Armytage Open Lecture

 1. What “an interpreter” means to Mr. Kapasi

The job was a sign of his failings. In his youth he’d
been a devoted scholar of foreign languages, the owner
of an impressive collection of dictionaries. He had
dreamed of being an interpreter for diplomats and
dignitaries, resolving conflicts between people and
nations, settling disputes of which he alone could
understand both sides. He was a self-educated man. In a
series of notebooks, in the evenings before his parents
settled his marriage, he had listed the common
etymologies of words, and at one point in his life he was
confident that he could converse, if given the
opportunity, in English, French, Russian, Portuguese,
and Italian, not to mention Hindi, Bengali, Orissi, and
Gujarati. Now only a handful of European phrases
remained in his memory, scattered words for things like
saucers and chairs. English was the only non-Indian
language he spoke fluently anymore. Mr. Kapasi knew it
was not a remarkable talent. Sometimes he feared that
his children knew better English than he did, just from
watching television. Still, it came in handy for the tours.

2. Mr. Kapasi’s fancy about the friendship with Mrs. Das

“What’s your address, Mr. Kapasi?” she
inquired, fishing for something inside her straw bag.
“You would like my address?”
“So we can send you copies,” she said. “Of the
pictures.” She handed him a scrap of paper which she
had hastily ripped from a page of her film magazine.
The blank portion was limited, for the narrow strip was
crowded by lines of text and a tiny picture of a hero and
heroine embracing under a eucalyptus tree.
The paper curled as Mr. Kapasi wrote his address in
clear, careful letters. She would write to him, asking
about his days interpreting at the doctor’s office, and he
would respond eloquently, choosing only the most
entertaining anecdotes, ones that would make her laugh
out loud as she read them in her house in New Jersey. In
time she would reveal the disappointment of her
marriage, and he his. In this way their friendship would
grow, and flourish. He would possess a picture of the
two of them, eating lined onions under a magenta
umbrella, which he would keep, he decided, safely
tucked between the pages of his Russian grammar. As
his mind raced, Mr. Kapasi experienced a mild and
pleasant shock. 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
think 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.

3. What Mr. Kapasi wanted from Mrs. Das

Mr. Kapasi was not certain exactly what the word
suggested, but he had a feeling it was a favorable
response. He hoped that Mrs. Das had understood
Surya’s beauty, his power. Perhaps they would discuss it
further in their letters. He would explain things to her,
things about India, and she would explain things to him
about America. In its own way this correspondence
would fulfill his dream, of serving as an interpreter
between nations. He looked at her straw bag, delighted
that his address lay nestled among its contents. When he
pictured her so many thousands of miles away he
plummeted, so much so that he had an overwhelming
urge to wrap his arms around her, to freeze with her,
even for an instant, in an embrace witnessed by his
favorite Surya. But Mrs. Das had already started

4. What Mrs. Das Wanted from Mr. Kapasi

"I beg your pardon. Mrs. Das, but why have you told
me this information?” Mr. Kapasi asked when she had
finally finished speaking, and had turned to face him
once again.
“For God’s sake, stop calling me Mrs. Das. I’m
twenty-eight. You probably have children my age.”
“Not quite.” It disturbed Mr. Kapasi to learn that she
thought of him as a parent. The feeling he had had
toward her, that had made him check his reflection in
the rearview mirror as they drove, evaporated a little.
“I told you because of your talents.” She put the
packet of puffed rice back into her bag without folding
over the top.
“I don’t understand.” Mr. Kapasi said.
“Don’t you see? For eight years I haven’t been able to
express this to anybody, not to friends, certainly not to
Raj. He doesn’t even suspect it. He thinks I’m still in love
with him. Well, don’t you have anything to say?”
“About what?”
“About what I’ve just told you. About my secret, and
about how terrible it makes me feel. I feel terrible
looking at my children, and at Raj, always terrible. I
have terrible urges, Mr. Kapasi, to throw things away.
One day I had the urge to throw everything I own out
the window, the television, the children, everything.
Don’t you think it’s unhealthy?”
He was silent.
“Mr. Kapasi, don’t you have anything to say? I
thought that was your job.”
“My job is to give tours, Mrs. Das.”
“Not that. Your other job. As an interpreter.”
“But we do not face a language barrier. What need is
there for an interpreter?”
 “That’s not what I mean. I would never have told you
otherwise. Don’t you realize what it means for me to tell
“What does it mean?”
“It means that I’m tired of feeling so terrible all the
time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, I’ve been in pain eight
years. I was hoping you could help me feel better, say
the right thing. Suggest some kind of remedy.”

