[SS] Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (2)
January 30, 2010 § 14 Comments
This week, I continue with the rest of the stories from Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of nine, Interpreter of Maladies. I posted about the first 5 stories HERE.
Mrs. Sen’s is told more or less from the POV of an 11-year-old boy, Eliot. He walks to Mrs Sen’s place every day after school, spends the afternoons with her, and later his mother fetches him home after work. The story is very subtle, very quiet, so much so that I had a little trouble recalling exactly what the story was about, despite having just read it no more than a 5 days ago. I have a weird feeling that there might be something more to this story than I am actually catching, but in the end, I didn’t quite get it.
This Blessed House is a funny little story about a newly wed couple who move into this house. As they look around, the wife, nicknamed Twinkle (why?!) starts to find bits and pieces of Christian paraphernalia, presumably left over from previous owners. Themselves being “good little Hindus”, the husband, Sanjeev, isn’t too happy about finding these trinkets, and is especially pissed that Twinkle insists on showcasing the ever growing collection dominantly in their house.
To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to make of this story either. It was amusing, but didn’t necessarily go anywhere. It felt a little like.. I’m drinking coffee while reading the newspapers, I then accidentally spill some coffee on my nicely pressed white shirt 10 minutes before I leave the house, so I’m irritated, but have to go upstairs and hurriedly find another shirt to put on.
I finished the story and couldn’t help thinking: And then what?
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. This has got to be the one story in this book, if I had to choose one, that I didn’t like. I didn’t like it not because it was written poorly, or because I couldn’t relate. Nothing like that. I just didn’t like the story. Period.
Bibi has a condition, one that causes her to have sudden fits. She’s been given different medicines and treatment, none of which work to cure her. One day, during one of her episodes, the doctor tells her that she needs a husband. (Here, I just went, what?!) Of course, Bibi has been wanting to have a family of her own for a long time, something her condition makes difficult for her. So she’s naturally ecstatic when she’s told that the one thing she wants most is also the one way to cure her.
The ending was another bit that made me go “huh?!” I really don’t think I can say much more about this story.
The last story in the collection is The Third and Final Continent. Told in the first person, the story is set in 1969 America, the year when the moon sported the American flag. The narrator had travelled from Calcutta, India to England, where he spent quite some time, earning and saving money enough for him to take a wife, and travel to America. His first meaningful contact with any American is with a centenarian, Mrs Croft, who rents a room out to our narrator for 6 weeks as he awaits for his wife’s arrival.
I think it’s a story very well suited to be the last of this collection. This last paragraph may well sum up the story, if not the entire collection.
I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
I have read elsewhere that there is something predictable in Lahiri’s short stories; if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. In some way, I rather agree. Most of her stories seem to have the same essence, and don’t seem to explore too far from a centralised theme. I suspect it might also be because of this that I didn’t quite enjoy the second half of the collection as I did the first.
Her writing didn’t quite encourage the kind of reading where you pay attention to every little detail. I just sort of went along with the flow, and I might have missed some critical ideas because of this. But with careful reading, I think there are quite a few gems to pick out.