Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655

Told in the third person and limited to Kapasi’s point of view, “Interpreter of Maladies” depicts an epiphany regarding Kapasi’s mistaken belief that love can easily cross cultural boundaries. Though he has studied several languages and is proficient in English, Kapasi is a somewhat flawed observer of the bicultural issues raised by the visiting Indian American Das family.

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Kapasi observes the Das family as a cultural contradiction. Because Mr. and Mrs. Das were both born in the United States of Indian parents, one would think their Indian heritage would be strong, but it is not; they seem unmindful of their heritage, behaving stereotypically as any other vacationing American family would. Mrs. Das, for example, appears oblivious of the attention she draws with her short skirt in this place where women customarily cover themselves.

Other details mark them as stereotypically American. Obsessed with his camera, Mr. Das misses out on his vacation because he peers at it only through a camera lens. In Kapasi’s view, neither of the Das parents seems at all Indian in their interaction with their children. For example, searching for his wife, Mr. Das asks his children, “Where’s Mina?” using her first name. Mrs. Das seems uninterested in her children, complaining about having to take Tina to the toilet, for example. Kapasi notices that the Das family, including the parents, “were all like siblings,” suggesting their customs differ significantly from those practiced in India.

Despite the “un-Indian” qualities of the Das family, Kapasi develops an infatuation for Mrs. Das, noticing her sensuousness, her bare legs, the color of her lipstick, her tight blouse. When Mrs. Das expresses interest in Kapasi’s work as an interpreter for a physician and his Gujarati patients, Kapasi is flattered; her apparent interest intensifies his infatuation. He begins to think he might interest her romantically.

When Mrs. Das requests Kapasi’s address so she can send him the photo of the two of them, Kapasi imagines they will develop an intimate correspondence. Kapasi’s thoughts reveal details about his dull marriage: He has his job and his daily tea and newspaper, and he and his wife endure a loveless routine. Mrs. Das’s sensuousness and her “sudden interest in him, an interest she did not express in either her husband or her children,” has a “mildly intoxicating” effect on Kapasi. Clearly, Kapasi desires an intimacy that is lacking in his life.

The climax of the story occurs at the monastery...

(The entire section contains 655 words.)

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