5. Disillusionment

He looked at her, in her red plaid skirt and
strawberry T-shirt, a woman not yet thirty, who loved
neither her husband nor her children, who had already
fallen out of love with life. Her confession depressed
him, depressed him all the more when he thought of Mr.
Das at the top of the path, Tina clinging to his shoulders,
taking pictures of ancient monastic cells cut into the hills
to show his students in America, unsuspecting and
unaware that one of his sons was not his own. Mr.
Kapasi felt insulted that Mrs. Das should ask him to
interpret her common, trivial little secret. She did not
resemble the patients in the doctor’s office, those who
came glassy-eyed and desperate, unable to sleep or
breathe or urinate with ease, unable, above all, to give
words to their pains. Still, Mr. Kapasi believed it was his
duty to assist Mrs. Das. Perhaps he ought to tell her to
confess the truth to Mr. Das. He would explain that
honesty was the best policy. Honesty, surely, would help
her feel better, as she’d put it. Perhaps he would offer to
preside over the discussion, as a mediator. He decided to
begin with the most obvious question, to get to the heart
of the matter, and so he asked, “Is it really pain you feel,
Mrs. Das, or is it guilt?”
She turned to him and glared, mustard oil thick on
her frosty pink lips. She opened her mouth to say
something, but as she glared at Mr. Kapasi some certain
knowledge seemed to pass before her eyes, and she
stopped. It crushed him; he knew at that moment that he
was not even important enough to be properly insulted.




1. How do Mr. Kapasi and Mr. & Mrs. Das represent their culture, and how different are they?


2. What cultural gap was there between Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das?


3. What cultural stereotypes of love and marriage are being represented here? 


Some comments on “Interpreter of Maladies”(From Sparknotes)


Culture Clash


Central themes of all of Lahiri’s work, “Interpreter of Maladies” included, are the difficulties that Indians have in relating to Americans and the ways in which Indian Americans are caught in the middle of two very different cultures. We learn quite a few details about where the Das family fits into this cultural divide. Mr. and Mrs. Das were both born and raised in America, although their retired parents have now moved to India to live. The Dases visit every few years, bringing the children with them. They are Indian but not of India, and their dress and manner are wholly American. Although Mr. Kapasi recognizes some common cultural heritage, the Dases are no more familiar with India than any other tourist. Mr. Das relies on a tourist guidebook to tell him about the country through which they are traveling, and Mrs. Das could not be more uninterested in her surroundings if she tried. Although India is their parents’ home, Mr. and Mrs. Das are foreigners. Mr. Das even seems to take pride in his status as a stranger, telling Mr. Kapasi about his American roots with an “air of sudden confidence.”

           Though Mr. Kapasi and the Dases do share an Indian heritage, their marriages reveal the extent of how different their cultures really are. Mr. Kapasi believes that he can relate to Mrs. Das’s unhappy marriage because he himself is in an unhappy marriage. He seeks this common ground as a way to find friendship and connection. However, the connection fails because the marriages are so vastly different. Mr. Kapasi’s parents arranged his marriage, and he and Mrs. Kapasi have nothing in common. By contrast, Mrs. Das fell in love with Mr. Das at a young age, and although their union was encouraged by their parents, her marriage was not arranged. Mrs. Das’s comments about her and Mr. Das’s sexual behaviors during their courtship shock Mr. Kapasi, who has never seen his wife naked. Furthermore, Mr. Kapasi is offended by the concept of infidelity in Mrs. Das’s marriage. This lack of understanding reflects a differing understanding of duty and family between the two cultures. The two marriages may both be unhappy, but the causes, remedies, mistakes, and results of that unhappiness have no overlap whatsoever. Mr. Kapasi’s fantasy of forging a friendship with Mrs. Das is shattered even before he sees his address slip away in the wind. The cultural divide between him and Mrs. Das is, from his view, simply too vast.





   Related Keyword : Lahiri Interpreter of Maladies