Shoba’s husband in A Temporary Matter. An academic, Shukumar has been avoiding both his dissertation and his wife since the loss of their child. He and Shoba share secrets in the dark during what will become the last week of their marriage. The memory of holding his stillborn son is the final confession.
Shukumar’s wife in A Temporary Matter. She is distant from her husband after the loss of their child. She suggests they play a game of sharing secrets during systematic blackouts, which culminates in her confession that she is moving out of their house.
Friendly neighbors to Shukumar and Shoba
Shoba’s friend who drove her to the hospital when she went into premature labor.
A Pakistani botanist studying in New England during the breakout of the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971. He watches the news over dinner each night at Lilia’s house, looking for news of his family. Mr. Pirzada is generous with Lilia, doting on her because he is unable to speak to his own daughters. He is curious about American customs and Lilia tries to teach him about her culture.
The narrator of When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine. Lilia is ten years old during in 1971, when the story takes place. She is a first generation American of Indian descent. Through the visits of Mr. Pirzada, she learns about the plight of Pakistan, the history of India’s violent independence experienced by her parents, and the war between the formerly united countries. From the safety of her home, she worries about Mr. Pirzada’s daughters. When he returns, she learns what it is to miss someone who lives across the world.
Lilia’s mother is proud that her daughter was born and will be raised in America. She encourages American traditions while maintaining the traditions of her own upbringing in Calcutta.
Lilia’s father encourages his daughter to learn about India, as it appears she is only taught American history in school. He wants his daughter to know about the world of her parents' upbringing.
Lilia’s American friend. They trick-or-treat together in 1971.
Lilia’s teacher who chastises her for reading a book about Pakistan.
The tour guide in Interpreter of Maladies who also works for a doctor, translating the symptoms of Gujurati patients. Mr. Kapasi dreamed of being an interpreter for diplomats, but he settled for a mundane career after an unhappy marriage and the death of a son. He takes an Indian-American family to see the Sun Temple of Konark and becomes entranced by the wife, Mrs. Das. They share a dissatisfaction with their respective marriages. She confides in him, but he ultimately cannot absolve her of her guilt.
In Interpreter of Maladies, Mrs. Das and her family accompany tour guide Mr. Kapasi to the Sun Temple of Konark. She has fallen out of love with her husband and does not express affection toward her three children. On a whim, she admits to Mr. Kapasi that an affair produced her middle child, Bobby.
Mrs. Das's husband. Both he and his wife are Americans of Indian descent, removed somewhat from the land of their ancestors. He is content with his life and children, blind to the unhappiness of his wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Das's eldest child. He is precocious and sweet.
The middle child of the Das's. Unbeknownst to him and his father, his mother had an affair that resulted in his birth. He is braver than his older brother and is clearly favored by Mrs. Das.
The youngest child of Mr. and Mrs. Das. She strains for the attention of her mother.
The main character of A Real Durwan, Boori Ma is an old woman who sweeps the stairs and lives on the roof of a Calcutta apartment building. Her tales of the lost luxuries of her life before Partition entertain the residents, though they suspect that the tales hold on a few elements of truth. Boori Ma is accused of alerting robbers when a recently-installed basin is stolen from the stairwell. She is dependent on the power of her memories (or delusions) and on the kindness of her neighbors. When she loses the latter, she cannot maintain the former.
A prosperous salesman of plumbing supplies. He lives with his dissatisfied wife in the building that Boori Ma maintains. The purchasing of basins for the building causes a renovation boom among his neighbors. He tries to appease his wife with lavish gifts and a vacation.
A kind woman who browbeats her husband in A Real Durwan. Despite her soft spot for Boori Ma, she lets her dissatisfaction with her life be known. She is kind to Boori Ma, and offers to buy a new set of bedding for the old woman. But while Mrs. Dalal is a major figure in Boori Ma's life, the old woman is just a footnote for Mrs. Dalal. She forgets about the new bedding after the arrival of the basins. Presumably she would have prevented Boori Ma's expulsion had she not been out of town.
The eldest resident of the building that Boori Ma maintains. He is regarded as the wisest neighbor, so his recommendation that they need a real durwan is heeded and Boori Ma is thrown out.
The main character of Sexy. She begins an affair with a married Indian man after moving alone to Boston. He is the first person who acts like a man in her life, the first person to call her sexy. The affair is a taste of the adult love she craves. Though the affair comes to a natural end, Miranda is more confident in her new city and in her skin.
The man with whom Miranda has an affair in Sexy. Dev is elegant, smooth, and masculine, though condescending towards Miranda. When his wife returns from a trip to India, the affair dwindles to a matter of convenience. It is clear by his actions that he does not think of Miranda as anything more than a mistress.
