Monday, September 10, 2007

"Interpreter of Maladies"

Young parents Mina and Raj Das, of New Brunswick, NJ, travel in India with their three children. Their tour guide is Mr. Kapasi, also employed as an “interpreter of maladies” for Gujarati patients who speak a language different from their doctor. Mrs. Das takes an interest in Mr. Kapasi, and vice versa. Mrs. Das uses Mr. Kapasi to express her frustration with her husband and her life, while Mr. Kapasi imagines she actually cares for him and that they will keep in touch after the Das family leaves India.

The first line of this story is “At the tea stall Mr. and Mrs. Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet.” Since neither Mr. or Mrs. Das is physically disabled, this says terrible things about these two as parents. Who could argue about such a task while a child waits to relieve him or herself? What better way to make a child feel like an unwanted nuisance?

In this story, American children of Indian immigrants visit India and act like “ugly American” tourists. They treat “the help” condescendingly. They set bad examples for their children. Have you witnessed behavior like this – in parents, adults, employees, employers? Ever been on either end of the equation? What happened?


Anonymous said...

Interpreter of Maladies was included in best American short stories in 1999,edited Amy Tan. This tale of Indian Physician's interpreter who moonlights as a tour guide eventually became the centerpiece of her short story anthology of the same title. The inspiration for the story came to Lahiri after visiting a friend who acted as a Russian liaison for a Boston doctor. The words " Interpreter of Maladies" later came to her,and she found it poetic and filed it away, thinking about it on occasion. As she recalled to Gillian Flynn in Entertainment Weekly, over the years it was faded, and every so often she'd come across it and think that," If she's ever going to do something with it". Then one day she did.

Lila said...

Yes, I remember reading that in a different interview with Lahiri - that she saved the title up for the right story. I love that, that such a specific title existed long before the story. I would expect it to happen in the reverse.

Here's the link to the interview where Lahiri discusses this. Text version is below that:

"The title came to me long before the book did, or, for that matter, the story to which it refers. In 1991, during my first year as a graduate student at Boston University, I bumped intoan acquaintance of mine. I barely knew him, but the year before, he had very kindly helped me move ... to a one-bedroom apartment. When I asked him what he was doing with himself, he said he was working at a doctor’s office, interpreting for a doctor who had a number of Russian patients who had difficulty explaining their ailments in English. As I walked away from that brief conversation, I thought continuously about what a unique position it was, and by the time I'd reached my house, the phrase "interpreter of maladies" was planted in my head. I told myself, one day I'll write a story with that title. Every now and then I struggled to find a story to suit the title. Nothing came to me. About five years passed. Then one day I jotted down a paragraph containing the bare bones of "Interpreter of Maladies" in my notebook. When I was putting the collection together, I knew from the beginning that this had to be the title story, because it best expresses, thematically, the predicament at the heart of the book—the dilemma, the difficulty, and often the impossibility of communicating emotional pain and affliction to others, as well as expressing it to ourselves. In some senses I view my position as a writer, in so far as I attempt to articulate these emotions, as a sort of interpreter as well."
--Jhumpa Lahiri

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mohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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