LAtlIRI/Interpreter of Maladies. JHUMPA LAHIRI [b. ] girl had complained. The first thing Mr. Kapasi had noticed when he saw. Mr. and Mrs. Das, standing. The stories in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection, Interpreter of Maladies, differ in approach and perspective while remaining tied to the same themes and ideas. Each of. Download full-text PDF. Interpreting Malady in Jhumpa Lahiri's winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies written by Nilanjana.
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Interpreter ofmaladies /Jhumpa Lahiri. p. cm. Contents: Atemporary matter— When homeranking.infoa came to dine — Interpreter of maladies — Areal durwan —. Interpreter of Maladies. Born in London and raised in Rhode Island by her Bengali parents,. Jhumpa Lahiri (b. ) visited Calcutta often as a child and recog-. INTERPRETER OF MALADIES By JHUMPA LAHIRI Contents A Temporary Matter 1 When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine 25 Interpreter of Maladies 48 A Real.
Now it was his turn to speak. War was declared officially on December 4, and twelve days later, the Pakistani army, weakened by having to fight three thousand miles from their source of supplies, surrendered in Dacca. I could see the blue book of the guy next to me. Penny Wise. On the screen I saw tanks rolling through dusty streets, and fallen buildings, and forests of unfamiliar trees into which East Pakistani refugees had fled, seeking safety over the Indian border. Kapasi studying a picture of the elephant god taped to the glove compartment.
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This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. Advance article alerts. Article activity alert. Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic. Citing articles via Google Scholar. Who Writes for Black Children? Women of Valor: Karen E. Uni ike the watch on his wrist, the pocket watch, he had explained to me, was set to the local timein Dacca, eleven hours ahead.
For the duration of the meal the watch rested on his folded paper napkin on the coffee table. H e never seemed to consult it. Now that I had learned Mr. Pi rzada was not an Indian, I began to study him with extra care, to try to figure out what made him different.
I decided that the pocketwatch was one of those things. When I saw it that night, as he wound it and arranged it on the coffee table, an uneasiness possessed me; life, I realized, was being lived in Dacca first.
I imagined Mr. Pirzada's daughters ri si ng from si eep, tyi ng ri bbons i n thei r hai r, anti ci pati ng breakfast, preparing for school. Pirzada really belonged. At six-thirty, which was when the national news began, my father raised the volume and adjusted the antennas.
Usually I occupied myself with a book, but that night my father insisted that I pay attention. On the screen I saw tanks rolling through dusty streets, and fallen buildings, and forests of unfamiliar trees into which East Pakistani refugees had fled, seeking safety over the Indian border. I saw boats with fan-shaped sails floating on wide coffee-colored rivers, a barricaded university, newspaper offices burnt to the ground. I turned to look at Mr. Pirzada; the images flashed in miniature across his eyes.
As he watched he had an immovable expression on his face, composed but alert, as if someone were giving him directions to an unknown destination. During the commercial my mother went to the kitchen to get more rice, and my father and M r. Pirzada deplored the policies of a general named Yahyah Khan. They discussed intrigues I did not know, a catastrophe I could not comprehend. But I could no longer eat. I could only steal glances at Mr. Pirzada, sitting beside mein his olive green jacket, calmly creating a well in his rice to make room for a second helping of lentils.
He was not my notion of a man burdened by such grave concerns. I wondered if the reason he was always so smartly dressed was in preparation to endure with dignity whatever news assailed him, perhaps even to attend a funeral at a moments notice. Pirzada from a balcony. I imagined how relieved hewould be. But this never happened. That night when I placed the plastic egg filled with cinnamon hearts in the box beside my bed, I did not feel the ceremonious satisfaction I normally did.
I tried not to think about Mr. Pirzada, in his lime-scented overcoat, connected to the unruly, sweltering world we had viewed a few hours ago in our bright, carpeted living room. And yet for several moments that was all I could think about.
My stomach tightened as I worried whether his wife and seven daughters were now members of the drifting, clamoring crowd that had flashed at intervals on the screen. In an effort to banish the image I looked around my room, at the yellow canopied bed with matching flounced curtains, at framed class pictures mounted on white and violet papered walls, at the penciled inscriptions by the closet door where my father recorded my height on each of my birthdays.
