Interpreter of Maladies Summary
"A Temporary Matter"
A married couple, coping with the loss of a baby, can't really get along anymore until a series of rolling blackouts in the neighborhood force the couple to talk.
The darkness actually helps them be more honest with each other, especially since they make it into a game (think "Truth or Dare" without the "Dare"). The husband thinks the game is making them closer, more intimate as a couple.
However, the wife surprises the husband and tells him at the end that she's leaving him. The husband, in response, reveals something incredibly cruel to the wife about their stillborn child. They cry together about their lost baby and lost marriage.
A sad ending, which sets the mood for much of the rest of the book.
"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"
Mr. Pirzada's a visiting Pakistani professor who becomes part of a young Indian girl's household for a brief period of time. His family is back in Pakistan experiencing the civil war that will eventually tear Pakistan apart. Meanwhile, Mr. Pirzada eats dinner and watches TV at Lilia's house with her Indian parents.
Lilia takes a liking to Mr. Pirzada because he's super-nice to her. He does things like give her candy every time he sees her and shows concern for her safety. He's interested in her life. Her parents are fine parents, but they're not as worried about her as Mr. Pirzada is. Because Mr. Pirzada's seven daughters and wife are all missing in Pakistan, he knows what loss is like.
Finally, Mr. Pirzada returns to Pakistan, where he's reunited with his family. Nice right? Well, not so fast. Lilia's left to adjust to life without his company. What's she going to do now that Mr. Pirzada's gone for good? Good question. Her answer? Throw away all her candy because it reminds her of him.
"Interpreter of Maladies"
Mr. Kapasi is a tour guide who's driving the Das family—ethnic Indians born in America—to the Sun Temple in India. We view everything through his perspective and we learn that Mr. and Mrs. Das aren't all that close nor do they really enjoy taking care of their three kids.
Mr. Kapasi reveals to the couple that he has another job as an interpreter at a doctor's office, which makes the aloof Mrs. Das suddenly show interest in Mr. Kapasi. That's because she thinks being an interpreter is really important and romantic.
Mr. Kapasi is totally flattered by her attention and starts to develop a crush on her, so he suggests that he take the whole family to another tourist site—some hills with monastic homes on them—so he can spend more time with them.
At the tourist site, Mrs. Das, who stays behind, suddenly reveals to Mr. Karpasi that her son Bobby isn't Mr. Das's son but that no one knows except Mrs. Das. This information completely makes Mr. Kapasi lose respect for Mrs. Das, so he says something brutally honest to her.
They have a falling out and Mrs. Das leaves his car to tour the site with her family. Only she doesn't really pay attention to all the monkeys around them and ends up accidentally leading the monkeys to Bobby.
The story ends with Mr. Kapasi chasing the monkeys off and Mrs. Das fussing over Bobby. Not a family Mr. Kapasi (or anyone) can really be fond of.
"A Real Durwan"
Boori Ma is a durwan, a gatekeeper, in a middling-level apartment building in India. She's a fabulist who likes to tell stories that are supposedly true the way that your grandfather's stories about his childhood are supposedly true (i.e. not all that true).
People in her building like her well enough because she's pretty good at her "job" (she's not paid and she just kind of assigned herself to the position). In return for sweeping the stairwell and other chores, Boori Ma gets to sleep behind the gate and hover outside of the residents' apartments, maybe occasionally score a free cup of tea.
Mrs. Dalal, one of the kinder residents, notices that Boori Ma's blankets are pretty worn and dirty, so she promises her a new one. Meanwhile, Mr. Dalal comes home with two new sinks—one for their apartment and one for common use in the building.
The sinks bring havoc to the apartment because, first, they make the other residents jealous of the Dalals; second, the residents decide to start renovating the whole building since they don't want the Dalals to feel like they're the only ones who can spruce up the common areas.
While the Dalals are away on vacation, Boori Ma decides change up her boring life by spending some afternoons walking in the neighborhood and visiting the markets. Her keys to the building and her money are stolen. And while she's gone, someone steals the communal sink from the apartment building.
When she gets back to the building, the residents blame her for allowing the theft to occur. As a result, she's thrown out onto the street. She never does get that new blanket that Mrs. Dalal promised her.
Miranda's a young white woman who falls for a married Bengali man. He thinks she's "sexy" and she thinks he's handsome and exotic. Their affair is pretty conventional even though Miranda's prone to flights of fancy about this guy.
Eventually, though, Miranda starts to see how he's really not that great a catch, what with his (beautiful, Indian) wife. The turning point? She babysits a mini-version of Dev (her lover) for her co-worker's cousin.
While she's babysitting, the little boy—whose parents are splitting because his father's a cheater too—starts to make some weird, disturbing requests. Stuff like asking Miranda to wear her sexy cocktail dress and crawling into her bed. Yeah. We'll let you judge that part on your own.
Anyway, he ends up telling her what he thinks "sexy" means (hint: super-important to the story), which makes a huge impression on her. She realizes the effect his father's affair has on the boy. Miranda slowly splits from Dev and finds her independence. (Which we think makes this one of the happier endings in the book because Dev? He's really not that cool.)
Ever like your babysitter more than your own parents? That's Eliot's situation. He's an eleven-year-old who doesn't really need to be watched anymore, but whose mother worries about those emergency situations. Since his mother's a working single mom who's constantly stressed, she sends him to Mrs. Sen, the young wife of a professor at the local university and a willing after-school babysitter. Mrs. Sen's homesick for her family in India and doesn't have much to do while her husband is at work. She hasn't made many friends here and she's glad to have Eliot around.
Mrs. Sen is warm and attentive to Eliot; plus, she loves to cook (his mom orders pizza most nights). She also really likes fresh fish, which is what gets them in trouble. Since Mrs. Sen doesn't drive, she depends on Mr. Sen to pick up fresh fish from the fish market.
But one day, Mrs. Sen decides to drive herself and Eliot to the market; they get into a car accident. So of course, Eliot's mother pulls Eliot from Mrs. Sen's care. She's never been all that comfortable with the environment at Mrs. Sen's anyway—all that weird food and strange smells of Indian spices.
In the end, tired of dealing with babysitters, especially since Eliot's pretty mature and independent, Eliot's mom gives him a key to the house and he becomes a latchkey kid. He never sees Mrs. Sen again.
"This Blessed House"
So you've got this couple who've just gotten married and moved into a new house in Connecticut. The husband's a successful, up-and-coming business guy who graduated from MIT. The wife's a young English grad student from Stanford.
Even though these two seem well-matched according to the matchmaker, they're totally different from each other. Twinkle's the cool one, laid-back, self-assured, beautiful and smart. Sanjeev, on the other hand, isn't relaxed at all; he's smart but he's very uptight and cares a lot about what others think. He's up for a promotion at work and needs to impress.
Twinkle finds a treasure trove of Christian paraphernalia that the previous owners of the house left behind. She's wants to display them because she's way into kitsch (tacky, sentimental stuff). Sanjeev, not so much, especially since they're Hindu.
They throw a housewarming party and, predictably, Twinkle's the life of the party while Sanjeev, not so much. Twinkle leads the guests on a scavenger hunt for more Christian knickknacks. But while running around the house cleaning up and preparing more food, Sanjeev notices a pair of Twinkle's shoes outside their bedroom door. Sanjeev's suddenly overcome with tenderness for Twinkle. We don't know why exactly (although he's a little drunk, so that may help).
At the end, Twinkle finds a silver bust of Jesus and asks Sanjeev if they can put it on the mantel. Sanjeev agrees and carries the bust in his arms back to the party.
"The Treatment of Bibi Haldar"
Bibi Haldar is basically a grown orphan, 29 and single, who's subject to random seizures and spells. No one knows why and no one has a cure for her. She lives with her cousin Haldar and his wife, and she helps him with inventory at his shop (unpaid, by the way).
