"Interpreter of Maladies" (1999, 27 pages)
Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent
A Reading Life Project
The Short Stories of Jhumpa Lahiri
After a bit of pondering I have decided to include my posts on the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri as part of my project on Short Stories of the Indian Subcontinent. She was born in England to parents from India and is a citizen of the USA. Her stories are mostly about Indian immigrants to America. I am currently reading her first collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies and posting on the short stories in the work. (There is some background information on her in my prior posts on her stories.) Upon completion of the nine stories in this collection, I will then read the stories in her second collection, The Unaccustomed Earth.
"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dinner" is set in 1971. It is told by the daughter of a professor, living and teaching in the United States and is about their relationship with Mr. Pirzada, a frequent dinner guest. Mr. Pirzada is from Dacca, then part of Pakistan and is a Mulslim. The host family are from Indian and are Hindus. In Dakka Mr. Pirzada had a wife of twenty years, a lectureship in botany and six daughters. He was in the USA on a grant to write a book about the changing of the leaves in New England. The grant was modest and he lived in a dorm room. Back home in Dakka teachers were being dragged into the streets and shot, girls were being taken into barracks and raped in religious riots. He has not heard from his family for months. The Indian family was in the habit of having him over for dinner. When war started between Indian and Pakistan they kept up the custom but the old openness was a little lost. I will not tell more of the plot of this great story. It a wonderful account of a man coping with terrible stress and off how a war far away, a war that makes little real sense changes so many lives. It is also about religious conflicts as Mr. Pirizada is a Muslim and his hosts are Hindus.
"The Interpreter of Maladies", the title story in the collection, is about a married couple, Mr and Mrs Das from India, now living in the USA in New Jersey, who have come back to India on vacation, along with their kids. Mr. Kapasai is their guide. He cannot help but notice the shaved, largely bares legs of Mrs. Das, who has adopted a purely American style. They are on their way to see the Sun Temple at Konarak. The guide notices how young the couple is, under thirty, they have a daughter and two sons. They looked Indian but dressed like foreigners. Mr. Kapasai often guides tourists for an agency as he has an excellent command of English. We see the family trying to get used to India. One of the boys sees a goat by the side of the road and wants to give it a piece of gum. The guide, in his fifties, is fascinated by Mrs. Das, she is so much bolder than most Indian women. It is not just that but she takes a personal interest in him, asking him about his life. She finds out he has another job also. He works as an interpreter for a doctor. Many of the doctor's patients speak a language the doctor does not and the guide's job is to translate for the patients and the doctor. On the way to the temple the couple and their children are amazed when they see some monkeys and horrified when their son is attacked by one of the monkeys. Mrs Das tells the guide something shocking. As the trip process she asks for his address and tells him she will send him pictures of the trip. He begins to imagine they will develop a close bond via letters. I will not tell the ending of this story but it is really a profound commentary on colonialism, among other things.
Do you have a favorite story by Jhumpa Lahiri?