But the more I tried to distract myself, the more I began to convince myself that Mr. Pirzada's family was in all likelihood dead. Eventually I took a square of white chocolate out of the box, and unwrapped it, and then I did something I had never done before. I put the chocolate in my mouth, letting it soften until the last possible moment, and then as I chewed it slowly, I prayed that Mr.
Pirzada's family was safe and sound. I had never prayed for anything before, had never been taught or told to, but I decided, given the circumstances, that it was something I should do. That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for I feared that I would somehow rinse the prayer out as well. No one at school talked about the war followed so faithfully in my living room.
We continued to study the American Revolution, and learned about the injustices of taxation without representation, and memorized passages from the Declaration of Independence. During recess the boys would divide in two groups, chasing each other wildly around the swings and seesaws, Redcoats against the colonies. In the classroom our teacher, Mrs. Kenyon, pointed frequently to a map that emerged like a movie screen from the top of the chalkboard, charting the route of the Mayflower or showing us the location of the Liberty Bell.
Each week two members of the class gave a report on a particular aspect of the Revolution, and so one day I was sent to the school library with my friend Dora to learn about the surrender at Yorktown. Kenyon handed us a slip of paper with the names of three books to look up in the card catalogue. We found them right away, and sat down at a low round table to read and take notes. But I could not concentrate. I returned to the blond-wood shelves, to a section I had noticed labeled "Asia.
Eventually I found a book titled Pakistan: A Land and Its People. I sat on a footstool and opened the book. The laminated jacket crackled in my grip. I began turning the pages, filled with photos of rivers and rice fields and men in military uniforms. There was a chapter about Dacca, and I began to read about its rainfall, and its jute production. Kenyon's in the library.
She came to check up on us. Kenyon emerged, the aroma of her perfume filling up the tiny aisle, and lifted the book by the tip of its spine as if it were a hair clinging to my sweater.
She glanced at the cover, then at me. The report came after the first set of commercials, sometimes the second. The press had been censored, removed, restricted, rerouted. Some days, many days, only a death toll was announced, prefaced by a reiteration of the general situation. More poets were executed, more villages set ablaze. In spite of it all, night after night, my parents and Mr. Pirzada enjoyed long, leisurely meals.
After the television was shut off, and the dishes washed and dried, they joked, and told stories, and dipped biscuits in their tea. When they tired of discussing political matters they discussed, instead, the progress of Mr. Eventually I was sent upstairs to do my homework, but through the carpet I heard them as they drank more tea, and listened to cassettes of Kishore Kumar, and played Scrabble on the coffee table, laughing and arguing long into the night about the spellings of English words.
I wanted to join them, wanted, above all, to console Mr. Pirzada somehow. But apart from eating a piece of candy for the sake of his family and praying for their safety, there was nothing I could do. They played Scrabble until the eleven o'clock news, and then, sometime around midnight, Mr. Pirzada walked back to his dormitory. For this reason I never saw him leave, but each night as I drifted off to sleep I would hear them, anticipating the birth of a nation on the other side of the world.
One day in October Mr. Pirzada asked upon arrival, "What are these large orange vegetables on people's doorsteps? A type of squash? It indicates what? To scare people away. Pirzada said, grinning back. Before supper, while my father and Mr. Pirzada agreed, and rose from the sofa. He glanced at me for approval. For the first time we all gathered around the dining table, my mother, my father, M r. Pirzada, and I. While the television aired unattended we covered the tabletop with newspapers.
Pirzada draped his jacket over the chair behind him, removed a pair of opal cuff links, and rolled up the starched sleeves of his shirt.
He made an initial incision and drew the knife around. When he had come full circle he lifted the cap by the stem; it loosened effortlessly, and Mr. Pirzada leaned over the pumpkin for a moment to inspect and inhale its contents. My mother gave him a long metal spoon with which he gutted the interior until the last bits of string and seeds were gone. My father, meanwhile, separated the seeds from the pulp and set them out to dry on a cookie sheet, so that we could roast them later on.