Bibi's obsessed with finding a husband. A doctor even tells her that she needs to find a husband in order to be cured. The community surrounding Bibi support her plan to find a husband, but her cousin's a pretty heartless jerk who refuses to put time and money into what he sees is a hopeless cause.
Haldar's wife becomes pregnant and is paranoid about Bibi transmitting her illness to her baby. At his wife's insistence, Haldar kicks Bibi out to live in a storage room. That situation becomes permanent once the baby is born and gets sick.
Everyone thinks Haldar and his wife are total (fill in this blank with your favorite curse words). To get back at Haldar, the community stops buying from his shop. The boycott works and Haldar's shop goes out of business. He packs up, leaving Bibi behind.
One day, Bibi turns up pregnant. No one knows who made her pregnant since she won't talk,. Bibi turns out to be stronger than she looks because, with the support of the community, she gives birth to a baby boy and turns Haldar's shop into her own. She becomes successful and—lo and behold—is cured of her illness.
"The Third and Final Continent"
A Bengali man immigrates to London and then to Boston in order to make a life for himself and, later on, for his wife of an arranged marriage. When he gets to Boston, he ends up rooming at a house owned by a Mrs. Croft, who's 103. If you're thinking, "where's the excitement here?" we're going to have to break it to you that it's just not that kind of a story.
The guy, our narrator, is the perfect tenant: he's polite and respectful to Mrs. Croft and checks on her regularly. But he realizes that he needs a better apartment for him and his wife Mala to live in once she arrives from India.
He and Mala live together at the new place and, at first, don't feel all that close to each other (um, because they hardly know each other). But then one Friday, the narrator takes Mala on an evening walk and decides to show her the house where he used to live with Mrs. Croft. Mrs. Croft meets Mala and proclaims her a lady, which gives the narrator and Mala something to smile about together.
It's a sweet moment that makes them begin to fall in love with each other. The narrator continues the story by summarizing what happens afterward: he and Mala live happily together in a town outside of Boston and have a son who now attends Harvard.
So there's your happy ending to the book. A son who attends Harvard, a successful marriage.
"A Temporary Matter"
A Temporary Matter
- They just went through a snowstorm and some electrical lines went down on the street they've lived on for the last three years. Maybe you're thinking, "Oooh, romantic!" Forget that. This couple has been together for years. They're way over the whole romance thing.
- Shoba, the wife, has just come home from both work and the gym, so she's not looking all that hot. But her husband doesn't seem to mind; instead, it reminds him of how she looked when they were young, bar-hopping partiers.
- Shoba's not thinking such romantic thoughts though. She's practical and points out that these rolling blackouts should really occur during the day.
- Of course, this brings Shukumar into the present and he points out that's when he's home. (He's a stay-at-home hubby, finishing up his dissertation on "agrarian revolts in India.")
- The blackouts are beginning on March 19, which is today according to the calendar Shoba's looking at. She reminds Shukumar that he also has a dentist appointment next Friday.
- Cue: Shukumar's thoughts. He's thinking about how he hardly leaves the house, how he hardly wants to do anything, while Shoba has been working overtime.
- Then he really gets into it. He recalls how, six months ago, he missed Shoba's labor (which was three weeks early) because he went to an academic conference Shoba pushed him to attend. The image he thinks about most is Shoba waving at him as his cab pulls away from the house. Starting to think this whole thing isn't going to end well?
- Shoba's labor doesn't go well and the baby's born dead. Where was Shukumar? You guessed it. At the conference.
- So now Shoba does her own thing and Shukumar does his. That means 33-year-old Shoba pretty much doesn't act like a pretty, young wife anymore. And for Shukumar, that means being a mediocre, 35-year-old, graduate student unable to finish his dissertation. They barely connect anymore.
- That same night, Shukumar prepares dinner for the two of them (he does the cooking) while Shoba showers. Since the blackouts will occur during dinner, Shoba suggests candles. How sweet, right?
- While Shoba showers, we learn from Shukumar that his wife used to be a total neat freak, Type-A kind of person (go figure—her job's a proofreader). Now, she's more of a slob. We also learn that Shoba used to do the cooking, but after the baby died, things changed.
- In fact, when Shoba was pregnant, things were very romantic between the two of them. She did things like throw him a surprise birthday party, walk hand-in-hand with him. You get the picture.
- The only person who has visited them since is Shoba's mom, who blames him for not being there for Shoba.
- They don't have a candlestick holder so Shukumar ends up sticking the candles in the soil of a pot of ivy.
- The candles are, by the way, birthday candles. Symbolism alert!
- Shoba mentions the time when she was at a rice ceremony for a baby and how the baby cried the whole time, which, of course, gets Shukumar to think about their baby, who never lived to get a rice ceremony despite Shoba's preparations for one.
- They continue to have dinner, and it's kind of uncomfortable—definitely not full of the chit-chat that close couples share. Clearly, Shukumar and Shoba have communication issues.
- However, Shoba does talk about India a lot. That's because she spent a lot of time in India as a child. Shukumar, on the other hand, didn't.
- Then Shoba gets an idea for a conversation starter: during the blackouts, each person shares one thing about him or herself that the other person doesn't know. Sounds innocent right? Just wait.
- Shoba starts first and tells Shukumar that when she was alone in his apartment the first time, she looked in his address book to see if he had written her in (he hadn't).
- Shukumar then tells about the time they had dinner at a restaurant and he forgot to tip the waiter, so he rode a cab all the way back to the restaurant just to leave a tip. Why did he forget? Because it was the first time he thought he might marry Shoba and so he got distracted. Go ahead; say "Awww."
- The next night, the two of them seem eager to start their night together. He's worried that she'll drop a bomb on him, like she's had an affair or something. Instead, she tells him that she lied to him one night when his mom was visiting and she stayed out late with her girlfriend for a drink.
- Shukumar, on the other hand, admits he cheated on his Oriental Civilization exam in college. Shoba cuddles up closer to him.
- So each night, the two of them confess something to the other and they seem to become more intimate as a result. They get so intimate that they end up doing it. Normally, not a big deal for a married couple, but for these two, a very big deal.
- On the fifth day, Shukumar gets a notice that says the rolling blackouts are ending, which puts a damper on their little game. Then Shoba tells him that she's moving out. Shukumar realizes she's been trying to tell him all along and the game was her way of doing that.
- Shukumar gets back at her and in a big way. She had never known the sex of their baby and had never wanted to know. She thought they were lucky not to have known, but little does she know that Shukumar had actually arrived at the hospital in time to hold their dead baby boy before he was cremated.
- Shukumar had vowed never to tell Shoba because he loved her back then.
- So guess what? You got it. Shukumar tells her—nay—describes to her what their baby boy looked like.
- Shoba reacts by turning off the lights and crying. The story closes with Shukumar sitting next to her and doing the same. We don't blame them; talk about a downer.
"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
- The story begins with a little history lesson about what happened to Dacca during the splitting of Pakistan, told through the story of Mr. Pirzada's appearance at our narrator's home.
- Here's what our narrator tells us: Mr. Pirzada came from Dacca, where he seemed like your classic husband and dad (to seven—yes, seven—daughters he can't tell apart). Employed as an academic botanist, he even had a 3-story house until the Pakistani civil war.
- Anyway, Mr. Pirzada gets to escape the war because the Pakistani government sends him to America to study New England's fall leaves. He's a botanist after all. (Okay, we're fans of Lahiri, but even we have to admit that
this plot point isn't exactly all that believable. Fall colors are nice
and all but are they that interesting to the Pakistani government?)
- That's how Mr. Pirzada ends up at our narrator's house during the autumn of 1971, watching the news about Pakistan and eating dinner with her family. Since he's more or less from the same region as the narrator's
parents (who are Indian), he's invited over to bond over their shared
- By the way, Lilia—our narrator—is telling us all of this as an adult remembering her 10-year-old self. Clearly, Mr. Pirzada made an impression on her back then.
