Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Dreams, Hopes and Plans

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Dreams, Hopes and Plans

Their baby had never cried, Shukumar considered. Their baby would never have a rice ceremony, even though Shoba had already made the guest list, and decided on which of her three brothers she was going to ask to feed the child its first taste of solid food, at six months if it was a boy, seven if it was a girl. (ATM 36)

Here's a rare look at what Shoba was like before she lost her baby. She seems like a totally different person. Talk about shattered dreams—this passage is so poignant.

The job was a sign of his failings. In his youth he'd been a devoted scholar of foreign languages, the owner of an impressive collection of dictionaries. He had dreamed of being an interpreter for diplomats and dignitaries, resolving conflicts between people and nations, settling disputes of which he alone could understand both sides. (IM 77)

This is all about Mr. Kapasi's job as an interpreter for a doctor and how far he thinks he has fallen. It's also about economic reality and how it can make any dream come crashing down. We learn soon after that Mr. Kapasi only took this job to work off what he owed to the doctor for treating his son's typhoid, a son who eventually died anyway. The doctor offered him more money than he was making as a teacher.

He hoped that Mrs. Das had understood Surya's beauty, his power. Perhaps they would discuss it further in their letters. He would explain things to her, things about India, and she would explain things to him about America. In its own way this correspondence would fulfill his dream, of serving as an interpreter between nations. He looked at her straw bag, delighted that his address lay nestled among its contents. When he pictured her so many thousands of miles away he plummeted, so much so that he had an overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around her, to freeze with her, even for an instant, in an embrace witnessed by his favorite Surya. (IM 106)

Mr. Kapasi—quite the romantic dreamer. We don't need to tell you how soon these dreams will come crashing down.

As soon as the Dalals were gone, the other wives began planning renovations of their own. One decided to barter a stack of her wedding bracelets and commissioned a white-washer to freshen the walls of the stairwell. Another pawned her sewing machine and summoned an exterminator. A third went to the silversmith and sold back a set of pudding bowls; she intended to have the shutters painted yellow. (ARD 58)

Obtaining this one communal sink seemed to unleash everyone's dreams for a better and more refined life. Would the community have been better off without it? Is it dangerous to create dreams and wants in people who have little real chance of attaining them?

While Dev was at the airport, Miranda went to Filene's Basement to buy herself things she thought a mistress should have. She found a pair of black high heels with buckles smaller than a baby's teeth. She found a satin slip with scalloped edges and a knee-length silk robe. Instead of the pantyhose she normally wore to work, she found sheer stockings with a seam. She searched through piles and wandered through racks, pressing back hanger after hanger, until she found a cocktail dress made of a slinky silvery material that matched her eyes, with little chains for straps. (S 46)

Becoming a mistress takes a lot of work. All that shopping…we're worn out just thinking about it. Too bad Dev doesn't even notice all of Miranda's effort.

Here, in this place where Mr. Sen has brought me, I cannot sometimes sleep in so much silence. (MS 15)

Mrs. Sen's dreams don't seem to include moving to a new country far away from her large family and circle of friends in India. In several of our stories, the wife's life becomes just a "side effect" of her husband's career plans.

She would never put it in her study, he knew. For the rest of their days together she would keep it on the center of the mantel, flanked on either side by the rest of the menagerie. Each time they had guests Twinkle would explain how she had found it, and they would admire her as they listened. He gazed at the crushed rose petals in her hair, at the pearl and sapphire choker at her throat, at the sparkly crimson polish on her toes. He decided these were among the things that made Prabal think she was wow. His head ached from gin and his arms ached from the weight of the statue. He said, "I put your shoes in the bedroom."

"Thanks. But my feet are killing me." Twinkle gave his elbow a little squeeze and headed for the living room. Sanjeev pressed the massive silver face to his ribs, careful not to let the feather hat slip, and followed her. (TBH 124-126)

This scene shows us how Sanjeev learns to compromise his hopes and dreams for a more traditional and typical wife and learns to be more accepting of Twinkle. (Maybe he just read our previous comment…)

Needless to say, Bibi was delighted by the diagnosis, and began at once to prepare for conjugal life. With some damaged merchandise from Haldar's shop she polished her toenails and softened her elbows. Neglecting the new shipments delivered to the storage room, she began hounding us for recipes, for vermicelli pudding and papaya stew, and inscribed them in crooked letters in the pages of her inventory ledger. She made guest lists, dessert lists, listed lands in which she intended to honeymoon. She applied glycerine to smooth her lips, resisted sweets to reduce her measurements. (TBH 10)

Bibi plunges right into her wedding planning as soon as her doctor suggests that "relations" might cure her illness. True, she doesn't have a fiancé yet, but is Bibi all that different from your average woman who gets a monthly wax or pedicure and buys a sexy dress, all in anticipation of meeting a guy who might turn out to be "The One"?

A few days after receiving the letter, as I was walking to work in the morning, I saw an Indian woman on the other side of Massachusetts Avenue, wearing a sari with its free end nearly dragging on the footpath, and pushing a child in a stroller. An American woman with a small black dog on a leash was walking to one side of her. Suddenly the dog began barking. From the other side of the street I watched as the Indian woman, startled, stopped in her path, at which point the dog leapt up and seized the end of the sari between its teeth. The American woman scolded the dog, appeared to apologize, and walked quickly away, leaving the Indian woman to fix her sari in the middle of the footpath, and quiet her crying child. She did not see me standing there, and eventually she continued on her way. Such a mishap, I realized that morning, would soon be my concern. It was my duty to take care of Mala, to welcome her and protect her. (TFC 99)

When you're a husband (or a wife), anything can remind you that your future well-being isn't yours alone to plan for anymore. The narrator is rare husband in the stories who sees the profound effect that his plans will have on his wife

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