I drew two triangles against the ridged surface for the eyes, which Mr. Pirzada dutifully carved, and crescents for eyebrows, and another triangle for the nose. The mouth was all that remained, and the teeth posed a challenge.
I hesitated. Pirzada said. As a compromise I drew a kind of grimace, straight across, neither mournful nor friendly. He had nearly finished when the national news began. The reporter mentioned Dacca, and we all turned to listen: An Indian official announced that unless the world helped to relieve the burden of East Pakistani refugees, India would have to go to war against Pakistan. The reporter's face dripped with sweat as he relayed the information.
He did not wear a tie or a jacket, dressed instead as if he himself were about to take part in the battle. He shielded his scorched face as he hollered things to the cameraman. The knife slipped from Mr. Pirzada's hand and made a gash dipping toward the base of the pumpkin. I will buy another. Wewill try again. He took the knife from Mr. Pirzada, and carved around the gash, evening it out, dispensing altogether with the teeth I had drawn.
What resulted was a disproportionately large hole the size of a lemon, so that our jack-o'-lantern wore an expression of placid astonishment, the eyebrows no longer fierce, floating in frozen surprise above a vacant, geometric gaze. For Halloween I was a witch. Dora, my trick-or-treating partner, was a witch too. We wore black capes fashioned from dyed pillowcases and conical hats with wide cardboard brims.
We shaded our faces green with a broken eyeshadow that belonged to Dora's mother, and my mother gave us two burlap sacks that had once WHEN MR. That year our parents decided that we were old enough to roam the neighborhood unattended.
Our plan was to walk from my house to Dora's, from where I was to call to say I had arrived safely, and then Dora's mother would drive me home. My father equipped us with flashlights, and I had to wear my watch and synchronize it with his. We were to return no later than nineo'clock. When Mr. Pirzada arrived that evening he presented me with a box of chocolate-covered mints. He gazed at my green face, and the hat secured by a string under my chin. Gingerly he lifted the hem of the cape, under which I was wearing a sweater and a zipped fleece jacket.
He set it right. Pirzada removed his shoes he did not place them there as he normally did, but inside the closet instead. He began to unbutton his coat, and I waited to take it from him, but Dora called me from the bathroom to say that she needed my help drawing a moleon her chin. When wewerefinally ready my mother took a picture of us in front of the fireplace, and then I opened the front door to leave. Pirzada and my father, who had not gone into the living room yet, hovered in the foyer.
Outside it was already dark. In the distance came the sounds of scampering feet, and the howls of the older boys who wore no costume at all other than a rubber mask, and the rustling apparel of the youngest children, some so young that they were carried from door to door in the arms of their parents. Pirzada knit his brows together. It's a tradition. Pirzada suggested. He looked suddenly tired and small, standing there in his splayed, stockinged feet, and his eyes contained a panic I had never seen before.
In spite ofthecold I began to sweat inside my pillowcase. Pirzada," my mother said, "Lilia will be perfectly safe with her friend. If they Iose their way? It was the first time I had uttered those words to Mr. Pirzada, two simple words I had tried but failed to tell him for weeks, had said only in my prayers.
It shamed me now that I had said them for my own sake. He placed one of his stocky fingers on my cheek, then pressed it to the back of his own hand, leaving a faint green smear. We left, stumbling slightly in our black pointy thrift- store shoes, and when we turned at the end of the driveway to wave good-bye, Mr. I felt that my saying it made it true, that Mr. Pirzada's daughters really were missing, and that he would never see them again.
I meant, he misses them. They live in a different country, and he hasn't seen them in awhile, that's all. Some people had switched off all their lights for effect, or strung rubber bats in their windows.
At the McIntyres' a coffin was placed i n front of the door, and Mr. M cl ntyre rose from it in silence, his face covered with chalk, and deposited a fistful of candy corns into our sacks.
Several people told me that they had never seen an Indian witch before. Others performed the transaction without comment. As we paved our way with the parallel beams of our flashlights we saw eggs cracked in the middle of the road, and cars covered with shaving cream, and toilet paper garlanding the branches of trees.
By the time we reached Dora's house our hands were chapped from carrying our bulging burlap bags, and our feet were sore and swollen.