- Mr. Pirzada may be stressed over the separation of his family (whom he doesn't hear from for a long time due to the war), but he definitely doesn't show it to Lilia. In fact, Lilia bonds with Mr. P because he gives her candy every
time he visits. Lilia keeps the candy in a special sandalwood box that
once belonged to her grandmother in India.
- Mr. P is so cool that he even carves pumpkins with her and her family to celebrate Halloween. Only thing is, his mind is definitely on the brewing war in Pakistan since the news distracts him and causes him to cut the pumpkin
wrong (Lilia's dad fixes it).
- It's also clear that Mr. P's a little anxious about Lilia going out trick-or-treating with her friend without any parental supervision (Lilia's own parents aren't worried at all). He even offers to go with the kids and make sure they're safe.
- Lilia guesses that Mr. P's just worried because he doesn't know where his own daughters are. She and her friend go trick-or-treating alone and get quite the haul of Halloween candy.
- Lilia remembers how, after that night, Mr. P and her parents are even more glued to the TV because the war is definitely going to happen. Things, clearly, aren't going well for Mr. P.
- Eventually though, Mr. P returns to Pakistan and searches for his family. It's not until months later that Lilia's family hears from Mr. P, who's actually totally fine as is his family (they had escaped to some relative's mountain house during the war).
Surprising, right? Didn't you think this would end badly?
- Well, apparently, there's still a sad ending to be had because Lilia finally understands that Mr. P's happy ending with his family means that Mr. P's never coming back to be with Lilia and her family. In other words, no
- Lilia's been praying for Mr. P's family up until this point, but once she finds out that Mr. P's okay, she tosses away her Halloween candy.
"Interpreter of Maladies"
Interpreter of Maladies
- So we've got this couple—Mr. and Mrs. Das—who begin the story bickering during a tourist jaunt about who should take their daughter to the bathroom. They're Indian but were
born and raised in America, where they live with their three kids, Tina,
Ronny and Bobby.
- At the moment, they're in India, about to visit the Sun Temple at Konarak and looking like a bunch of entitled American tourists.
- How do we know that? We're seeing everything more or less through Mr. Kapasi's eyes. Mr. Kapasi is an observant, somewhat jaded, tour guide, native to India. He's been there, done
that—but usually with white American tourists, not this family of
Indians who appear and act American.
- While Mrs. Das is walking back to the car with her daughter (she was the one who ended up taking Tina to the bathroom), Mr. Kapasi and Mr. Das chat about their lives. We
find out that Mr. Das is a science teacher at a middle school in New
Jersey and that Mr. Kapasi has been a tour guide for the last five
- When Mrs. Das gets into the car and they take off, Mr. Kapasi notices, among other things, that Mrs. Das isn't sharing the puffed rice snack she bought at a tea shop. Mrs. Das doesn't seem like
the sharing kind.
- She's also kind of a diva. You know the type: she wears her sunglasses even when there's no sun. She's way into self-grooming, dressing to the nines, manicures. In other words, she's
like a desperate housewife from the OC whose kids are kind of an
- Anyway, while they're on the way to the Temple, Mr. Das finds out that Mr. Kapasi doesn't just give tours; he also works as an interpreter at a doctor's office.
- Mrs. Das, who up to this time has been totally MIA in the conversation (or any conversation), suddenly pipes up, removes her sunglasses (gasp), and
says how very amazing and "romantic" Mr. Kapasi's job must be.
- Now Mrs. Das is Mr. Kapasi's best friend, offering him gum and conversation. She wants Mr. Kapasi to tell her stories about being an
- So Mr. Kapasi tells her a story about a patient and she listens along gamely, afterwards pointing out that Mr. Kapasi's job is really important. In fact, the patients depend on him more than the
doctor because Mr. Kapasi has to pass along the correct information to
the doctor for the patient to get better.
- This perspective totally readjusts Mr. Kapasi's worldview because he's never thought of himself in that way before. We learn, in fact, that Mr. Kapasi, totally
self-educated and a whiz at foreign languages, once had the ambition to
become an interpreter for diplomats and such. He only took the job at
the doctor's office because his son got sick with typhoid and it was the
only way Kapasi could pay the doctor back. (The boy, by the way, ended
- Mrs. Kapasi isn't supportive of Mr. Kapasi's job either, which is why—while Mr. Kapasi drives the Das family the rest of the way to the temple—Mr. Kapasi can't help thinking some pretty
romantic thoughts about Mrs. Das, who doesn't seem all that crazy about
her husband, either.
- Mr. Kapasi just starts talking Mrs. Das's ear off about the patients he sees, to the point that Mrs. Das even asks him to eat lunch with the family at a rest stop. They even take
pictures together, which Mrs. Das' promises to send to Mr. Kapasi's
address (you can imagine how exciting this all is to Mr. Kapasi).
- They finally get to the Temple and the Das family enjoys the whole touristy experience.
- Mr. Kapasi, meanwhile, can't help thinking about Mrs. Das' legs. He's already dreaming about when he'll be able to get those pictures from
Mrs. Das (his calculations: 6 weeks). Somebody's a romantic and we're
guessing it isn't really Mrs. Das.
- Mr. Kapasi is so enamored by Mrs. Das, in fact, that he can't stand the idea of returning them back to their hotel, so he suggests that he take the family to see another
tourist site a ways off—the monastic dwellings on the hills of Udayagiri
- The Das family is totally OK with the plan, only—once they get there—Mrs. Das won't get out of the car. She says that her feet are tired (she's wearing heels) and she's creeped out by
the dozens of monkeys just hanging out near them.
- The rest of the family goes out to see the site and play with the monkeys while Mr. Kapasi stays behind with Mrs. Das (at her request).
- That's when Mrs. Das reveals to Mr. Kapasi that Bobby, one of her boys, is not Mr. Das's son.
- Mrs. Das has kept this a secret for 8 years.
- We feel a little bad for Mr. Kapasi, because how's he supposed to react to all of this? He starts to feel parched, his forehead feels warm and
numb, like his body's in shock or something.
- Now it's Mrs. Das's turn to tell Mr. Kapasi stories. She tells him how she and Mr. Das had been together since they were young; how they married in college; how
she didn't have any friends other than Raj (Mr. Das's first name); how
lonely she became; how Raj seemed unaffected by all of this and even
invited his Punjabi friend to stay over at their house.
- If only Raj knew… because it was his Punjabi friend who knocked up Mrs. Das with Bobby.
- Mr. Kapasi can't help wondering aloud why Mrs. Das is telling him all of this (hey, we are too), at which point Mrs. Das gets a little snippy
with him and tells him to stop calling her Mrs. Das, since she's only 28
and he probably has kids her age.
- Mr. Kapasi's whole romance in his head is pretty much starting to crumble; he doesn't like the idea that Mrs. Das sees him as a parent (so unromantic).
- Things start to change quickly.
- Mrs. Das tells Mr. Kapasi that she confided in him because of his job as an interpreter.
- Mr. Kapasi doesn't get it because, after all, as he points out, they don't have a language barrier.
- But Mrs. Das seems to think that Mr. Kapasi has special powers of some type that can heal her "terrible" pain and her urge to throw everything in
her life away. (First world problems, anyone?)
- Mr. Kapasi, in turn, starts to feel depressed, then insulted, because her problems really are nothing in comparison to the patients who come to see the
doctor at the office. Patients, who, you know, can't physically function
because they're truly ill.
- Mr. Kapasi asks her: "Is it really pain you feel, Mrs. Das, or is it guilt?" (Interpreter of Maladies 66). Ooh, burn…
- Predictably, Mrs. Das glares at Mr. Kapasi, gets out of the car with her bag of puffed rice (bad move, you'll see why) and looks for her family.
- That bag of puffed rice that she never shared with anyone earlier? Let's just say karma (or nature) gets her because the monkeys start to trail
the puffed rice she leaves behind.
- But the monkeys don't go after her. Somehow, a bunch of the puffed rice ends up near Bobby, who's under a tree and now surrounded by a group of over-excited monkeys
beating his legs with a stick he gave them.
