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					        Interpreter of Maladies

 story analysis
 Characters:

 Mr Kapasi, the tour guide. He is 46 years old. He has been a
  tour guide for five years.

 The Das family: Mr and Mrs Das and their three children;
  Ronny, Bobby and Tina.

 Mr and Mrs Das were born in America but they visit their
  parents every few years in India. Both sets of parents have
  retired in India.
                                         Interpreter of Maladies
   Interpreter of Maladies

 Setting:

Saturday, mid-July in India – Mr Kapasi has picked up the family
  from their hotel in the morning.

Most of the story takes place at the Sun Temple, in Konarak (a
Interpreter of Maladies

Mr Kapasi thinks Mr and Mrs Das look too
young to be the parents of three children
when he first sees them. They also seem to act
more like the children’s siblings than parents.
Mr and Mrs Das also seem very ‘American’
because of the casual way they dress and the
way they talk – like characters from the
American soap operas Mr Kapasi watches on
    Interpreter of Maladies
Mr Kapasi thinks other things are strange about the family; for
 example, that Mr Das refers to his wife by her first name when
 speaking to Tina, their daughter.
On their way to the Sun Temple, monkeys leap into the middle of
 the road, which excites the children. Mr Kapasi has to beep his
 horn to make the monkeys go away.
Mr Das asks Mr Kapasi to stop the car so that he can take a photo of
 a “barefoot man, his head wrapped in a dirty turban, seated on top
 of grain sacks pulled by a pair of bullocks. Both the man and the
 bullocks were emaciated”.
During the car journey, Mr Kapasi explains that he has another job
 during the week.
      Interpreter of Maladies
His other job is working as an interpreter in a doctor‟s office. Mr
   Kapasi is able to speak the same language, Gujarati, as many of the
   doctor‟s patients. He interprets what the patients say to the doctor
   and then explains what the doctor‟s advice is.
To Mr Kapasi‟s surprise, Mrs Das finds this job “romantic”. She starts
   to take more interest in him and asks him to tell them more. She
   also says that the job is a big responsibility. Mr Kapasi, however,
   “…had never thought of his job in such complimentary terms. To
   him it was a thankless occupation. He found nothing noble in
   interpreting people‟s maladies …”
In fact, Mr Kapasi believed the job was a “sign of his failings”, as he had
   once been a student of languages and had dreamed of being an
   interpreter for “diplomats and dignitaries”.
     Interpreter of Maladies

Mr Kapasi had only taken the job as an interpreter after his first son had
  died at the age of seven. He had needed to get an extra job because of
  his son‟s medical expenses. He knows however, that his wife “had little
  regard for his career as an interpreter. He knew it reminded her of the
  son she‟d lost …”.
So, Mr Kapasi is very flattered when he is complimented by Mrs Das. He
  begins to take more notice of her and it is as if they are carrying on a
  private conversation in the car, as no one else is taking any notice of
  what they are saying.
Mrs Das later insists that Mr Kapasi has lunch with them, and she asks for
  his address so that she can send him some photos.
     Interpreter of Maladies
Mr Kapasi starts to imagine he and Mrs Das communicating with
 each other via letters: “She would write to him, asking about his
 days interpreting the doctor‟s office, and he would respond
 eloquently … In time she would reveal the disappointment of
 her marriage, and he his”. His mind starts to race with all of the
 possibilities of this relationship.
They arrive at the Sun Temple at 2.30 pm. It is made of sandstone
 and is a massive pyramid-like structure in the shape of a chariot.
 It had been built between A.D. 1243 and 1255, by twelve
 hundred „artisans‟ to commemorate King Narasimhadeva‟s
 victory against the Muslim army.
The Sun Temple
Interpreter of Maladies
At the temple, Mr Kapasi wants to be alone with Mrs Das and
continue their private conversation. He starts to calculate how long
it will take for the photos to arrive and when exactly he will be
hearing from Mrs Das.
In order to spend more time with her, he suggests visiting another
tourist site. When the family agrees, he is “delirious with relief ”.
When they arrive there, all of the family get out of the car except for
Mrs Das. She asks Mr Kapasi to stay a minute in the car with her.
She then confesses that Bobby, the youngest boy, is not Raj‟s (Mr
Das‟) son. She tells him that Bobby‟s father is a friend of Raj‟s – a
Punjabi man who had stayed with them for a little while.
      Interpreter of Maladies
Mr Kapasi is disturbed by these revelations: “The feeling he had had
  toward her, that had made him check his reflection in the rearview
  mirror as they drove, evaporated a little”.
Mrs Das seems relieved that she has finally been able to confess her secret
  to someone, after eight years of keeping it hidden. She tells Mr Kapasi
  because she has been in pain for eight years: “I was hoping you could
  help me feel better, say the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy”.
The confession however, depresses Mr Kapasi. He “felt insulted that Mrs
  Das should ask him to interpret her common, trivial little secret”.
Finally, he asks her: “Is it pain you feel , Mrs Das, or is it guilt?”
     Interpreter of Maladies
Mrs Das does not like this question and gets out of the car to join the
 rest of her family.
Mr Kapasi then has to rescue Bobby, who is being attacked by a
When Mrs Das gets a hairbrush out of her bag to brush her
 daughter‟s hair, the piece of paper with Mr Kapasi‟s address on it
 flutters away in the wind.
   Interpreter of Maladies: themes and ideas

