Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies Quotes and Analysis

Each day, Shukumar noticed, her beauty, which had once overwhelmed him, seemed to fade. The cosmetics that had seemed superfluous were necessary now, not to improve her but to define her somehow.

Narrator, A Temporary Matter p. 14

On the surface, this quote encapsulates a husband's observation of his wife's fading beauty during the natural course of aging. However, given the emotional tumult that occurs during this story, there is more than meets the eye. Shoba pulls away from her husband after the loss of her child. She is no longer the same woman that Shukumar married, nor is Shukumar the same man. Death has ravaged their marriage and their lives. Shoba's makeup represents her clinging to a time before their sadness. The makeup defines Shoba because Shoba no longer knows who she is.

It made no sense to me. Mr. Pirzada and my parents spoke the same language, laughed at the same jokes, looked more or less the same. They ate pickled mangoes with their meals, at rice every night for supper with their hands.

Lilia, When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, p. 25

This quote straddles the line between childlike naivete and wisdom. Because Lilia has not been educated about neither the events of Partition in 1947 nor the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan during 1971, she does not understand the divide that politics and history has created between her parents and Mr. Pirzada. To Lilia, Mr. Pirzada is not any different than her parents, culturally or personally. Through Mr. Pirzada, Lilia gains a window into a world far away from her own. She lives in the relative safety of America and has never had to struggle for basic necessities like her parents. The kindnesses extended to Lilia by Mr. Pirzada make her aware of his own children. If Mr. Pirzada is like her parents, she is implied to reason, then Mr. Pirzada's daughters must be just like her. Through his plight, Lilia gleans a deeper understanding of humanity.

It was similar to a feeling he used to experience long ago when, after months of translating with the aid of a dictionary, he would finally read a passage from a French novel, or an Italian sonnet, and understand the words, one after another, unencumbered by his own efforts. In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world, that all struggles were rewarded, that all of life's mistakes made sense in the end. The promise that he would hear from Mrs. Das now filled him with the same belief.

Narrator, Interpreter of Maladies, p. 55-56

Like all of Lahiri's characters, Mr. Kapasi is searching for meaning. Because of circumstances beyond his control, Mr. Kapasi is stuck in a marriage and profession that he would not have chosen for himself. He longed to become a translator for diplomats but, after his marriage and illness of his son, the financial reality of his life forced him to settle for a mundane translation job in order to provide for his family. Mrs. Das awakens passion in him by taking an interest in his job as an interpreter for a doctor. He has never thought of the job as anything other than routine. She calls it romantic. Attention from her allows him to believe that he is necessary. By the end of their day trip, Mrs. Das is revealed to be untrustworthy. Ultimately, Mr. Kapasi cannot understand her deeds or her reasoning. The meaning he proscribes to their encounter flutters away in the breeze.

"Boori Ma's mouth is full of ashes. But that is nothing new. What is new is the face of this building. What a building like this needs is a real durwan."

Mr. Chatterjee, A Real Durwan, p. 82

Boori Ma is not believed when she insists that she had nothing to do with the robbery of the basin. She has been spinning tales about her old life before Partition, so her credibility is almost nonexistent with the residents of the apartment building. Boori Ma is more than a victim of her own making, however. She is a victim of the times. The residents are torn apart when the Dalals - the wealthiest and nicest to Boori Ma - bring home basins for the building. The residents are lower class, without technological conveniences. The basin causes both resentment and jealousy. Rumors spread about the Dalals, as rumors spread about Boori Ma. Ultimately, Boori Ma is cast out because the residents want to believe their lives are greater than they are. Their illusion comes at the expense of Boori Ma.

"It means loving someone you don't know."

Miranda felt Rohin's words under her skin, the same way she'd felt Dev's. But instead of going hot she felt numb. It reminded her of the way she'd felt at the Indian grocery, the moment she knew, without even looking at a picture, that Madhuri Dixit, whom Dev's wife resembled was beautiful.

