Year 12 vce english interpreter of Maladies by Jumpa Lahiri student resource booklet table of contents story summaries

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Interpreter of Maladies

by Jumpa Lahiri



Story summaries

Interpreter of Maladies 3

A Real Durwan 10

Sexy 13

Mrs Sen’s 17

This Blessed House 22

The Teatment of Bibi Haldar 23

The Third and Final Continent 25

When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine

Story Activities 29

Interviews and reviews 33

Essay Topics 58

Essay models 60

Interpreter of Maladies’ pages 43-69

Summary of the story

Mr. and Mrs. Das are arguing at the first rest stop about whose turn it is to take their daughter to the toilet. Mr. Das complains he bathed her the night before. Mrs. Das gets out of Mr. Kapasi's car to take Tina. It is a Saturday in mid-July. Mr. Kapasi is driving the Das family from their hotel to the Sun Temple at Konarak. He is assigned to pick up foreign tourists because he speaks English. The Das's also have two boys, Ronny and Bobby. The parents are under thirty and look Indian but dress like foreigners. Mr. Das squeezes Mr. Kapasi's hand greeting him like an American. Mr. Das holds a tour book titled "INDIA" and wears shorts, T-shirt, sneakers and camera around his neck. Ronny exits the car to see a goat. Bobby stays in the car. Mr. Das tells him to watch his brother but Bobby says he doesn't feel like it. Mr. Kapasi tells Mr. Das the goats are tame.

Mr. Kapasi asks if he left India as a child. Mr. Das explains he and Mrs. Das were born and raised in America but are visiting their parents who retired in India. Tina returns. Mr. Das indicates this is her first trip to India and asks her where Mina is. Mr. Kapasi finds it strange Mr. Das asks his daughter about her mother using her first name. Tina points to her mother buying something from a shirtless man at the stall. As she walks away, the man sings part of a Hindi love song that Mrs. Das seems not to understand. Mr. Kapasi notices her short skirt and tight-fitting blouse like a man's undershirt. Mr. Das answers Mr. Kapasi they live in New Brunswick, New Jersey and he teaches science in middle school. Mr. Das compares his student trips to a New York Museum with Mr. Kapasi's work as a tour guide. Mrs. Das returns and asks how long the trip is. Mr. Kapasi answers two and one half hours. Mr. Das responds the tour book says eighteen miles. Mr. Kapasi says it's actually fifty-two miles and roads are poor. Mr. Kapasi checks the door locks before starting the car and leaving the tea stall.

As they drive down the road, Ronny yells monkeys to what Bobby points at. Mr. Kapasi indicates they are common in the area as they jump into the road and on the car. They have only seen monkeys in a zoo. Mr. Das asks to stop so he can take pictures. Mrs. Das does her nails and tells Tina to leave her alone. The boys are confused by drivers on the opposite side than in America. Mr. Kapasi says he knows from watching ‘Dallas’. He thinks to himself the Das family act like brothers and sisters. The parents act just like an older brother and sister. Mrs. Das complains the car is not air-conditioned. She asks if Mr. Das saves fifty cents because of that. He tells her to quit complaining and it's not so hot. Mr. Das asks Mr. Kapasi if his job is tiresome. He tells him to stop so he can take another picture. Mrs. Das looks away at the sky.

Mr. Kapasi looks forward to guiding tours, and the Sun Temple is a favorite destination. He guides tours only on Friday and Saturday, and has a job in a doctor's office the other days. Mr. Das asks if he's a doctor. Mr. Kapasi explains he interprets for a doctor who does not speak Gujarati. Mr. Das says that's interesting. Mrs. Das says it's romantic. She puts her sunglasses atop her head. Her eyes meet Mr. Kapasi's in a drowsy gaze through the rearview mirror. Mr. Das turns to her to ask what's romantic. She tells him she doesn't know. Then she asks Mr. Kapasi if he wants some gum and to tell them more about his job. He asks what she wants to know. She says a typical situation. So she can picture what happens she tilts her head and closes her eyes. Mr. Kapasi tells them of one. She says it's neat, patients depend on him, he has a big responsibility and Mr. Das agrees.

Mina explains that patients are more dependent on Mr. Kapasi than the doctor since neither understands the other without him. Mr. Kapasi reflects on what they say and how he never thinks of it that way. He thinks interpreting patient maladies is a failure to be the interpreter for diplomats and scholar of foreign languages he wanted. He remembers few foreign phrases anymore and his children know better English. He met the doctor when his son was sick and had to barter language skills for the medical treatment his son needed. The son died but he continues on with the doctor to pay their bills. This reminds his wife of their son. She never asks about his job.