Her mother gave us bandages for our blisters and served us warm cider and caramel popcorn. She reminded me to call my parents to tell them I had arrived safely, and when I did I could hear the television in the background.
When I replaced the phone on the receiver it occurred to me that the television wasn't on at Dora's house at all. Her father was lying on the couch, reading a magazine, with a glass of wine on the coffee table, and there was saxophone music playing on the stereo. After Dora and I had sorted through our plunder, and counted and sampled and traded until we were satisfied, her mother drove me back to my house.
I thanked her for the ride, and shewaited in the driveway until I made it to the door. In the glare of her headlights I saw that our pumpkin had been shattered, its thick shell strewn in chunks across the grass. I felt the sting of tears in my eyes, and a sudden pain in my throat, as if it had been stuffed with the sharp tiny pebbles that crunched with each step under my aching feet.
I opened the door, expecting the three of them to be standing in the foyer, waiting to receive me, and to grieve for our ruined pumpkin, but there was no one. In the living room Mr. Pirzada, my father, and mother were sitting side by side on the sofa. The television was turned off, and Mr. Pirzada had his head in his hands. What they heard that evening, and for many evenings after that, was that India and Pakistan were drawing closer and closer to war.
Troops from both sides lined the border, and Dacca was insisting on nothing short of independence. The war was to be waged on East Pakistani soil. War was declared officially on December 4, and twelve days later, the Pakistani army, weakened by having to fight three thousand miles from their source of supplies, surrendered in Dacca. But then it remained, for the most part, a remote mystery with haphazard dues.
What I remember during those twelve days of the war was that my father no longer asked me to watch the news with them, and that Mr. Pirzada stopped bringing me candy, and that my mother refused to serve anything other than boiled eggs with rice for dinner. I remember some nights helping my mother spread a sheet and blankets on the couch so that Mr. Pirzada could sleep there, and high-pitched voices hollering in the middle of the night when my parents called our relatives in Calcutta to learn more details about the situation.
Most of all I remember thethree of them operating during that time as if they were a single person, sharing a single meal, a si ngl e body, a si ngl e si I ence, and a si ngl e fear. In January, Mr. Pirzada flew back to his three-story home in Dacca, to discover what was left of it.
We did not see much of him in those final weeks of the year; he was busy finishing his manuscript, and we went to Philadelphia to spend Christmas with friends of my parents. Just as I have no memory of his first visit, I have no memory of his last. My father drove him to the airport one afternoon while I was at school. For a long timewedid not hear from him. Our evenings went on as usual, with dinners in front of the news. The only difference was that Mr.
Pirzada and his extra watch were not there to accompany us. According to reports Dacca was repairing itself slowly, with a newly formed parliamentary government. Countless refugees returned from India, greeted, we learned, by unemployment and the threat of famine. Every now and then I studied the map above my father's desk and pictured Mr.
Pirzada on that small patch of yellow, perspiring heavily, I imagined, in one of his suits, searching for his family. Of course, the map was outdated by then. Finally, several months later, we received a card from Mr. Pirzada commemorating the Muslim New Year, along with a short letter. He was reunited, he wrote, with his wife and children. All were well, having survived the events of the past year at an estate belonging to his wife's grandparents in the mountains of Shillong. Hisseven daughters were a bit taller, hewrote, but otherwise they were the same, and he still could not keep their names in order.
At the end of the letter he thanked us for our hospitality, adding that although he now understood the meaning of the words "thank you" they still were not adequate to express his gratitude.
To celebrate the good news my mother prepared a special dinner that evening, and when we sat down to eat at the coffee table we toasted our water glasses, but I did not feel like celebrating. Though I had not seen him for months, it was only then that I felt Mr.
Pirzada's absence. It was only then, raising my water glass in his name, that I knew what it meant to miss someone who was so many miles and hours away, just as he had missed his wife and daughters for so many months. He had no reason to return to us, and my parents predicted, correctly, that we would never see him again. Pirzada's family, a piece of candy I had saved from Halloween. That night there was no need to. Eventually, I threw them away. Interpreter of M aladies A t th e tea stall Mr.
Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet. Eventually Mrs. Das relented when Mr. Das pointed out that he had M r.
Kapasi watched as M rs. Das emerged slowly from his bulky white Ambassador, dragging her shaved, largely bare legs across the back seat. She did not hold the little girl's hand as they wal ked to the rest room.
They were on their way to see the Sun Temple at Konarak. Itwasadry, bright Saturday, the mid-July heat tempered by a steady ocean breeze, ideal weather for sightseeing. Ordinarily Mr. Kapasi would not have stopped so soon along the way, but less than five minutes after he'd picked up the family that morning in front of Hotel Sandy Villa, the littlegirl had complained.
The first thing Mr. Kapasi had noticed when he saw Mr. Das, standing with their children under the portico of the hotel, was that they were very young, perhaps not even thirty. The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors. Kapasi was accustomed to foreign tourists; he was assigned to them regularly because he could speak English.
Yesterday he had driven an elderly couple from Scotland, both with spotted faces and fluffy white hair so thin it exposed their sunburnt scalps. In comparison, the tanned, youthful faces of M r.
Das were all the more striking. When he'd introduced himself, Mr. Kapasi had pressed his palms together in greeting, but Mr. Das squeezed hands like an American so that Mr. Kapasi felt it in his elbow. Das, for her part, had flexed one side of her mouth, smiling dutifully at Mr.
Kapasi, without displaying any interest in him. As they waited at the tea stall, Ronny, who looked like the older of the two boys, clambered suddenly out of the back seat, i ntrigued by a goat tied to a stake i n the ground. Das said. He glanced up from his paperback tour book, which said "INDIA" in yellow letters and looked as if it had been published abroad. His voice, somehow tentative and little shrill, sounded as though it had not yet settled into maturity.
Das stepped out of the car and stretched his legs by squatting briefly to the ground. A dean-shaved man, he looked exactly a magnified version of Ronny. He had a sapphire blue visor, and was dressed in shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt. Hefrowned, watching as Ronny rushed toward the goat, but appeared to have no intention of intervening.
He was sitting in the front seat beside Mr. Kapasi studying a picture of the elephant god taped to the glove compartment. Kapasi said. Kapasi was forty-six years old, with receding hair that had gone completely silver, but his butterscotch complexion and his unlined brow, which he treated in spare moments to dabs of I otus-oi I bal m, made it easy to imagine what he must have looked I ike at an earlier age.
He wore gray trousers and a matching jacket-style shirt, tapered at the waist, with short sleeves and a large pointed collar, made of a thin but durable synthetic material. He had specified both the cut and the fabric to his tailor — it was his preferred uniform for giving tours because it did not get crushed during his long hours behind the wheel.
Through the windshield he watched as Ronny circled around the goat, touched it quickly on its side, than trotted back to the car. Kapasi asked when M r. Das had settl ed once agai n i nto the passenger seat. Das announced with an air of sudden confidence "Born and raised. Our parents live here now, in Assansol. They retired. Wevisitthem every coupleyears. Das asked.
Kapasi found it strange that M r. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl. Tina pointed to where Mrs. Das was purchasing something from one of the shirtless men who worked at the tea stall. Kapasi heard one of the shirtless men sing a phrase from a popular Hindi love song as Mrs. Das walked back to the car, but she did not appear to understand the words of the song, for she did not express irritation, or embarrassment, or react in any other way lo the man's declarations.
He observed her. She wore a red-and-white- checkered skirt that stopped above her knees, slip-on shoes with a square wooden heel, and a close-fitting blouse styled like a man's undershirt.
The blouse was decorated at chest-level with a calico applique in the shape of a strawberry. She was a short woman, with small hands like paws, her frosty pink fingernails painted to match her lips, and was slightly plump in her figure. Her hair, shorn only a little longer than her husband's, was parted far to one side. She was wearing large dark brown sunglasses with a pinkish tint to them, and carried a big straw bag, almost as big as her torso, shaped like a bowl, with a water bottle poking out of it.
She walked slowly, carrying some puffed rice tossed with peanuts and chili peppers in a large packet made from newspapers, M r. Kapasi turned to M r. New Jersey. I teach middleschool there. In a way we have a lot in common, you could say, you and I. How long have you been a tour guide, Mr.
