Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies Summary

By Jhumpa Lahiri

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.

"Sexy"

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.)

"Mrs. Sen's"

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.

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