- Of course, Mrs. Das calls out to Mr. Kapasi to do something (because that's his job, to come to her rescue—okay, we're being sarcastic), so he shoos away the
monkeys and delivers Bobby safely back to his parents.
- Bobby's understandably freaked out, and Mrs. Das grabs stuff out of her bag to tend to him.
- The slip of paper that Mr. Kapasi wrote his address on flies out of Mrs. Das's bag while she's rummaging through it. No one notices except Mr.
Kapasi, who, like the monkeys observing the family on the sidelines, now
knows that this is how he'll remember the Das family.
"A Real Durwan"
A Real Durwan
- Boori Ma is the pseudo-gatekeeper/groundskeeper of an apartment building in Calcutta.
- Why do we say "pseudo"? Because Boori Ma isn't a real "durwan" (or gatekeeper)—she just kind of became one because she does all the general tasks real durwans do, like monitoring access into the building and sweeping the stairwell.
- In return, she gets to sleep behind the gate and hover outside of the residents' doorways, waiting for a free cup of tea.
- But we should tell you what happens at the beginning. Boori Ma is shaking out her bedding on the rooftop because she's convinced there are mites biting her and keeping her awake at night. You'll see why this is important.
- Our highly informative third-person omniscient narrator tells us that Boori Ma loves to spin stories about her past, which, if you were to believe her, was full of luxury before she was deported to Calcutta after Partition (the event that led to the creation of Pakistan separate from India).
- What happened to Boori Ma? No one knows. In fact, nobody's even sure if Boori Ma's telling the truth.
- Boori Ma also seems to recognize that her stories are kind of tall tales because she repeatedly says "Believe me, don't believe me, such comforts you cannot even dream them" (ARD 5). (Our bet? They're not true.)
- Anyway, she turns out to be a pretty good durwan. She's great at doing all sorts of things; she entertains everyone with her stories; she's part of the community.
- Which is why, when Mrs. Dalal goes to the roof to dry some lemon peels, she notices Boori Ma's lousy bedding and promises her some new bedding. For all that Boori Ma does for them the residents can't even provide Boori Ma with some nice blankets? Of course, they will. (You know better, right?)
- That same day, Boori Ma is thinking of taking up Mrs. Dalal's other offer of some prickly heat powder (for all those "mite" bites) when she runs into Mr. Dalal carrying two basins (sinks).
- This apartment building isn't full of wealthy people. It's modest. In fact, only one resident even owns a phone. And no one—other than Mr. Dalal—has a sink.
- Mr. Dalal, by the way, has just been promoted into a managing position, which is why he has two sinks—he decided to splurge.
- One sink goes into the Dalals' apartment; the other one is installed as a common basin in the building.
- You'd think everyone would be thankful to Mr. Dalal, but these basins bring out some pretty unsavory behaviors among the residents. The residents start getting competitive with the Dalals and resentful of the Dalals' newfound "wealth."
- But the sinks also prompt the residents to do some serious Martha Stewart-style renovations on the building. After all, the Dalals aren't the only ones who can fix up the building!
- The Dalals leave on a 10-day vacation. The only one who sees them off is Boori Ma, to whom Mrs. Dalal promises—again—a new blanket.
- While the Dalals are gone, Boori Ma relocates herself in the daytime to the roof because of all the workers going in and out of the building. She's given up on watching over the building because there're just too many people going in and out.
- After a few days of staying on the roof, Boori Ma decides to go walking around the neighborhood for a change of pace. She does this in the afternoons and starts to go farther from the building.
- One afternoon while at the bazaar, she realizes that someone has stolen her skeleton keys (important plot point) and savings, which were attached to her clothing.
- When she gets back to the building, all the residents (except the Dalals) are waiting for her.
- The communal basin has been stolen! Who knows who did it, but everyone blames Boori Ma. They think she planned the theft with the robbers even though Boori Ma insists she didn't.
- Some of the residents ask Mr. Chatterjee, one of the old tenants in the building, what to do. He's the one who comes up with the idea that the building—now that it's got a facelift—needs a "real durwan."
- Out goes Boori Ma onto the street.
- Imagine the gossipiest person you know telling you a story. That's what happens in the beginning to Miranda—our "heroine," if you could call her that. She's listening to her co-worker Laxmi talk about her cousin's husband, who's a total adulterous creep, "a wife's worst nightmare."
- Miranda's kind of listening, kind of not, because she's trying to work (she's one of those people who asks for donations and pledges for the radio station).
- Plus, she's thinking about Dev, who's Bengali (just like the son of the cousin whose husband's a cheater. Wow, that was a mouthful.).
- Who's Dev? A handsome, mustached guy she met just a week ago at a department store makeup counter.
- Dev was shopping for cellulite creams and other stuff because his thighs are dimpling. No, just kidding (well, who knows, maybe they are). He's shopping for his—irony/coincidence alert!—wife. Yep, even as Miranda is listening to Laxmi talk about a cheater, she's currently in a thing with a married man herself.
- Dev's wife is conveniently flying to India for a little while, which makes it easy for Dev to start something with Miranda.
- They get into a routine really quickly (not to mention everything else that goes along with an affair). Dev leaves in the afternoon to go back to his suburban home because he can't spend the night (his wife calls him daily at 6 a.m. Eastern time).
- But it's not just his wife who's a clock-watcher and checker-upper; Dev is too—only with the "wrong" woman. Dev calls and texts Miranda more or less at the same times everyday. Some people might consider that obsessive, semi-stalkerish behavior but Miranda doesn't seem to mind.
- In fact, Miranda thinks he understands her. You know, because he "knows what it's like to be lonely" (Sexy 34). He compliments her on her independence (she's only 22 but she moved out to Boston from Michigan on her own). And her legs. He loves her legs because they're really long.
- Plus, he's really romantic. Like old school, brings flowers, opens doors for women romantic. Miranda's never experienced all of that before so you can see why she might be a little head over heels about this guy.
- Even though Miranda isn't exactly the intellectual type (he has to show her a map of his country to get her to understand his origins, and even then…), she's no dummy. She doesn't tell anyone about the affair, especially not Laxmi, even though she kind of wants to confide in her since Laxmi's Indian, too.
- Other great things about Dev and Miranda: they never argue; they go to all these cultured places like museums.
- At one point they go to the Mapparium, where not only does Dev teach Miranda even more about geography and the world, he speaks the very significant line to Miranda, "You're sexy," after Miranda whispers "Hi." (Why are they even saying this stuff to each other? They're testing the acoustics out because supposedly you can hear a whisper there when standing 30 feet apart. You can go test this out and tell us if it's true.)
- Cue small interlude: we're back at the office again and Laxmi's going on about her cousin's husband (as usual), who apparently is a repeat offender and makes Laxmi feel paranoid about her own husband.
- Miranda's just kind of listening and thinking about her own stuff, like the fact that Dev's wife will be returning the next day.
- Then she asks Laxmi what the Taj Mahal is like, to which Laxmi responds: "An everlasting monument to love."
- While Dev picks up his wife from the airport, Miranda's caught up in the romance of the whole affair and decides to go the whole nine yards. She finds clothing that fits her "mistress" role—stockings, lingerie, heels, etc.
- Too bad Dev hardly notices the next time they meet up. He's in gym clothes (his excuse to his wife: he's running along the Charles River). So you can probably guess where all of Miranda's new mistress-wear ends up—at the back of the closet and in dresser drawers.
- But Miranda's the easygoing type; she still likes Dev. She just doesn't bother dressing up for him.
- During these meetings, Dev tells Miranda stories about his childhood in India, which sounds pretty exotic to Miranda.
- Dev doesn't only talk about himself though; he asks Miranda all about her previous love (i.e. sex) life.
- After talking, Dev takes 12-minute naps. Exactly 12 minutes.
- Miranda doesn't though. She watches him, puts her hand in his, revels in his perfection. You get the point.