Das reached the car. Kapasi replied. At this Mrs. Das gave an impatient sigh, as if she had been traveling her whole life without pause. She fanned herself with a folded Bombay film magazine written in English. Das said, tapping on the tour book. Actually, it is a distance of fifty-two miles," Mr. Kapasi explained M r. Das nodded, readjusting the camera strap where it had begun to chafe the back of his neck.
Beforestarting the ignition, Mr. Kapasi reached back to make sure the crankl i ke I ocks on the i nsi de of each of the back doors were secured. As soon as the car began to move the little girl began to play with the lock on her side, clicking it with some effort forward and backward, but Mrs. Das said nothing to stop her.
She sat a bit slouched at one end of the back seat, not offering her puffed rice to anyone. Ronny and Tina sat on either side of her, both snapping bright green gum. He pointed with hi stingers to the tall trees that lined the road. Their long gray tails dangled like a series of ropes among the leaves.
A few scratched themselves with black leathery hands, or swung their feet, staring as the car passed. Kapasi to brake suddenly. Another bounced onto the hood of the car, then sprang away.
Kapasi beeped his horn. The children began to get excited, sucking in their breath and covering their faces partly with their hands. They had never seen monkeys outside of a zoo, Mr. Das explained. Kapasi to stop the car so that he could take a picture.
While Mr. Das adjusted his telephoto lens, Mrs. Das reached into her straw bag and pulled out a bottle of colorless nail polish, which she proceeded to stroke on her index finger. The little girl stuck out a hand. Mommy, do mine too. Das said, blowing on her nail and turning her body slightly. Das said, replacing the lens cap. Das continued lo polish her nails.
Kapasi eased up on the accelerator, hoping to produce a smoother ride. When he reached for the gearshift the boy in front accommodated him by swinging his hairless knees out of the way. Kapasi noted that this boy was slightly paler than the other children. He turned to Mr. As delicately as he could, he shifted gears again accelerating as he approached a hill intheroad. Kapasi thought as they passed a row of date trees.
Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents. It seemed that they were in charge of the children only for the day; it was hard to believe they were regularly responsible for anything other than themselves.
Das tapped on his lens cap, and his tour book, dragging his thumbnail occasionally across die pages so that they made a scraping sound. Das continued to polish her nails. She had still not removed her sunglasses. Every now and then Tina renewed her plea that she wanted her nails done, too, and so at one point M rs.
The window on Tina's side was broken and could not be rolled down. Das continued. What are you saving us, fifty cents? Kapasi heard on American television programs, though not like the ones on Dallas. Kapasi, showing people the same thing every day? Das asked, rolling down his own window all the way.
I justwantto get a shot of this guy. Kapasi pulled over to the side of the road as M r. Das took a picture of a barefoot man, his head wrapped in a dirty turban, seated on top of a cart of grain sacks pulled by a pair of bullocks.
Both the man and the bullocks were emaciated. In the back seat Mrs. Das gazed out another window, at the sky, where nearly transparent clouds passed quickly in front of one another. Kapasi said as they continued on their way. In that way it is a reward for me. I give tours on Fridays and Saturdays only. I have another job during the week.
I work with one. As an interpreter. Myfatherwas Gujarati, but many people do not speak Gujarati in this area, including the doctor. And so the doctor asked me toworkin hisoffice, interpreting what the patients say. Kapasi shrugged. Das said dreamily, breaking her extended silence. She lifted her pinkish brown sunglasses and arranged them on top of her head like a tiara.
For the first time, her eyes met M r. Kapasi's in the rearview mirror: Das craned to look at her. She reached into her straw bag and handed him a small square wrapped in green-and-white-striped paper. As soon as Mr. Kapasi put the gum in his mouth a thick sweetliquid burst onto his tongue.
The other day a man came in with a pain in his throat. It was very curious. He complained that he felt as if there were long pieces of straw stuck in his throat. When I told the doctor he was able to prescribe the proper medication. Kapasi agreed after some hesitation.
