Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Family

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Family

As the cab sped down Beacon Street, he imagined a day when he and Shoba might need to buy a station wagon of their own, to cart their children back and forth from music lessons and dentist appointments. He imagined himself gripping the wheel, as Shoba turned around to hand the children juice boxes. Once, these images of parenthood had troubled Shukumar, adding to his anxiety that he was still a student at thirty-five. But that early autumn morning, the trees still heavy with bronze leaves, he welcomed the image for the first time. (ATM 9)

This memory makes the story just a little more sad because this is the first time when, as readers, we get the sense that Shukumar just might have made a pretty good father and husband. It's a sense of lost possibilities.

Mr. Pirzada knit his brows together. "Is there any danger?"

"No, no," my mother assured him. "All the children will be out. It's a tradition."

"Perhaps I should accompany them?" Mr. Pirzada suggested. He looked suddenly tired and small, standing there in his splayed, stockinged feet, and his eyes contained a panic I had never seen before. (WMPCTD 62-64)

We love Mr. Pirzada. In fact, if he were real, we would create a hashtag all about loving Mr. Pirzada. Why? Because he shows concern for Lilia even though she's not even his daughter. Sure, it's just Halloween, but his concern is so real that we—and Lilia—can't help but be touched. We know his heart is with his family, possibly in grave danger back in Pakistan.

At the tea stall Mr. and Mrs. Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet. Eventually Mrs. Das relented when Mr. Das pointed out that he had given the girl her bath the night before. In the rearview mirror Mr. Kapasi watched as Mrs. Das emerged slowly from his bulky white Ambassador, dragging her shaved, largely bare legs across the back seat. She did not hold the little girl's hand as they walked to the rest room. (IM 1)

Mr. and Mrs. Das—not exactly your model parents. In fact, we feel a little sad for Tina, who probably just needs to pee and ends up having to wait for one of her parents to grudgingly take her. Again, a feeling that the daily responsibilities of family life are just drudgery.

They were all like siblings, Mr. Kapasi thought as they passed a row of date trees. Mr. and Mrs. Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents. It seemed that they were in charge of the children only for the day; it was hard to believe they were regularly responsible for anything other than themselves. (IM 45)

Mr. Kapasi perfectly describes Mr. and Mrs. Das—two people who never seem to grow up or care about anything beyond themselves.

"Then why no mention of it until today? Do you think it's beyond us to provide you with clean quilts? An oilcloth, for that matter?" She looked insulted.

"There is no need," Boori Ma said. "They are clean now. I beat them with my broom."

"I am hearing no arguments," Mrs. Dalal said. "You need a new bed. Quilts, a pillow. A blanket when winter comes." (ARD 26-28)

Here's Mrs. Dalal promising Boori Ma new bedding. We'll just add that this is what makes Mrs. Dalal different from the other residents in the building: she really does view and treat Boori Ma like family. Haldar and his wife, her "real" family, aren't worrying too much about Boori Ma's comfort, that's for sure.

Apart from Laxmi and Dev, the only Indians whom Miranda had known were a family in the neighborhood where she'd grown up, named the Dixits. Much to the amusement of the neighborhood children, including Miranda, but not including the Dixit children, Mr. Dixit would jog each evening along the flat winding streets of their development in his everyday shirt and trousers, his only concession to athletic apparel a pair of cheap Keds. Every weekend, the family—mother, father, two boys, and a girl—piled into their car and went away, to where nobody knew. (S 56)

The Dixit family seems strange to the children of the neighborhood. Miranda goes on to describe how she's even afraid of the family's house and yard. But this family seems to enjoy spending time together and they even include the neighbor kids in their daughter's birthday celebration despite the fact that the other mothers avoid Mrs. Dixit and the kids joke about them behind their backs.

It was the last afternoon Eliot spent with Mrs. Sen, or with any baby-sitter. From then on his mother gave him a key, which he wore on a string around his neck. He was to call the neighbors in case of an emergency, and to let himself into the beach house after school. The first day, just as he was taking off his coat, the phone rang. It was his mother calling from her office. "You're a big boy now, Eliot," she told him. "You okay?" Eliot looked out the kitchen window, at gray waves receding from the shore, and said that he was fine. (MS 129)

Obviously, becoming a latch-key kid is a huge change from Eliot's afternoons with Mrs. Sen. You can tell he's lonely and that, in some way, he probably prefers being with Mrs. Sen. She's warm and inviting while his mother and their empty beach house are definitely not.

It bewildered Sanjeev that it was for him, and his house, and his wife, that they had all gone to so much care. The only other time in his life that something similar had happened was his wedding day, but somehow this was different, for these were not his family, but people who knew him only casually, and in a sense owed him nothing. (TBH 96)

Maybe Sanjeev's a little "bewildered" here because he's also experiencing how it's completely possible to create a "family" out of friends and acquaintances when you're living far away from family. Not that these guests really are "family" to him (at least, not yet), but we're thinking Twinkle might understand this more easily than Sanjeev.

Before the year's end the family moved away, leaving an envelope containing three hundred rupees under Bibi's door. There was no more news of them. One of us had an address for a relation of Bibi's in Hyderabad, and wrote explaining the situation. The letter was returned unopened, address unknown. (TBH 46-47)

Bibi's family is not much use to her at all. Makes us wonder again, "What is family, really?"

In my son's eyes I see the ambition that had first hurled me across the world. In a few years he will graduate and pave his way, alone and unprotected. But I remind myself that he has a father who is still living, a mother who is happy and strong. Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer. (TFC 151)

The narrator reminds us that, sometimes, if you have a close and supportive family, that's all you need to get by in the world.

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