Rohin/Narrator, Sexy, p. 107-108

The title of the story Sexy has multiple meanings. For Miranda, it is an alien feeling that Dev brings to life during their affair. Dev is the first man who compliments her in this way. At first, that feeling makes her feel special, loved. But as the affair drags on, its becomes clear to her that the attraction between she and Dev is purely physical. When Rohin tells her his interpretation of the word, Miranda realizes that the affair is doomed. Dev does not love her and he cannot love her, because he doesn't really know her. Rohin's bluntness startles Miranda because it throws the nature of the relationship into sharp relief. Rohin is living with the emotional damage wrought by infidelity, so his presence brings Miranda's guilt to the surface. Once exhilarated by the word, she is disgusted by sexy, because it no longer has meaning.

"Everything is there."

Mrs. Sen, Mrs. Sen's, p. 113

"There" is India, from where Mrs. Sen has reluctantly moved. This simple line exposes both her dissatisfaction with her situation and her unwillingness to try to improve it. Mrs. Sen places emphasis on items that remind her of her home. They both delight her and make her sad, as they can never compare. Fresh fish, aerograms, her knife and recordings of her family life alternatingly console and depress her. Mrs. Sen refuses to learn how to drive because she stubbornly clings to the hope that she won't have to make a life in America.

The tender fourth movement, the adagietto, began. During breakfast, Sanjeev had read in the liner notes that Mahler had proposed to his wife by sending her the manuscript of this portion of the score. Although there were elements of tragedy and struggle in the Fifth Symphony, he had read, it was principally music of love and happiness.

He heard the toilet flush. "By the way," Twinkle hollered, "if you want to impress people, I wouldn't play this music. It's putting me to sleep."

Narrator/Twinkle, This Blessed House, p. 140

This disconnect is at the heart of Sanjeev's doubts about his wife Twinkle. As a bachelor, Sanjeev ordered classical CDs and pored over the contents of their liner notes in order to stave off loneliness. He believes he has an understanding of what love is - it is something that can be reasoned. Twinkle is all emotion and feeling. Unlike Sanjeev, she is spontaneous and content with the mysteries in life. She is bored by the music that Sanjeev plays because there is no dissonance in it. Despite Sanjeev's surface understanding and Twinkle's dismissal of the music, there is truth in it. Love encompasses both happiness and struggle. This period in their marriage is not overwhelmed by struggle. The struggle are just growing pains, necessary to love.

"Besides, who would marry her? The girl knows nothing, about anything, speaks backward, is practically thirty, can't light a coal stove, can't boil rice, can't tell the difference between fennel and a cumin seed. Imagine her attempting to feed a man!"

They had a point. Bibi had never been taught to be a woman.

Haldar's wife/Narrator, The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, p. 163

The women narrating The Treatment of Bibi Haldar take care of the afflicted girl but are also relieved that she is not their responsibility. Although she is treated cruelly by her own family, the women realize that she is ignorant of "practical matters." There is sexism at work in this story. Bibi's mysterious epilepsy is undiagnosed officially and treated by a variety of folk remedies. Ultimately, the only cure untried is marriage. The women say that no one has ever taught Bibi how to be a woman, as if one needs lessons. In a society where women are not valued equally as men, Bibi's sickness is both considered a nuisance and reduced down to a sexual problem. Though at the end her child seems to cure her, she is also able to support herself and value herself for the first time.

At times I thought of the tiny room on the other side of the wall which belonged to my mother. Now the room was practically empty; the wooden pallet on which she'd once slept was piled with trunks and old bedding. Nearly six years ago, before leaving for London, I had watched her die in that bed...

Narrator, The Third and Final Continent, p. 182

There is a thin membrane that separates life and death in this story. The beginning of the narrator's new life abroad is marked by the death of his mother. Laying in bed with his new wife, the narrator thinks back at the tragic last days of his mother's life. This story focuses on the six weeks before Mala arrives in Cambridge but also reaches out to the present day to chart the lives of one man and his family. Every beginning bleeds into an ending. When the narrator's mother was dying, he had to take care of her and, finally, light her funeral pyre. When Mrs. Croft dies, Mala is there to comfort the narrator. This begins a new chapter in his life and marriage, as the intimacy between them grows with shared experience.

While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. 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.

Narrator, The Third and Final Continent, p. 198

The mundane becomes huge in both this story, and in the collection at large. Each moment of the characters' lives are rendered in detail and with grace. This final story of the collection features Indian characters who come to America and not only assimilate well, but choose to grow old in their adoptive country. The collection ends on a positive note, signaling that - like Sanjeev's favorite symphony - life is full of struggle and happiness.