She spoke slowly as if she was thinking aloud. How could it be? The patient would never know what you had told the doctor, and the doctor wouldn't know that you had told the wrong thing. It's a big responsibility.
Kapasi," Mr. Das agreed. Kapasi had never thought of her job in such complimentary terms. To him it was a thankless occupation. He found nothing noble in interpreting people's maladies, assiduously translating the symptoms of so many swollen bones, countless cramps of bellies and bowels, spots on people's pal ms that changed color, shape, or size.
The doctor, nearly half his age, had an affinity for bell-bottom trousers and made humorless jokes about the Congress party.
Together they worked in a stale little infirmary where Mr. 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. 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. He had taken the job as interpreter after his first son, at the age of seven, contracted typhoid — that was how he first made acquaintance of the doctor.
After the time Mr. Kapasi had been teaching English in a grammar school, and he bartered his skills as an interpreter to pay the increasingly exorbitant medical bills. Kapasi knew that his wife had little regard for his career as an interpreter. He new it reminded her of the son she'd lost, and that she resented the other lives he helped, in his own small way, to save. If ever she referred to his position, she used the phrase "doctor's assistant," as if the process of interpretation were equal to taking someone's temperature, or changing a bedpan.
She never asked him about the patients who came to the doctor's office, or said that his job was a big responsibility. For this reason it flattered Mr. Kapasi that Mrs. Das was so intrigued by his job. Unlike his wife, she had reminded him of its intellectual challenges. She had also used the word "romantic. He wondered if Mr. Das were a bad match, just as he and his wife were. Perhaps they, too, had little in common apart from three children and a decade of their lives.
The signs he recognized from his own marriage were there — the bickering, the indifference, the protracted silences. Her sudden interest in him, an interest she did not express in either her husband or her children, was mildly intoxicating.
Kapasi thought once again about how she had said "romantic," the feeling of intoxication grew. He began to check his reflection in the rearview mirror as he drove, feeling grateful that he had chosen the gray suit that morning, and not the brown one which tended to sag a little in the knees. In addition to glancing at her face he glanced at the strawberry between her breasts, and the golden brown hollow in her throat. He decided to tell Mrs. Das about another patient, and another: Das listened attentively, stroking her hair with a small plastic brush that resembled an oval bed of nails, asking more questions, for yet another example.
The children werequiet, intent on spotting more monkeys in the trees and M r. Das was absorbed by his tour book, so it seemed like a private conversation between Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. In this manner the next half hour passed, and when they stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant that sold fritters and omelette sandwiches, usually something Mr.
Kapasi looked forward to on his tours so that he could sit in peace and enjoy some hot tea, he was disappointed. As the Das family settled together under a magenta umbrella fringed with white and orange tassels, and placed their ordered with one of the waiters who marched about in tricornered caps, Mr.
Kapasi reluctantly headed toward the neighboring table. Kapasi, wait. There's room here," Mrs. Das called out. She gathered Tina onto her lap, insisting that he accompany them. And so, together, they had bottled mango juice and sandwiches and plates of onions and potatoes deep-fried in graham flour batter. After finishing two omelette sandwiches Mr.
Das took more pictures of the group as they ate. Kapasi as he paused to I oad a new rol I of fi I m i n the camera. Das and Mr. Das placed the camera to his face and squeezed one eye shut, his tongue exposed at one corner of his mouth. M ina, you need to lean in closer to Mr. He could smell a scent on her skin, like a mixtureof whiskey and rosewater. Heworried suddenly that she could smell his perspiration, which he knew had collected beneath the synthetic material of his shirt.
He polished off his mango juice in one gulp and smoothed his silver hair with his hands. A bit of the juice dripped ontohischin.
Hewondered if Mrs. Das had noticed. She had not. The blank portion was limited, for the narrow strip was crowded by lines of text and a tiny picture of a hero and heroi ne embraci ng 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 I oud as she read them i n her house i n N ew J ersey.
I n time she would reveal the disappointment of her marriage, and he his. In this way their friendship would grow, and flourish. 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. I n those moments M r. 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. When he finished writing his address Mr.
