Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Language and Communication

By Jhumpa Lahiri

Language and Communication

"But they should do this sort of thing during the day." "When I'm here, you mean," Shukumar said. (ATM 3-4)

A classic Lahiri moment: Shoba, the wife, is commenting on the schedule for rolling blackouts and her husband responds with a kind of subtle sarcasm that shows how much out-of-love these two are with each other. The conversation continues as if Shukumar didn't say anything, but the communication gap between the two is clear in these sharp little asides (mostly from Shukumar).

Something happened when the house was dark. They were able to talk to each other again. (ATM 88)

Go ahead and think about all those typical associations you're taught about "light" and "dark." Like "light" means clarity, "dark" means mystery. Here, the secrets are revealed in the dark. But it's when the lights come on that Shoba tells Shukumar that she's leaving him. Her real intentions are clarified in the light.

"What are these large orange vegetables on people's doorsteps? A type of squash?"

"Pumpkins," my mother replied. "Lilia, remind me to pick one up at the supermarket."

"And the purpose? It indicates what?"

"You make a jack-o'-lantern," I said, grinning ferociously. "Like this. To scare people away."

"I see," Mr. Pirzada said, grinning back. "Very useful." (WMPCTD 39-43)

Here's why Mr. Pirzada's so cool. He knows intuitively how to talk to Lilia without talking down to her (like so many adults seem to do). We really like the fact that he returns Lilia's jack-o'-lantern grin.

"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Das, but why have you told me this information?" Mr. Kapasi asked when she had finally finished speaking, and had turned to face him once again. (IM 145)

This is the part where Mrs. Das tells Mr. Kapasi all about her affair and how another man fathered her son Bobby. This big reveal shows Mrs. Das's belief that communicating with Mr. Kapasi could cure her unhappiness. But because of the nature of their relationship, it doesn't really come across as authentic communication.

Her throaty impostures hurt no one. All agreed that she was a superb entertainer. (ARD 12)

Lest we forget that Boori Ma's job as a "durwan" consists of much more than just sweeping the stairwell, we see that her communication style keeps the community engaged. In the end, it's not enough.

`"Go ahead," he urged, walking backward to his end of the bridge. His voice dropped to a whisper. "Say something." She watched his lips forming the words; at the same time she heard them so clearly that she felt them under her skin, under her winter coat, so near and full of warmth that she felt herself go hot.

"Hi," she whispered, unsure of what else to say.

"You're sexy," he whispered back. (S 39-41)

Dev and Miranda are testing the amazing acoustics at the Mapparium in this scene. We're thinking there's probably no better example of how hard it is for Miranda to leave Dev. Yeah, Dev's married and kind of a schmuck, but look at the effect of his words on Miranda. How do you turn your back on that kind of communication?! It's like his words are his body and they're so close to her…that's sexy. On the other hand, this verbal exchange takes place at a distance. That's probably a warning sign about this relationship.

Another day she played a cassette of people talking in her language—a farewell present, she told Eliot, that her family had made for her. As the succession of voices laughed and said their bit, Mrs. Sen identified each speaker. "My third uncle, my cousin, my father, my grandfather." One speaker sang a song. Another recited a poem. The final voice on the tape belonged to Mrs. Sen's mother. It was quieter and sounded more serious than the others. (MS 88)

A touching reminder of the power of hearing one's native language in a strange land. It communicates love, family, and identity.

"What about the housewarming? They'll want to see all the rooms. I've invited people from the office."

She rolled her eyes. Sanjeev noted that the symphony, now in its third movement, had reached a crescendo, for it pulsed with the telltale clashing of cymbals.

"I'll put it behind the door," she offered. "That way, when they peek in, they won't see. Happy?" (TBH 26-28)

Did you know that looks of contempt are one of the signs of a troubled marriage? What counts as contempt? Try the eye-roll. Twinkle's got it down.

Bibi had retreated into a deep and prolonged silence. We took turns leaving her plates of rice and glasses of tea. She drank little, ate less, and began to assume an expression that no longer matched her years. (TBH 41)

You know things are bad when your town crier (which Bibi literally is—she's always crying about something) retreats into silence. This happens after Haldar and his wife abandon Bibi completely. You wouldn't think they were that important to Bibi since they were so cruel to her, but clearly, some family is better than no family at all to Bibi.

But each evening when I returned the same thing happened: she slapped the bench, ordered me to sit down, declared that there was a flag on the moon, and declared that it was splendid. I said it was splendid, too, and then we sat in silence. As awkward as it was, and as endless as it felt to me then, the nightly encounter lasted only about ten minutes; inevitably she would drift off to sleep, her head falling abruptly toward her chest, leaving me free to retire to my room. By then, of course, there was no flag standing on the moon. The astronauts, I had read in the paper, had seen it fall before they flew back to Earth. But I did not have the heart to tell her. (TFC 51)

Sometimes the best form of communication is the kind that comes from routine. Or at least that's what Mrs. Croft seems to need from our narrator here. It's comforting, like a bedtime story. Sitting in silence together was still a kind of communication, also.

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