Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies "Interpreter of Maladies"

By Jhumpa Lahiri

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"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 years.
  • 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 afterthought.
  • 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 interpreter.
  • 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 up dying.)
  • 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 and Khandagiri.
  • 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.

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