Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar"

By Jhumpa Lahiri

"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.

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