Mrs. Das's interest in it flatters him. Mr. Kapasi reflects on how his marriage and the Das couple seem similar. They both seem unhappily married to each other and have children to raise. He wonders if they're a bad match also. He is exhilarated by her comment about his romantic job. He is happy to wear his good suit that morning and checks his reflection in the mirror while driving. He glances back at Mrs. Das and tells her more patient stories. The children look for monkeys, Mr. Das reads his tour book and Mr. Kapasi feels like he's talking alone with Mrs. Das. When they stop for lunch, Mrs. Das calls Mr. Kapasi to sit with them. When they finish Mr. Das tells Mr. Kapasi to move near Mrs. Das so he can take a picture. She asks for his address to send pictures. He writes it down and dreams about writing to her.

The Das tour group arrives at the temple. Mr. Kapasi tells them its history and leads the family on a walking tour of the grounds. Mr. Das follows taking pictures. They pass by friezes of naked couples entwined in making love, elephant processions and topless female musicians. Mr. Kapasi sees Mrs. Das stare silently at the figures. He admires the back of her legs and points out features of Surya as he dreams of embracing her. He asks when they will return home. She says ten days. He hopes to hear from her in six weeks.

The group starts back to the hotel. Mr. Kapasi thinks about ways he can make the tour last longer. He mentions a side trip to another site on the left and the children agree. Mr. Kapasi fantasizes what he will say to Mrs. Das and that he might take her hand. When they arrive she says her legs are tired and won't get out of the car. Mr. Das and children start up the hill. When Mr. Kapasi says he will join them to explain the caves Mrs. Das asks him to stay and gets into the front seat with him.

Mina watches Raj and her children hike up the hill and confides in Mr. Kapasi. She says Bobby is not Raj's son. She explains they were young when they married and still in college. They had Ronny and she stayed at home to take care of the baby so she sees few friends. Raj didn't mind because he enjoys coming home to play with the baby. He invites a friend of his to stay with them. She makes love to him and conceives Bobby the afternoon he leaves. Mr. Kapasi refers to her as Mrs. Das, but she says he should not call her Mrs. She is twenty-eight and he probably has children her age. He is crestfallen that she thinks he is as old as her parents. She tells him her secret because of his talent. She has not told anyone for eight years. Raj doesn't even suspect her secret. She is in pain and hopes Mr. Kapasi knows what to say to relieve her so she feels better.

Mina's secret depresses Mr. Kapasi. He asks her if its pain or guilt that she feels. She glares at him to say something insulting then gets out of the car to walk up the hill. As she walks eating handfuls of puffed rice, bits fall on the ground. The bits attract monkeys that pursue her up the hill. Mr. Kapasi follows so as not to alarm her by calling out. Mrs. Das calls out to Mr. Das to wait for her. Mr. Kapasi chases off the monkeys as he catches up with the Das family. Mr. Das asks where Bobby is. Mrs. Das asks what's wrong with all of them. They call for him but do not hear his screams. He is surrounded by monkeys pulling at him. One is hitting him with a stick. Mr. Kapasi chases them away and picks up Bobby. He takes him stunned and frightened to his parents. They decide to go back to the hotel. Mrs. Das pulls out her brush to fix Bobby's hair. When she pulls it from her purse the slip of paper with Mr. Kapasi's address flies out and flutters away on the breeze into the trees with the monkeys.

Narrative Perspective


Mr. Das (Raj)

  • Around 30 years of age

  • Tanned

  • Shrill immature voice, clean-shaven.

  • Sapphire blue visor, shorts, sneakers, t-shirt

  • Dresses and acts like typical American tourist

  • Expensive, complicated camera slung around neck

  • Live in New Brunswick, New Jersey

  • A science teacher: compares his student excursions to Mr. Kapasi’s job as tour guide: “In a way we have a lot in common, you could say, you and I.” p.46

  • Thinks Mr. Kapasi’s job tiresome

  • Stops car to take photo of poor man

  • Takes photos at lunch stop

  • Reads his tour book in car

  • Supplements Mr. Kapasi’s description of the Sun Temple from his book

  • Tells his wife off for wearing stupid shoes.

  • Worried she won’t be in pictures at the hills. Thinks they could use on for their Christmas cards. Wants a picture of the five of them.