- After his 12-minute nap, Dev wakes up and says that the nap is the "best twelve minutes of the week." Then he cleans up and goes home. What a gentleman.
- Cue: flashback. Miranda, our daydreaming heroine, thinks back to her childhood, to the one Indian family that lived in her suburban neighborhood—the Dixits. She recalls that no one in the neighborhood really welcomed or accepted the Dixits, including herself. In fact, she remembers being invited to one of the Dixit children's birthday party and not eating the birthday cake because a statuette of the goddess Kali freaks her out as does the general strangeness of the whole experience.
- Of course, now that she's an adult and is in an affair with an Indian man, she's all into learning about Indian culture, trying Indian food, even writing part of her name—"Mira"—in Sanskrit.
- Back to the present. The affair has settled back into a routine. Miranda goes to work, eats lunch at an Indian restaurant with Laxmi, and sees Dev on Sundays. Saturdays are the worst for her because Sunday is just sooo far away.
- One Sunday, she asks Dev what his wife looks like. Bad idea. Apparently, the wife looks like an Indian movie star by the name of Madhuri Dixit.
- By the way, Dixit—sound familiar? It does to Miranda, who's frantic for a moment thinking it's one of the Dixit kids until she recalls that the Dixit girl's name began with a "P." (We're guessing there's some significance to this name, but we'll let you figure that out.)
- Anyway, one night, Miranda decides to go to an Indian grocery/video store and ruin her self-esteem by searching for videos with Madhuri Dixit in them (or "Mottery" Dixit, as Miranda hears it). She doesn't get that far though because she can pretty much tell by all the pictures of the Bollywood actresses that Madhuri Dixit is probably really beautiful. Which of course means that Dev's wife is probably also really beautiful.
- She thinks of getting some Indian snacks for Laxmi, but then decides against it because how would she explain her presence at an Indian store? The grocer tells her that the snacks she's eyeing are "too spicy" for her anyway.
- Time flies by and it's February. Laxmi's still talking about and to her cousin, whose husband now wants a divorce.
- Laxmi convinces her cousin to stop over in Boston on her way to recuperate in California so that Laxmi can take care of her and console her like only women can. In fact, she plans a spa day.
- She's forgotten about her cousin's son. What to do with him?
- This is where Miranda comes in. Laxmi ropes Miranda into babysitting the son on Saturday, which Miranda does. (Note: say no to babysitting kids you don't know.)
- Rohin, the 7-year-old boy, is basically like a little man, only with a lot more energy. He's into memorizing capitals of countries, which he's a whiz at. He also treats Miranda's house like his own (goes into the fridge without asking; moves her stuff without asking).
- He even asks to drink coffee, which Miranda at first refuses. But he's pretty demanding and so Miranda caves and gives him a cup. (Note again: bad idea.)
- The rest of the day goes like this: Rohin won't leave Miranda alone. He gets her to quiz him on capitals; he follows her wherever she goes (even to the bathroom, although not inside); he noses through her medicine cabinet.
- Then, he asks (okay, tells) her to draw for him the room they're in. Why? Because he wants to memorize their day together since he knows they'll never see each other again. This is a little depressing, at least to Miranda.
- While Miranda is drawing Rohin, Rohin gets up from the table and announces that he's bored. He then gets up and goes into her bedroom, her bureau, her closet.
- Okay now here's where things get a little weird (if they aren't weird already).
- Rohin finds a sexy, silver cocktail dress Miranda bought on her let's-look-like-a-mistress shopping spree and demands, begs, pleads that Miranda put it on.
- Miranda agrees, but she tells Rohin that he needs to leave the room while she changes (hey, she's got some boundaries).
- Rohin, however, informs Miranda that his mother always undresses in front of him. He says she even slept with him in his bed one night because she said it felt better now that his father was gone.
- Miranda firmly takes Rohin out of the room so that she can change into the dress.
- When she's done, Rohin tells her that she looks sexy. In fact, he uses the same words as Dev did that day at the Mapparium: "You're sexy." Miranda can't help but think of Dev when Rohin speaks like that.
- Miranda's interested though in why Rohin uses that word "sexy" and asks him to define it, which makes the boy all shy (amazingly).
- But eventually he tells Miranda that "sexy" means "loving someone you don't know." This, by the way, isn't a bad time to pause and ponder that definition because, you know, out of the mouth of babes…
- Anyway, Miranda's kind of stunned by that sentence the same way she was kind of stunned when she realized that Dev's wife must be beautiful.
- Rohin, on the other hand, is very matter-of-fact about it just like he is about his father's affair. And just to emphasize that point, Rohin crawls into Miranda's bed, under her covers, and falls asleep (like Dev, only for longer).
- While Rohin's sleeping, Miranda changes out of her cocktail dress and into her jeans; then she imagines how Rohin must have come by that definition for "sexy." Like maybe he overheard his mother yelling at his father about his "sexy" girlfriend and how could he possibly love a woman he doesn't know.
- All of this makes Miranda cry too. She thinks about that day at the Mapparium when she could hear Dev speak to her perfectly clearly from 30 feet away and how close he seemed. She feels a loss, too.
- While Miranda's crying, Rohin just continues sleeping. Miranda figures it's because Rohin's used to hearing a woman cry.
- So this whole little episode with Rohin is a turning point. Miranda sees the effect Rohin's father's adultery has had on the kid.
- The next time Dev calls on a Sunday, Miranda lies and tells him that he shouldn't come over because she has a cold. The Sunday after that, it snows, so he can't come over. Then, the Sunday after that, she decides to go out with Laxmi to the movies and Dev doesn't object. Then, the Sunday after that, Miranda decides to take a walk, buys a cup of coffee, and gaze at a church. So in other words, Miranda gets rid of her "Mr. Big" and finds out she's okay being single.
- Lahiri likes precocious little kids. Case in point: this story's main character is Eliot, an 11-year-old who knows how to do everything himself. He just needs a babysitter to watch him "in case of an emergency" (MS 1).
- Enter Mrs. Sen: a professor's wife who's willing to babysit in her home. Eliot's mother is a little desperate since Eliot's already gone through a couple of babysitters—one, a vegetarian who refused to cook meat for Eliot; another, an alcoholic. One problem: Mrs. Sen can't drive. (Foreshadowing alert here)
- From Eliot's perspective, Mrs. Sen's house, which is actually a university apartment on campus, definitely doesn't come from the pages of some interior design magazine. Things are mismatched and kind of random: like why is the plastic covering still on the lampshades?
- He also notices that Mrs. Sen doesn't dress in regular clothes; she wears a sari and she and Mr. Sen both wear flip-flops.
- But Mrs. Sen, who's about 30, is beautiful. And, to Eliot, it's his mom, whose wardrobe seems to come from the Banana Republic or the Gap, who appears odd next to Mrs. Sen.
- His mother also does things like refuse the biscuits offered her at Mrs. Sen's home. Instead, she peppers Mrs. Sen and Mr. Sen with interview questions (which, to be fair, seems appropriate given she's leaving her only child with them).
- Her greatest concern is that Mrs. Sen can't drive since Eliot's mother is a single mom and works some distance away. Mr. Sen tells her though that he's teaching Mrs. Sen how to drive and she should be ready to go by December.
- Why can't Mrs. Sen drive? Because in India, where the Sens have all of their stuff, they have a chauffeur.
- As Eliot spends his days at Mrs. Sen's, he starts to like it there. His house is cold in September whereas Mrs. Sen's house is warm. He likes watching Mrs. Sen prepare food, which she does like a Top Chef.
- In fact, Mrs. Sen is amazing with this huge blade she uses to chop food. She can chop without looking! But she's very careful with Eliot and doesn't let him walk anywhere near the blade, except once when she really needed an ingredient and couldn't get to it. And, even then, Eliot only got as far as the coffee table between them.
- This blade comes from India and, according to Mrs. Sen, every home in India has one.
- Every home in India is also much chattier and sociable, unlike this place that Mr. Sen has brought Mrs. Sen to. She can't even sleep because of the silence.
