The Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories that explore themes of identity, the immigrant experience, cultural differences, love, and family. The characters are largely Indian or Indian-American and their stories together paint an evocative picture of India's diaspora.
In A Temporary Matter, an electrical outage forces married couple Shoba and Shukumar to confront their unspoken pain over the loss of a child. The darkness gives them a safe space to confess secrets. Shoba and Shukumar admit minor indiscretions in the beginning and lead up to nagging doubts about their marriage. In the end, Shoba admits she is moving out and Shukumar admits to holding his son after he died.
In When Mr. Pirzada Comes to Dinner, a young Indian-American girl meets a Pakistani man her family routinely invites to dinner. Somewhat cut off from the culture of her immigrant parents, Lilia does not understand that Mr. Pirzada, since Partition, is no longer considered the same as her parents. The Indian war with Pakistan in 1971 endangers Mr. Pirzada's daughters. Witnessing his love and fears, Lilia gains a new awareness of a world larger than her own.
Interpreter of Maladies is the story of Indian tour guide Mr. Kapasi. He shows the Indian-American Das family the sun temple in Konark and reveals his second job as a translator of symptoms of patients who speak his native tongue. Mrs. Das declares his job romantic and important, and Mr. Kapasi becomes briefly infatuated with the woman. She is very different - quite American - and he senses she has a bad marriage, as does he. By the end of the day, Mrs. Das admits that her middle child was fathered by another man. Seeking solace in a stranger, Mrs. Das wants a remedy for her malady. However, Mr. Kapasi sees only guilt and cannot offer a solution to her problem.
In A Real Durwan, the residents of an apartment building cast out their old caretaker Boori Ma. Boori Ma spins lavish tales of the luxuries of the life she had to leave as a refugee of Partition. Mrs. Dalal, a resident with a soft spot for Boori Ma, promises the woman new bedding, but that promise is forgotten when her husband brings home new basins. The material jealousy of their neighbors prompts a stream of workers to parade through the building. When one of the basins is stolen, Boori Ma is blamed. A Real Durwan is an exploration of globalization and its ripple effect on personal economics - and the jealousy and fear it can inspire.
Sexy chronicles an affair between aimless young Miranda and married Dev. Miranda is taken with her exotic lover because he appears to be a mature and stable man. He is also the first person who calls her sexy. As Dev's behavior changes when his wife comes back to town, Miranda's guilt is exacerbated by her coworker's report of her cousin's suffering from a husband's infidelity. Still, Miranda seeks knowledge of Dev's Bengali culture. After spending the day with the son of her coworker's cousin, however, Miranda is confronted with both the repercussions of an affair and the reality of the situation. As the boy says, sexy is loving someone you don't know.
Mrs. Sen's is the home where Eliot spends his afternoons in the care of the title character. Mrs. Sen has recently emigrated to America from Calcutta and is not fitting in very well. She misses everything about her home and refuses to learn how to drive - the one activity her husband believes will broaden her life in America. Eliot recognizes this sadness and loss because his own mother is dissatisfied with her life. The birth of her niece and the death of her grandfather cause Mrs. Sen to break down. The only solace she can find is in the fresh fish the market puts on hold for her. Taking Eliot to the market one day, she gets into a car accident. Though unharmed, Eliot is removed from her home and becomes a latchkey kid. Both Mrs. Sen and Eliot are trapped in lives they cannot understand and do not want.
This Blessed House is the home shared by newlyweds Sanjeev and Twinkle. Married after only four months of courtship, their moving in process is marred by growing pains. Twinkle's gleeful obsession with the Christian iconography left behind by previous tenants irks Sanjeev. He thinks that she is childish and content in a way that he can not comprehend. They argue about a statue of the Virgin Mary and Twinkle tells Sanjeev she hates him. Though they make up before their housewarming party, Sanjeev is left with lingering doubts of whether or not they love each other. However, her discarded pair of high heels fills Sanjeev with anticipation. Twinkle finds a silver bust of Jesus that Sanjeev knows will end up on his mantle, but he now feels resigned to the idiosyncrasies of his wife.
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar is told from the point of view of the women of Bibi's village. Bibi is gripped by a mysterious illness for which the only cure is believed to be marriage. Her cousin Haldar and his wife determine her to be damaged goods and do not indulge her fantasy of marriage. When Haldar's wife becomes pregnant, Bibi is exiled for the safety of the baby. After the girl is born, the treatment of Bibi worsens and the village women retaliate by withdrawing their business from Haldar's shop. Haldar and his wife vanish, leaving Bibi to be cared for only by the village. She suffers more attacks and keeps to herself. Months later, worried for her safety, the women check in on her and find her pregnant. Bibi keeps the secret of what happened to her and the women help teach her how to raise a child. Bibi is cured.
In The Third and Final Continent, the narrator recounts the first six weeks of his life in America in 1969, balancing a new job, a new wife, and a new country. While awaiting his wife's green card, the narrator lives in the spare room of a 103-year-old woman (Mrs. Croft) who is struck by his kindness. The narrator acclimates to his new life, cherishing Cambridge and his the new beginning. However, he is nearly indifferent to the arrival of his wife, Mala. At first they are strangers. When the narrator takes Mala to meet Mrs. Croft, a moment of intimacy and understanding between the two bridges their divide. The narrator then speaks from the present and marvels at the journey his life has encompassed.