listen to their parents, and Mr. Das even employs one child to look after another. Mr. Kapasi is middle-aged and in a passionless marriage, as his wife blames him for the death of their son some years before. He works as an interpreter in a doctor’s office during the week, and when Mrs. Das learns this, she begins to show some interest in him and his life. She tells him that, in some ways, his job is actually more important than the doctor’s, making him feel quite important.

As a result of Mrs. Das’s attentions and his own attraction to her, Mr. Kapasi begins to imagine that they might develop some sort of relationship. He is flattered when Mrs. Das invites him to sit with their family at lunch, and she offers to send him copies of the pictures they take together. He imagines that they will begin to write letters to one another and that they will grow closer and closer. At their final stop on the tour, a detour to a ruined monastery which Mr. Kapasi has added so that he can spend more time with Mrs. Das, she confesses to him that one of her sons, Bobby, is not actually Mr. Das’s, but the child produced by an affair she had with a friend of her husband’s.

She says that she is not in love with her husband anymore, and she wants Mr. Kapasi, as an interpreter for a doctor’s office, to suggest some kind of remedy for the “terrible” way that she feels. When he points out that it is likely guilt she feels and not pain, like the patients he tries to help, she glares at him and exits the car without responding; it is obvious to him that she no longer finds him to be “romantic.” In her carelessness, she drops her bag of puffed rice, which excites the monkeys nearby, and so they end up attacking Bobby; her carelessness in other ways will likely end up hurting Bobby more deeply later in his life. After rescuing Bobby from the monkeys, Mr. Kapasi watches as the piece of paper containing his address slips out of Mrs. Das’s purse, floating away on the wind.

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