- In India, which Mrs. Sen keeps referring to as "home," all she has to do is yell and the whole neighborhood will come rushing over to share the good or bad news.
- Eliot compares that with his house and neighborhood, where everything seems really sedate and the only neighborly contact he has is with a pair of joggers who wave at him and his mother. In fact, his mother doesn't like neighbors; she's the type who calls her neighbors when they're having a party and tells them to lower their volume.
- Eliot notices that Mrs. Sen brushes a streak of red powder down the center part of her hair every day. He thinks it's kind of like a wedding ring because Mrs. Sen tells him she needs to wear her hair like that now that she's married.
- Okay, shifting scenes. We get a closer look at Eliot's mom when she comes to pick him up in the evenings. What's she like? Think the opposite of Mrs. Sen. Think single and stressed.
- For example, Mrs. Sen cooks up a storm every day, chopping all sorts of spices and things, all for just her and Mr. Sen. And Eliot's mom? Let's just say she's more into take-out. And she's definitely not into the food Mrs. Sen offers her every night when she picks Eliot up.
- When they get home, Eliot's mom drinks a glass of wine, eats bread and cheese, and orders pizza for Eliot. Then she goes out and smokes a cigarette. Clearly, Eliot and his mother aren't all that close.
- On afternoons, Mrs. Sen picks up Eliot at the bus stop and immediately starts chatting with him. She shares snacks with him as they walk to her car, where she practices driving for 20 minutes every day.
- Mrs. Sen's doesn't like driving at all. The traffic makes her nervous; she doesn't understand why no one slows down. She's easily distracted. Eliot has to explain to her how to drive, based on what he sees his mom do. (Eliot sure seems to be the adult in this story.)
- Eliot then reports the two things that make Mrs. Sen happy. The first is getting mail from her family in India. In fact, the first time Mrs. Sen hugs Eliot is when she learns that she's just become an aunt. She's so excited that she calls Mr. Sen immediately and reads the letter to him while he's at work. She even takes Eliot out for the day; they walk around the university and a museum.
- Mrs. Sen wonders aloud whether Eliot ever misses his mother since they're separated during the day. Mrs. Sen herself can hardly bear the idea that she won't be able to see her sister's baby for another few years.
- But Eliot's already a little man. It hardly even occurs to him to miss his mother, to which Mrs. Sen replies that he's wiser than she is because he already knows the way of the world, that people are distant from each other. How sad, right?
- The other thing that makes Mrs. Sen happy is getting fresh fish, which she sees as a necessity especially since they live near the coast. Usually she calls the fish market and they reserve a fish for her that Mr. Sen picks up on his way home from work.
- But one day, Mr. Sen—the harried university professor that he is—tells Mrs. Sen to use chicken instead of fish because he doesn't have the time to drive out and pick up the fish.
- Mrs. Sen does what he says for a little while, until the fish market calls one day and tells her that they're holding a particularly fresh fish for her.
- Mrs. Sen calls Mr. Sen, but the conversation doesn't go well. Eliot can tell because Mrs. Sen is crying and has entered meltdown mode: she's throwing her saris around and talking about how people in India think she lives like a queen. Because obviously she's not—if they only knew!
- Mrs. Sen doesn't take no for an answer and gets Mr. Sen to drive both her and Eliot to the fish market, where she buys the fish, brings it home, and then prepares it carefully for future meals.
- One week, Eliot notices that Mrs. Sen's all of a sudden not Mrs. Sen. She's a shell of herself. She's not chopping. She's not cooking. She makes tea that she doesn't drink. She turns on the TV without watching it. She doesn't invite Eliot's mom in when she picks up Eliot. Basically, she's kind of zoned out. Except she will listen to some raga (not to be confused with reggae) and a tape her relatives made on the day she left India.
- What's happened to Mrs. Sen? She just found out her grandfather died.
- However, it only takes Mrs. Sen about a week before she's more or less back to normal again. The one difference? Mr. Sen. He's become Mr. Romance.
- One afternoon, he takes Mrs. Sen and Eliot to the seaside where he buys her a ton of fresh fish. Then they do the whole New England thing: you know, walk along the cold beach, stop and eat clam cakes.
- They take pictures too and Eliot notices that when he asks them to get closer for the photo, they don't. But it's not like they're not close, because Mr. Sen mentions to Mrs. Sen that they need to get her another coat for the colder weather; plus, Mrs. Sen is clearly having a good time, laughing and all that. She's even dressed up with red lipstick.
- Then Mr. Sen more or less forces Mrs. Sen to practice driving. We probably don't need to tell you that it doesn't go well. Mrs. Sen doesn't get far before she decides to quit driving for good.
- That day at the beach seems to change Mrs. Sen. The next time the fish market calls, Mrs. Sen doesn't call Mr. Sen. Instead, brave woman that she is, Mrs. Sen takes the bus with Eliot to the market.
- On the bus, Mrs. Sen notices that there are a bunch of seniors because the bus stops at a nursing home. So that prompts her to ask Eliot whether or not he would place his mother in a nursing home.
- Eliot, the honest little guy that he is, says maybe, but that he'd visit everyday.
- On the way back from the fish market, an old woman on the bus complains to the driver about Mrs. Sen and her smell. Well, it's actually not her smell. It's the fish. But the way the whole thing happens, it seems like Mrs. Sen herself offends the old lady.
- The bus incident seems to affect Mrs. Sen enough so that, the next time the fish market calls, she doesn't take the bus. And she doesn't call Mr. Sen. You know where this is going. She takes the car. Bad, bad idea.
- All the foreshadowing leads to this part: Mrs. Sen gets Eliot and herself into a car accident.
- Afterwards, Mrs. Sen just totally shuts down. She goes into her room, shuts the door and lets Mr. Sen explain to Eliot's mom what happened.
- As any mother would do, Eliot's mom stops using Mrs. Sen as a babysitter. Instead, she gives Eliot a key and leaves him to fend for himself. The end of the story: Eliot becomes a latchkey kid.
"This Blessed House"
This Blessed House
- So you know how a marriage can turn sour over the littlest things? That's pretty much what happens at the beginning of the story. We've got a couple—Sanjeev and Twinkle (yes, as in Little Star, go ahead and hum away)—who are moving into their new house when Twinkle finds a little statue of Jesus.
- Okay, not a big deal. Only 2 things: first, Sanjeev and Twinkle aren't even Christian—they're Hindus; second, Twinkle ends up finding a lot of Christian stuff.
- And when we say "a lot," we really mean it. Twinkle finds things everywhere. She takes a liking to these little figurines and has placed the growing collection on the mantle for everyone to see, especially Sanjeev, who can't stand them.
- Twinkle, on the other hand, starts to wonder about the story behind these knick-knacks. Like maybe the previous owners were born-agains? Or they wanted to convert people?
- As Twinkle is wondering about these things, we find out that Sanjeev is basically your classic overachiever who makes good. He was an engineering major at MIT and then moved from Boston to Hartford, Connecticut to work at a firm. He's just found out that he might be tapped for the VP position at his firm.
- The very grown-up (and uptight) Sanjeev just doesn't understand what Twinkle sees in these Christ figurines. He thinks that since there are so many just lying around, they aren't particularly sacred and therefore just silly. He tells Twinkle they should get the realtor to dump them.
- Twinkle, however, feels bad about dumping this stuff since it's kind of sacrilegious and convinces Sanjeev to at least keep the little collection on the mantle.
- She also finds a huge poster of Christ weeping. Sanjeev puts his foot down with the poster and tells her not to display it.
- Twinkle compromises and says she'll put it in her study, which makes Sanjeev worry about the guests they'll be having at their housewarming. What if they see the poster and think that they're Christians?
- Twinkle thinks Sanjeev's a killjoy who worries too much about what others think, but she agrees to put the poster behind her study door so no one will see it.
