Jhumpa Lahiri is an American writer who is mainly famous for her short stories and essays in English. Her collection “Interpreter of Maladies” was launched in 1999. These collection of stories highlight the perplexity that exist in the lives of Indians and their households, with significant subject matters, such as marital distances and difficulties. Lahiri is able to portray all the characters in the various short stories in a way that directly connects them to the Indian culture. The characters that Lahiri brings forward show a particular set of features in common, such as their cultural differences and their struggles to cope up with certain beliefs.
That’s one of the main factors that contribute in bringing Lahiri’s characters to life and make the readers relate to them. One of the stories in the collection, “A Temporary Matter” begins with a notice that everyday for five days, they will cut off the electricity for one hour in the neighborhood. In the same neighborhood live a young couple, Shoba and Shukumar.
It’s evidently seen that they seem to avoid each other all the time as they work at different times of the day. The only time they meet is at dinner, silently eating or checking up on each other in an awkward manner. Their love is non-existent, however, that always wasn’t the case. The reason for them being so distant with each other was the death of their child due to labor difficulties. Before the night of the first blackout, Shoba suggests a game where they tell something they’ve never told each other.
They start to go ahead with this every night, sharing something new everyday. The last day of the power cut, Shoba reveals to Shukumar that she was preparing to live a life without him. She suggested the game to just be able to gather the courage to break this news to him as she had signed off the lease on her new apartment that day. Since the beginning of the story, we see how they are grieving in different ways and how a tragedy changed their lives forever.
Shukumar does remember and sometimes think about how he had thought his life would be and how it ended up being this way. Although they’re both going through the same pain, they fail at supporting and helping each other overcome and face the loss they had. It’s hard for them to get over that tragedy. The pictures that Shukumar keeps of happier times in his life shows us how he’s incapable of facing the reality and making his relationship with Shoba work. Their unwillingness was an important factor that got them stuck in their dying relationship and even their honest conversations every night during the blackout weren’t supposed to fix them, but just get a closure. Instead even in the end, they hurt each other with just their words. Shoba and Shukumar’s self-absorbed attitudes worsened the distances between them and drove them apart. Another story “Interpreter of Maladies” is about an Indian-American family who is visiting India for a vacation and have an Indian tour guide with them. The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Das along with their children Ronny, Bobby and Tina and the guide, Mr. Kapasi decide to visit the Sun Temple. When the family get off for refreshments, Mr. Kapasi notices significant details about them, like how their interactions are American even though they are Indian.
While they’re on the way to the temple, they get to know each other quite well. Mrs. Das begins to get interested in Mr. Kapasi as he tells them about his other job as a translator. When Mr. Das clicks a photo of his wife with Mr. Kapasi, he starts to zone out, daydreaming about how this could be the start of something for him. Mrs. Das begins to study the carvings where there are naked bodies in different positions and beautiful walls when they reach the ruins of the temple. Meanwhile, Mr. Kapasi looks at Mrs. Das. He looks at her physical qualities and is unable to look away, like her skirt that’s short and the tight blouse she has on. He wails about his own unloving marriage. After the family is done roaming around and enjoying the temple visit, they stop by at another tourist site. Mrs. Das stays behind with Mr. Kapasi as the rest of the family hurries to explore and take pictures. It is then that she shockingly confides to Mr. Kapasi that her son, Bobby, is not Mr. Das’s child and that no one knows about this. This shocks Mr. Kapasi and makes him lose all the respect and kindness he had towards her since the beginning of their tour. He ends up saying something brutally honest to her and she joins her family back to continue the tour, but then some monkeys present on the site surround Bobby. Mr. Kapasi is the one who helps Bobby and chases the monkeys off.
Lahiri shows the depth of how broken relationships can be as we see how broken Mr. And Mrs. Das are and how distant they are with each other. In the beginning, they have an argument over something so small that it could be called pointless to argue over such a thing, like arguing about who would take their daughter to the bathroom and after giving up, Mrs. Das doesn’t bother to hold her daughter’s hand and keep her close while taking her. Even though she’s their daughter, not caring about their own children’s needs show how careless they are in this relationship and how much of a burden it is on both of them. Moreover, Bobby not being Mr. Das’s son worsens their relationship as she feels terrible when she sees her children. Mr. Das has no knowledge about it and there is no way that a mistake like this can be fixed in a relationship like this. It’s safe to say that the children are the ones keeping them together, otherwise neither Mr. Das nor Mrs. Das would be interested in continuing their lives with each other.
A third story by Jhumpa Lahiri that highlights broken relationships is “Sexy”. This short story is about a young woman, Miranda who falls in love with a Bengali man who is married. She starts to wonder about her own private affair with Dev as her friend complains to her about her cousin being cheated on. Miranda doesn’t break it off knowing that Dev is married. Dev calls her “sexy” and she too thinks that he’s handsome. However, the twist in the story takes place when she babysits her friend’s cousin who is in town, Rohin. The little boy’s parents are separately with each other as well. He start to make awkward requests to Miranda, like requesting her to put on a cocktail dress. When she reveals herself wearing the dress, he calls her sexy and that shocks Miranda. She asks Rohin what he think that word means and he simply says that it means “loving someone you don’t know”.
Something clicked in Miranda’s mind when she heard those words as Rohin mentioned that his father sat next to someone and called her sexy and now he loved her instead of his wife. Miranda is then able to call off her affair with Dev and becomes successful in finding her independence. Jhumpa Lahiri uses factors as lust and selfishness in this story to show how weak these kind of relationships can be. Miranda can be seen as naïve as she doesn’t realize what she’s doing is wrong but when she does, she makes things right and never sees Dev again. Dev is an older man who we can see is selfish and manipulative as he just uses Miranda for his own loneliness or convenience. Miranda is able to realize the fact that she’s nothing more than a mistress for Dev. Lahiri proves how failure is inevitable where there are weak affairs.
Similarly, in “The treatment of Bibi Haldar” we see how different relationships can also be weak, such as relatives. She gets ill-treated by her cousin and his wife and is left alone, away from them most of the times. She is blamed for things out of her control, such as when her cousin’s baby falls sick with a fever and the wife blames Bibi for the baby’s illness. In the end, it is the neighbors who help Bibi. This story ends successfully as Bibi proves that anything can be achieved and close relatives are not necessarily needed for that as she starts to run a business in a storage room. Lahiri proves that sometimes even the strongest and blood related family is weak and how strangers can be more than family than the real family.
Jhumpa Lahiri has this plain style of writing that takes readers into the depth of the characters as they are described in the stories. The main themes of her stories have been lack of communication, loss and grief, selfishness, distances between couples and extra-marital affairs. Stories like these make us remember how at times even the strongest of relationships fail to overcome problems with simple solutions, either due to their ego or the difficulty to communicate. Not all storiws that Lahiri wrote ended the same way as we can see how some characters are able to overcome the problems and move forward. Failed relations are something that’s increasing day by day as people are no longer interested in solving conflicts or rekindle their love for each other.