Kapasi handed her the paper, but as soon as he did so he worried that he had either misspelled his name, or accidentally reversed the numbers of his postal code. H e dreaded the possibility of a lost letter, the photograph never reaching him, hovering somewhere in Orissa, close but ultimately unattainable. He thought of asking for the slip of paper again, just to make sure he had written his address accurately, but M rs. Das had already dropped it into thejumbleof her bag.
They reached Konarak at two-thirty. The temple, made of sandstone, was a massive pyramid-like structure in the shape of a chariot. It was dedicated to the great master of life, the sun, which struck three sides of the edifice as it made its journey each day across the sky.
Twenty-four giant wheels were carved on the north and south sides of the plinth. As they approached, Mr. Kapasi explained that the temple had been built between a. Das said reading from his book. It is dry now," Mr. Kapasi said, turning off the engine. They got out and walked toward the temple, posing first for pictures by the pair of lions that flanked the steps.
Kapasi led them next to one of the wheels of the chariot, higher than any human being, nine feet in diameter. Das read. The rims are carved with designs of birds and animals, whereas the medallions in the spokes are carved with women in luxurious poses, largely erotic in nature. It was no longer possible to enter the temple, for it had filled with rubble years ago, but they admired the exterior, as did all the tourists Mr.
Kapasi brought there, slowly strolling along each of its sides. Das trailed behind, taking pictures. The children ran ahead, pointing to figures of naked people, intrigued in particular by the Nagamithunas, the half-human, half-serpentine couples who were said, Mr.
Kapasi told them, to live in the deepest waters of the sea. Kapasi was pleased that they liked the temple, pleased especially that it appealed to Mrs. She stopped every three or four paces, staring silently at the carved lovers, and the processions of elephants, and the topless female musicians bearing on two-sided drums. Though Mr. Kapasi had been to the temple countless times, it occurred him, as he, too, gazed at the topless women, that he had never seen his own wife fully naked.
Even when they had made love she kept the panels of her blouse hooked together, the string of her petticoat knotted around her waist. He had never admired the backs of his wife's legs the way he now admired those of Mrs. Das, walking as if for his benefit alone.
He had, of course, seen plenty of bare limbs before, belonging to the American and European ladies who took his tours. But Mrs. Das was different. Unlike the other women, who had an interest only in the temple, and kept their noses buried in a guidebook, or their eyes behind the lens of a camera, Mrs.
Das had taken an interest in him. Kapasi was anxious to be alone with her, to continue their private conversation, yet he felt nervous to walk at her side. She was lost behind her sunglasses, ignoring her husband's requests that she pose for another picture, walking past her children as if they were strangers. Worried that he might disturb her, Mr. Kapasi walked ahead, to admire, as he always did, the three life-sized bronze avatars of Surya, the sun god, each emerging from its own niche on the temple facade to greet the sun at dawn, noon, and evening.
They wore elaborate headdresses, their languid, elongated eyes dosed, their bare chests draped with carved chains and amulets. Hibiscus petals, offerings from previous visitors, were strewn at their gray-green feet.
The last statue, on the northern wall of the temple, was Mr. Kapasi's favorite. This Surya had a tired expression, weary after a hard day of work, sitting astride a horse with folded legs. Even his horse's eyes were drowsy. Around his body were smaller sculptures of women in pairs, their hips thrust to one side. He was startled to see that she was standing beside him. 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. 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.
Das had already started wal king. According to his schedule, allowing room for delays, he would hear from Mrs. Das in approximately six weeks' time. The family was silent as Mr. Kapasi drove them back, a little past four-thirty, to Hotel Sandy Villa.
The children had bought miniature granite versions of the chariot's wheels at a souvenir stand, and they turned them round in their hands. Das continued to read his book. Das untangled Tina's hair with her brush and divided it into two little ponytails.
Kapasi was beginning to dread the thought of dropping them off. He was not prepared to begin his six- week wait to hear from M rs.
As he stole glances at her in the rear-view mirror, wrapping elastic bands around Tina's hair, he wondered how he might make the tour last a little longer. The thought of that silence, something to which he'd long been resigned, now oppressed him. It was then that he suggested visiting the hills at Udayagiri and Khandagiri, where a number of monastic dwellings were hewn our of the ground, lacing one another across a defile.