This story looks at how Indians react when they are faced with
  those who have succeeded and done very well outside India.
Even though they are of Indian background, the Das family are
  completely American. Mr Kapasi‟s life is a poor photocopy of the
  Das‟ family success.
Lahiri in this story explores not only the gulf between cultures but
  the gulf between two people. Mr Kapasi imagines a future
  correspondence with Mrs Das, with whom he seems to connect.
  He thinks that this connection is about him as a person, instead of
  his role as an interpreter, not only of languages but of the
  countryside. It becomes clear to the reader and Mr Kapasi that he
  will not be able to fulfill his dream life.
     Themes and ideas: The search for identity is universal
 * How do we search for an identity?
• How can we change our identity?
• How is our identity changed for us?
• How are we trapped by our identity? Mr Kapasi is struggling to
   change his identity. Although he is trying to hold on to his old dream of
   being a translator for politicians, he uses his dreams to cast a new role for
   himself.This is despite the fact that he is not able to actually move away
   from this reality.
• The Das family seem secure in their identity, which makes Mr Kapasi
   anxious: how can they be a „happy family‟ when they don‟t behave
   according to his impression of the way a family is meant to behave.
     The difficulty of human contact and loneliness
Another theme is the gulf that exists between people and their
  often detrimental attempts to bridge them.This collection also
  looks at loneliness and how people try to avert it.
This story shows how sometimes the differences between people
  can’t bridge the gaps thus hindering the possibility of
  connection.This is partly because Mr Kapasi is himself not able
  to be anything more than a cipher (a person of little influence)
  and also because he and Mrs Das are unable to share their
     Other themes to consider:
 Secrets withheld and revealed
 In the same way that Shoba and Shukumar have kept secrets from each
  other, so has Mrs Das kept secrets from Mr Das. Lahiri suggests that
  keeping secrets can be painful, and that eventually people feel compelled
  to confess them. Mrs Das wants to free herself of the burden of
  knowledge about Bobby‟s real parentage. Mr Kapasi however, does not
  want to deal with the secret. He is astute enough to see that Mrs Das
  feels a great sense of guilt, but of course he can do nothing about it.

Questions to consider:
Did Mrs Das do the wrong thing by confessing her secret to Mr Kapasi?
What should Mr Kapasi have said to her?
      Themes cont.
 Indian family traditions and customs
Mr Kapasi leads a typical existence in India. He works hard and has a lot of
  children but dreams of another life.
 Marital maladies and guilt
Many characters in the stories have maladies that need interpretation. Often a
  malady is really guilt in another form. Mina Das carries guilt from her
  affair with Raj‟s friend. She does not know why she feels bad. She hopes Mr
  Kapasi will have a remedy. Mr Kapasi believes his marriage and that of the
  Das‟ are similarly unhappy. He hopes she will cure his malady of an
  unhappy marriage with an affair. His fantasies are dashed when she sayss he
  probably has children her age.
       Themes cont.
 The importance of education
Like all the stories in the collection, the idea of education plays a role. Mr Das
   is a school teacher. Mr Kapasi once studied to become an interpreter, and he
   was a “self-educated man”. He viewed education as a way of improving his
   circumstances and bettering himself. Unfortunately, the death of his son
   changed the course of his life.

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