The Interpreter of Maladies

Who is an interpreter? He’s the one who is capable of interpreting, of understanding the various subtle meanings of life.

What is a malady? It’s an undesirable, unwholesome condition. A trouble.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s maiden novel deals with these two dissimilar, but intricately linked words. She talks about the ‘Interpreter of Maladies’. It was published in the year 2000 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. It was also chosen as the Best Debut of the year.

It’s a collection of nine short stories, which are all bound by a single thread of emotion. This work of hers can be categorized to be a novel of Diaspora. Jhumpa Lahiri’s feelings for a motherland she has hardly been in is reflected in this novel. She longs to be one with her motherland, and that craving surfaces in this novel. The narrative is simple and almost poetic in nature. It is indeed a valuable addition to a collector’s library. There are nine short stories in the novel, which appear to be unlinked, but all of them have more in common than what meets the eye.

The first story, titled ‘A temporary matter’ deals with the breaking marriage of a couple, and the loss of their child. It talks about how they find solace in the power cut every night. Will they go on in this way? Or will they succumb to what they assumed was a temporary matter?

The story ‘When Mr.Pirzada came to dine’ talks mainly about how one nostalgic Asian becomes a brother to another. In this one Lahiri describes in detail the terrors of Indo-Pak war in 1971, witnessed through the television by Bengalis living abroad. Pirzada is a Bangladeshi man who befriends an Indian Bengali family. A bond slowly begins to develop between Pirzada and the daughter of the couple he befriends.

‘A Real Durwan’ explores the story of an old sweeper lady, Boori ma, and how the opinions of people about the workers change with the blink of an eye. This has glimpses of Bengal in its daily nature.

‘Sexy’, on the other hand is a story which deals with how the emigrants from India don’t value the marital relationship. An American woman and an Indian man indulge in an extra marital affair.

The title story ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ is about the fascination that Indians have for the western world, and its inhabitants. Mr.Kapasi, a tour guide is the ‘interpreter’ in the story. He’s all along fascinated by an Indian American woman, but as soon as she confesses her infidelity to him, and he immediately distances himself from her. It talks about emigrant Indians, their nostalgia, their lifestyle, and the fixation that Indians have with the western world.

“Mrs.Sen’s” is about a woman who is new to America and its norms. She misses her country. She baby sits an American boy, and must learn how to drive in order to keep her job as a babysitter.

The novel has a truly Indian flavor and has the aroma of nostalgia.

Trikala Satya

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