- Okay, now for Lahiri's version of a musical interlude: we find out that Mahler's Fifth Symphony has been playing in the background and that Sanjeev read the liner notes to the classical piece. He learns that the symphony was Mahler's version of a marriage proposal so it's supposed to be a romantic piece.
- But the next thing he hears is Twinkle flushing the toilet. And her yelling that the music puts her to sleep. Okay, these are small details but probably pretty significant if you're—hint!—looking to write, oh say, an essay or something on romance and marriages. Just saying…
- Lahiri also gives us a mental picture of what Sanjeev looks like. He's shorter than Twinkle and doesn't like her wearing heels. He also has delicate features, especially really lovely long lashes.
- While we're getting this portrait of Sanjeev, Sanjeev is remembering the way Twinkle acted on a night soon after they moved in. They were in NYC; Twinkle was drunk and dancing with him in the streets.
- Sanjeev's really uncomfortable with Twinkle's free-wheeling ways. In fact, they're kind of like the Odd Couple. Sanjeev's the conscientious, high-strung neat freak who can't understand why Twinkle can't get her butt off the couch and clean up around the house. Twinkle does have a job, by the way; she's supposed to be writing (you'll find out later that it's her master's thesis), but well, you know how that can be. Suffice it to say, she doesn't seem to get much of anything done.
- Anyway, Twinkle basically bugs Sanjeev. She does things like call long-distance during peak hours just to gab with her friend and she doesn't really cook (she buys pre-made stuff and adds her own spin).
- She also makes Sanjeev feel stupid because she's so bright, curious and breezy about everything (she's nicknamed after "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" for a reason).
- Why are they even married? Good question. Apparently, they only met four months prior, at a birthday party. She had just been dumped; he was well-off but single and lonely. And their parents got them to see an Indian matchmaker who convinced them to marry. Now they're in their second month of marriage and, clearly, Sanjeev's got second thoughts.
- Cut to the present moment: we're back to the present and the fish stew Twinkle half-bought/half-prepared. Sanjeev can't help but pump her for details on how she came up with the stew. As you can guess, her answers are totally unhelpful. But you know what? She's kind of like a natural born chef even if she is completely lazy about cooking. Throwing random stuff together takes some skill and even Sanjeev has to admire that.
- Another in-Sanjeev's-head moment: Sanjeev's now thinking about the party, how they've invited 30 people, most of whom he's not close to and can't really connect with.
- None of these people have met Twinkle yet either. Twinkle, by the way, happens to be a grad student at Stanford who's writing her master's thesis on an Irish poet.
- Sanjeev's one of those guys on the fast track to adulthood. Before he even met Twinkle, he'd bought the house in Connecticut and was completely impressed with details like the wainscoting, the solarium, the brass finishes.
- But somehow he missed all the other details that showed the previous owners were serious Christians.
- And wow, he must have been blind not to have seen some of these objects. Like the weekend before the party, Twinkle found a huge statue of the Virgin Mary hidden among the leaves in front of the house and of course she wanted to prop it up for everyone to see.
- You can imagine how Sanjeev reacted: not well, especially considering the housewarming party. What would people from work think of him? He especially doesn't want his Indian co-workers to wonder what was going on with the statue.
- Of course, Twinkle isn't very sympathetic (she implied he was too self-conscious).
- Sanjeev's takeaway from that little incident—he's just not sure that he loves her. He told her he loved her on one of those weekends when he flew to Palo Alto (where Stanford is) to woo her, and she seemed delighted, but she never said those words back to him. So he's not even sure she loves him either.
- In fact, he's regretting the fact that he never accepted one of the other potential brides his mother suggested (via airmailed photos), women who could cook, clean, sew…in other words, your traditional 1950s housewife.
- But of course, he met Twinkle—the opposite of these women—and the rest is history.
- He and Twinkle fight over the Virgin Mary statue. He wants to throw it out and Twinkle refuses to give in. They finally compromise and place the statue out of sight of passersby, but in sight of anyone entering the house.
- On the night of the party, everything's in order. Sanjeev has slaved over the food, Indian fare that he took all morning to prep. Guests are arriving. Everyone's chatting and meeting Twinkle, who, no surprise, becomes the life of the party.
- In fact, she turns her obsession with the Christ figurines into a treasure hunt of sorts; everyone at the party joins her on the hunt for more objects. Everyone, that is, except her husband.
- He's heading off to their bedroom because the party's become too much for him when he sees Twinkle's shoes outside their doorway.
- For some reason, when he sees those shoes, instead of feeling annoyed as he usually does, he actually starts to feel a tender kind of anxiety. He imagines Twinkle putting them on and rushing everywhere in order to tend to their guests. It's the feeling he used to get before they were married, full of anticipation and excitement.
- A turning point, you're thinking? Maybe. Soon after this moment, Twinkle appears with a silver bust of Christ and asks Sanjeev if they can display it on the mantle.
- Instead of arguing with her, Sanjeev goes with her back to the party and—we're guessing—back to the mantle where they'll place that huge bust.
"The Treatment of Bibi Haldar"
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar
- Here's the first thing you need to know about this story: the narrator is the first-person plural, "we." "We" is the community surrounding our main woman, Bibi Haldar.
- Bibi is 29 and has had a condition ever since childhood whereby she randomly experiences screaming fits and seizures. No one knows what her illness is exactly. She's seen every type of healer and doctor; she's tried every type of remedy. Nothing works.
- Worse, she doesn't really live with people who love or care for her. Her cousin Haldar houses her (and, by "house," we mean a no-frills cot on the floor) and gets her to keep track of inventory at his store for no pay.
- A pretty miserable life, Bibi thinks. In fact, she'll tell it to anyone who happens to be around her. She's one of those tragic complainers, who can't stop bemoaning how awful her life is (although, to be honest, it really does seem pretty awful).
- But what does Bibi really want? A cure? No. She wants a man.
- In fact, she's been dreaming about a man and marriage for a really long time, and by "dream," we mean fantasize—and not just about the man but about the wedding, the invitations, the flowers… the whole enchilada.
- Well, lo and behold, one day Haldar takes her to a new doctor, who, after performing a series of blood tests, concludes that she needs…a man.
- His rationale? "Relations will calm her blood" (TBH 9). Uh huh.
- Anyway, Bibi is over the moon about this diagnosis and wants to get married pronto. She even goes out and starts shopping for a wedding outfit, goes on a diet, plans the wedding…typical stuff except that, of course, she doesn't have a man.
- Haldar and his wife, however, are totally against the idea. They don't want to pay for an expensive wedding or dowry, especially since they don't think any guy would want her
- And the community concludes that Haldar has a point. That's because Bibi hasn't had much of a life up until now. She doesn't go out; she doesn't have much education; she doesn't even watch TV. In fact, she has no clue what being a woman means. But the community supports Bibi anyway because why not give her a shot at happiness?
- Finally, Haldar agrees and puts a notice in the paper announcing Bibi's availability as a bride.
- Two months go by and no takers.
- Here's where you get some all-important background info on Bibi. She had a pretty good life when she lived with her father (her mother died during childbirth). He took care of her and treated her illness like a math problem waiting to be solved (he was a math teacher).
- In fact, he became so obsessed with finding a remedy that he quit his job and taught from home so he could look after her and figure out her illness. Of course, he never succeeded.
- Since his death, no one cares for her in the same way. Sure, her community keeps her company and humors her, but the people don't think of her as their responsibility.
- Fast forward to the present moment: Haldar's wife is now pregnant. She's petrified that Bibi's illness will pass to the fetus so she basically avoids Bibi as much as she can.
- Then one day while out walking, Bibi gets one of her attacks. It's bad, and the men of the community take her home.
- Except she doesn't have a real home. Her cousin and his wife can't stand her and use the pregnancy as an excuse to bar Bibi from their home. That night, Bibi sleeps in their storage room.
- By the time the baby comes, Bibi has been allowed back into the house although she sleeps far away from Haldar and his wife.