Miranda's coworker at the public radio station. Laxmi is dismayed by her cousin's marital troubles and gossips about it to Miranda. She denigrates her cousin's husband for having an affair, not knowing that Miranda herself is sleeping with a married man.
Rohin is Laxmi's nephew who is dropped off into Miranda's care for one afternoon. The boy is smart and precocious, and he insists on getting his way. He has watched his mother's sadness and anger following his father's departure, and his observations about love appear wise to Miranda. Possibly he is unusually observant, or possibly she is just hearing what she needs to hear.
One of two main characters in Mrs. Sen's. She is a lonely woman who desperately misses Calcutta, her home. Her husband took a job as a professor in a New England town. Life is very different for her there. She refuses to learn to drive because it scares her, but the refusal also limits her experiences in her new country. She becomes a babysitter for Eliot, who comes to her house after school. The two share an unspoken loneliness.
Eliot lives with his single mother in a beach house. As the weather grows colder, the town becomes more desolate. His mother arranges for him to be watched by Mrs. Sen, who is just as lonely as Eliot. Without knowing it, Eliot is wiser than his years. He is perceptive to the pain felt by both women in his life.
In Mrs. Sen's, Eliot's mother is separated or divorced from her husband, trying to keep her life intact. Her sadness is evident to Eliot, who knows she skips lunch and drinks too much wine and isolates herself.
Mrs. Sen's husband, a professor who moves from Calcutta to teach in New England. He urges his wife to learn how to drive so she can have more independence. He is not oblivious to her pain but neither does he coddle her.
In This Blessed House, Twinkle is the wife of Sanjeev. They are newly married after only a four-month courtship. She is childlike and full of wonder, delighted by every leftover religious item she finds in their new home. She is romantic and optimistic.
In This Blessed House, Sanjeev is Twinkle's husband. After many successful but lonely years, Sanjeev has married a woman he barely knows. Moving in together is challenging as she is so different from him. He is analytical and practical. The discovery of religious items fills him with a sort of dread and he is left wondering whether or not he really loves Twinkle. By the end, the anticipation he feels for her cements his love.
The protagonist of The Treatment of Bibi Haldar. Bibi suffers from an epilepsy-like illness that causes seizures. She is left in the meager care of her eldest cousin and his wife. Despite her desires, her family does not help her look for a husband. When Haldar's daughter becomes ill, they blame Bibi. When they move away, it is up to the women to assume her care. Bibi withdraws from society until the women, fearing she is ill, find her mysteriously pregnant. She soon fixes up her cousin's cosmetics stall and provides for her son. She keeps the identity of the father a secret. Prior to her pregnancy, Bibi was profoundly lonely and depressed, but it is implied that despite the possibly non-consensual conception of her son, his birth gives her life focus and purpose.
Bibi's cousin. A man who does not concern himself with treatment for Bibi's illness. He and his wife are worried only about their livelihood and share irrational fears of Bibi's effect on their child. Haldar is driven out of business by the women who disagree with his treatment of Bibi. He abandons his cousin by leaving town without a word.
Bibi Haldar's cousin's wife. She is more concerned about profits than with the health of her cousin-in-law. Out of misguided protection for her child, she banishes Bibi out of their home.
The Narrator of The Third and Final Continent
The narrator chronicles his life in London and his early days in America. From Calcutta, he studies abroad and settles in Cambridge, outside of Boston. For his first six weeks in America, he lives in an apartment in a shared home, awaiting the arrival of his wife. He experiences culture shock, but later thinks fondly of those days when everything was unknown. He is a kind man who ultimately builds a solid home with his wife. He chooses to live out his life in America as it becomes his true home. Through his repeated experience of encountering new worlds, he maintains a sense of wonder.
The narrator's wife in The Third and Final Continent. At first, the separation from her family caused by her wedding saddens her. When she meets her husband in Cambridge six weeks later, she no longer cries but they are still strangers. Through time and shared experience, she becomes accustomed to her new country and new life.
Mrs. Croft is the elderly woman who owns the house in Cambridge where the narrator lets a room. Born in 1866, she is amazed by the moon landing as an unthinkable achievement. Mrs. Croft is disdainful towards modern times and manners, and declares the narrator a gentleman and Mala a lady. She is self-sufficient and likely quite stubborn.
Mrs. Croft's daughter. She is more modern in dress and sensibility than her mother and also more practical and distant than the narrator.
Interpreter of Maladies Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Interpreter of Maladies is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Assimilation of Indians to America is one of the overarching themes in Interpreter of Maladies. Lilia and her parents are on either side of a divide. Identity issues are typically compounded generation to generation. Though Lilia’s parents...
In its place in the story cycle, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar harkens back to A Real Durwan. Boori Ma and Bibi Haldar are similar characters – women who exist on the fringes of society and blamed for events beyond their control. Unlike Boori...
Interpreter of Maladies literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the short stories in Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.