[SS]Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (1)
January 23, 2010 § 29 Comments
So this being a Saturday, I thought I’d post about some of the short stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection, Interpreter of Maladies.
The first in this collection is A Temporary Matter. Of the 5 (the collection has 9) I’ve read so far, this is probably the only one that I don’t know what to write about. It’s a story about the strained relationship between a married couple. During the few days when their electricity supply was being scheduled for a cut-off, they took advantage of sitting in the dark, and each told the other a secret. The things they disclosed were not earth-shattering stuff, but it did help mend what was left of a very broken relationship. The ending came as somewhat of a surprise, but in a way, it felt like that was for the best.
(Okay, I just said I had nothing to write about, and wrote plenty enough. Moral of the story is, don’t believe me when I say I have nothing to say.)
When Mr Pirzada Came To Dine is a story narrated by a young Indian girl. Mr Pirzada is a regular guest at her home, where he comes to have dinner and watch the news. What I found most interesting about this story was the mention of the 1947 Partition, during which India was split. Frankly, I have not read enough, if at all, about this event to comment, but as far as I know, it happened during the time when religious clash was at its peak. (Please tell me if I’m wrong. And point me to books to read to know more..)
There is a quote in here that I was also particularly drawn to. It’s a conversation between our narrator, Lilia (a 10-year-old) and her teacher, when she was looking at a book about Pakistan.
“Is this book a part of your report, Lilia?”
“No, Mrs. Kenyon.”
“Then I see no reason to consult it,” she said, replacing it in the slim gap on the shelf. “Do you?”
To me, it showed discrimination. But more importantly, it showed me the reason why so many of us don’t know much beyond what is taught at school. This is a story rich with undertones.
The Interpreter of Maladies starts with a tour guide, Mr Kapasi, as he brings the Das family to their intended destination. Along the way, the tourists find out that Mr Kapasi has another job besides being a tour guide; he also works as an interpreter at a doctor’s office. Mr Kapasi listens to the patients as they tell him what ails them, and he interprets what he hears to the doctor, who doesn’t understand the language. In short, as Mrs Das puts it, Mr Kapasi is an interpreter of maladies.
As the jorney continues, Mr Kapasi becomes more and more fond of Mrs Das, telling her stories and anecdotes of his job at the doctor’s office. Later on, Mrs Das would also turn to Mr Kapasi, in his capacity as someone familiar with maladies, to help her solve a problem.
I thought this was a beautiful story. As a story about tourists visiting a place, the descriptions were wonderfully done, but not so extravagant as to take attention away from the main flow of the story. For the most part, it was Mr Kapasi’s feelings that were given more expression, and that was something I very much appreciated.
A Real Durwan was a funny little story. Boori Ma is initially a homeless person. In exchange for the residents of an apartment building allowing her to put up on their grounds, she takes it upon herself to sweep the stairwell, and after a while, she became by default the durwan (live-in doorkeeper) of the apartment block.
When one of the residents, a married couple, suddenly find themselves in better fortune, they decide to purchase two basins, one for their own apartment unit, and one for the rest of them, which they installed in the stairwell. They then leave for a holiday, which only spells the beginning of trouble for both Boori Ma, and the other residents, who become quite jealous.
This wasn’t a particularly enjoyable story, but it was definitely one that stuck with me for a while. Because of material gain (the basin in the stairwell), the relationship between families and individuals living in the apartment building became sour. Somehow I think that’s a very strong reflection of human nature.
Sexy is the 5th story in this collection. The gist of the story is that Miranda is having a relationship with a married man, Dev. As a side story, Miranda’s friend, Laxmi, has a cousin whose husband ran away to be with a woman he had met on an aeroplane.
In this affair, all the usual things happen. When Dev’s wife wasn’t around, he took Miranda for dinners and outings, and on one occasion, told Miranda that she was ‘sexy’. When Dev’s wife returned, it was the occasional visit to Miranda’s home where they would have sex.
The one part of the story in which everything came together for me was when Laxmi’s cousin’s son told Miranda that she was sexy.
“That word. ‘Sexy.’ What does it mean?”
He looked down, suddenly shy. “I can’t tell you.”
“It’s a secret.” He pressed his lips together, so hard that a bit of them went white.
And after a little persuasion,
He cupped his hands around his moth, and then he whispered, “It means loving someone you don’t know.”
A very well-written story. Probably the one I enjoyed the most so far.