- But then the baby gets sick (even though she never goes out) and that's when Haldar's wife gets really demanding. Bibi's banned from the house and is back in the storage room again. The baby recovers, but even so, Bibi's not allowed back into the house.
- Someone has to stick up for Bibi. That's where the chorus of "we" comes in. The community complains to Haldar about his cruel treatment of Bibi, but he doesn't care. So they decide to boycott Haldar's shop.
- The boycott works. Eventually, Haldar and his family move away because they don't have any business anymore. They leave 300 rupees for Bibi and then that's it.
- Bibi pretends that she's fine. Through this whole ordeal though, she hasn't been social, hasn't gone out at all. It's clear that she's given up on catching a man.
- Then one day, she's sick, only not really. She's four months pregnant.
- How? No one really knows because Bibi won't talk about it, although clearly everyone thinks someone in the community raped Bibi.
- The baby—a healthy boy—is born with the help of the community.
- Bibi decides to sell the leftover inventory in Haldar's shop and use the profits to fix up her storage room.
- One thing leads to another and Bibi basically becomes the owner of Haldar's shop. She becomes successful because she convinces everyone to buy from her (which of course everyone does).
- The conclusion? Not much more except this final thought from the community: it's clear that Bibi has been cured of her weird ailment. So… a kind of, sort of happy ending.
"The Third and Final Continent"
The Third and Final Continent
- This final story gives us our very first first-person "I" narrator in the collection.
- He's a Bengali man who left India in 1964 to go to London pursue his studies. While in London, he attended lectures and worked at the university library.
- Yes, our main character works at a library (not that there's anything wrong with that…). But clearly this won't be an action-packed story.
- Anyway, he ends up leaving London for Boston because he gets a job at Dewey Library at MIT.
- By this time, he's also gotten himself a wife (his brother arranged the marriage for him). She's in the process of getting her immigration papers.
- The hard-working, frugal immigrant that he is, he stays at the YMCA for six weeks in order to save money for a real apartment.
- As his wife's arrival date approaches, he rents a room in an old house owned by an elderly woman named Mrs. Croft, who (1) only rents to boys from Harvard or MIT, and (2) speaks almost exclusively in exclamation points, like this!
- The landlady confuses our narrator a little (we sympathize because she does seem a little … eccentric), but she seems nice enough.
- She doesn't want him to have "lady visitors" (TFC 37). Tough to do considering he's married, but anyway…
- Our guy decides to finally introduce his wife to us. Her name's Mala; she's 27; she apparently can do all sorts of wifely things. The only catch is that she has a dark complexion, which means she's had a tough time finding a suitor (until, of course, our narrator).
- But their first days together weren't exactly married bliss. He was preparing for his move to Boston and so had no time to get to know his wife or comfort her—she was very homesick for her family.
- Plus, all he could think about was the room next to his, how it used to house his mother (now dead). He even remembers details like the fact that she played with her poop in her final days and how he had to start the cremation process because his older brother just couldn't bear to do it.
- Our narrator moves into Mrs. Croft's house and settles into a routine with her. When he gets home from work in the evening, she pats the seat next to her, he sits down, she says that there's an American flag on the moon and that it's splendid.
- She asks him to say "Splendid!" too. Then they sit there, not talking, for about ten minutes until Mrs. Croft falls asleep.
- The first time rent is due, the narrator goes into the sitting room where Mrs. Croft is, bows and thoughtfully hands her the rent in an envelope, putting it near her hands where she doesn't have struggle to grasp it.
- Mrs. Croft notices his politeness and mentions how kind it was of him to be that thoughtful. Mrs. Croft's daughter (who's old too) confirms our thoughts when she walks into his room one day and introduces herself. She points out that her mother thinks our narrator is a "gentleman," unlike the other boarders.
- Mrs. Croft interrupts their conversation and calls them downstairs because she thinks it's inappropriate for a woman and a man not married to each other to converse without a chaperone. Did we tell you that she was old by the way?
- The daughter responds by saying that it's now 1969 (this is a while ago) and that women can now wear miniskirts as well as have conversations with men without chaperones. And c'mon, she's 68. It's not like anything's about to happen between her and the narrator.
- All of that still doesn't sit well with Mrs. Croft, just like the fact that she depends on her daughter now for help preparing food. Mrs. Croft is a proud old lady, so even though years of teaching piano have ruined her hands to an arthritic mess, she wants to believe she can still do things on her own. Things like opening a can of soup (the only thing she'll eat) for her dinner.
- Mrs. Croft's daughter mentions her mother's age—103. That seems incomprehensible to our narrator, compared to the fact that his dad died when the narrator was only 16, which drove his mother crazy with grief to the point that she died not long after.
- Our narrator tells the daughter that he'd be happy to prepare Mrs. Croft's can of soup for dinner each night, but the daughter says that he better not since all that help might be more than Mrs. Croft can stand.
- You get the point—the narrator is a super nice guy. He even worries about Mrs. Croft and checks on her during the night to make sure she's okay.
- Eventually, though, he concludes that there's not much more he can do than check on her and pay rent on time. Everything else really isn't his business.
- And there's the business of Mala, whose immigration paperwork is more or less ready and who will soon arrive in the States.
- While walking along the street, the narrator witnesses an Indian woman pushing a stroller and running into a snarling dog who snaps at her sari. The Indian woman is petrified and stays still until the dog and owner have moved on.
- This event gets the narrator to take Mala's arrival a little more seriously. He finally realizes that Mala will become his sole responsibility since she'll be entirely new to the country.
- He decides to find a new, roomier place for them to live.
- When he tells Mrs. Croft that he's moving out, he's disappointed to find out that she's kind of indifferent and distant. After all those hours sitting on the bench with her and looking after her, you might think she'd show some emotion.
- He moves into the new apartment with Mala once she arrives. The first week, he does what he can to get to know her, but he doesn't really feel close to her.
- That doesn't mean he stops trying, though. One Friday night, he asks to take her out. Of course, to his wife, that's code for date night, which is why she dresses up like she's going to a party—an Indian one (she's wearing a sari).
- The narrator regrets asking her because of the way she's dressed but he takes her anyway. He's not exactly flush with cash, so they do the most romantic thing a couple can do for free—they take a walk around the neighborhood and town.
- The narrator ends up leading her to Mrs. Croft's house, where he introduces her to Mrs. Croft herself. The daughter is there too but ends up leaving the narrator to watch Mrs. Croft so that she can go get some stuff at the market.
- Since the narrator's move, Mrs. Croft has fallen and broken her hip.
- But that doesn't stop her from being her usual self with the narrator. When she sees him, she pats the bench as always and tells him to sit.
- Then she notices Mala and asks who she is, to which the narrator replies that she's his wife.
- Mrs. Croft asks Mala if she can play piano, to which Mala says no. Mrs. Croft then orders Mala to stand up while Mrs. Croft stares at her.
- Amazingly though, Mrs. Croft says something totally nice and sweet; she announces that Mala's a "perfect lady" (TFC 147).
- The narrator can't help but laugh, but he does so quietly so that only Mala can hear. Mala ends up smiling at him and they share a look. You know those looks—all loaded with meaning and emotion. That is the first time the narrator and Mala feel comfortable in each other's presence.
- The narrator thinks of that moment at Mrs. Croft's as the first time he and Mala started to fall in love with each other.
- And they do fall in love eventually over time. They have a son together, who grows up to attend Harvard.
- The husband and wife visit their son all the time or they get him to come home—not difficult at all since they live in Boston.
- The narrator also shares with his son the story of how he used to live at Mrs. Croft's for about eight dollars a week. His son is surprised by how unbelievably cheap the rent was back then.
- Now for a sentimental ending: the narrator sees a lot of himself in his son and supports his son's ambitions with encouraging words about how much he's traveled and seen and about how much the mundane can end up surprising you.
- Looking back on his life on three continents, he sometimes still can't believe it all really happened. Simply stated by Lahiri, but we'll bet it will make you weepy. The end.