  • Happy to come home from work in evenings, a contrast to his wife

  • His camera triggers off monkeys

Mrs. Das (Mina)

  • 28 years old, similar age to husband

  • Tanned

  • No initial interest in Mr. Kapasi

  • Doesn’t realize men at tea stall sing at her: doesn’t understand Hindi

  • Wears red and white checkered skirt above knee, slip on shoes, close fitting blouse with strawberry shaped appliqué.

  • Short, small hands, painted fingernails and lips, slightly plump, short hair,

  • Wears large brown sunglasses, carries big straw bag

  • Buys puffed rice: doesn’t offer to anyone else in car

  • Impatient

  • Has Bombay film magazine written in English

  • Paints her nails whilst children watch monkeys

  • Complains that car not air-conditioned: blames her husband

  • Looks the other way when her husband photographs the man by road

  • First sign on interest is when she hears Mr. Kapasi works as an interpreter. Takes off her sunglasses for the first time.

  • Offers gum to Mr. Kapasi

  • Vanity: brushes hair, does nails, concerned about appearance

  • Invites Mr. Kapasi to eat lunch with them

  • Smells of scent – a mixture of whiskey and rosewater

  • Wants Mr. Kapasi’s address to send copies of pictures

  • Drops the slip of paper with his address into the ‘jumble of her bag’

  • Likes the carvings at the temple. Stares silently at the carved lovers

  • Refuses to get out of car at the hills. Says her legs are tired.

  • Tells Mr. Kapasi to stay. She shifts to front seat beside him

  • Revelation that Bobby is not Raj’s son

  • Doesn’t cope well at home with the children – feels isolated

  • Outrage when Raj invites a Punjabi friend to stay

  • Reaction when Mr. Kapasi can’t offer advice to her problem

  • Question of whether or not she realizes the effect her words and actions have on Mr. Kapasi throughout the tour

Mr. Kapasi

  • An observer: he watches in his rearview mirror. He notices Mrs. Das’s ‘shaved, largely bare legs’

  • We never learn his first name

  • Speaks English so generally assigned as driver to foreign tourists

  • Aged 46, receding silver hair, ‘butterscotch’ complexion

  • Gray trousers and matching jacket-style shirt in synthetic non-crushable material. Made by tailor

  • Finds it strange Mr. Das calls his wife by first name when speaking to daughter

  • Asks questions about Das’s heritage and where they live

  • A tour guide for 5 years

  • Notes one boy paler skinned than the other

  • Thinks parents more like children themselves

  • Thinks their accents like American TV shows

  • Sun Temple one of his favourite places: sees it as a ‘reward’

  • Works as tour guide on Fridays and Saturdays.

  • Has another job as Gujariti interpreter for a doctor

  • Answers Mrs. Das’s questions about his job

  • Never occurred to him that job is a ‘big responsibility’. He thinks it a thankless occupation

  • Devoted scholar of foreign languages in youth

  • Owned dictionaries, listed etymologies of words in his notebook

  • Now has forgotten all but English

  • Son contracted typhoid at 7 years old. Died in mother’s arms

  • Job with doctor a barter of skills to pay son’s medical bills

  • Financial pressures – education, housing, clothing

  • Emotional pressure from wife grieving loss of son

  • Wife calls him a ‘doctor’s assistant’. She’s not interested in his job

  • Flattered by Mrs. Das’s interest in his job. Reminded of its intellectual challenges

  • Finds Mrs. Das’s attention ‘intoxicating’

  • Enjoys what seems like a ‘private conversation’ between him and Mrs. Das

  • Writes his address carefully on scrap of paper

  • Dreams of writing and receiving letters and what each will reveal to each other

  • Has never seen his wife naked. Feels strange walking beside Mrs. Das

  • Favorite statue is a particular Surya.

  • Calculates how long until he receives first letter with photos

  • Strategizes to make tour last longer

  • Says monkeys are more hungry than dangerous. Tells them not to provoke them with food

  • Shocked at Mrs. Das’s revelation about Bobby

  • Upset that she thinks of him as a parent and healer

  • He can’t comprehend she has told him her story. He thinks ‘interpreting’ only applies to language, not to problems.

  • Feels insulted at being asked to interpret her ‘common, trivial little secret’

  • Can foresee problem puffed rice will cause with monkeys

  • Rescues Bobby and tempted to whisper truth of his birth to him


  • Complains 5 minutes into trip

  • Wearing purple sundress with big bows

  • Carries yellow-haired doll

  • Her first trip to India

  • Plays with door locks inside car

  • Screams in delight at monkeys

  • Wants mother’s attention


  • Close in age to brother.

  • Has braces: ‘network of flashing silver wires’

  • Ignores father at tea stall: goes to the goat and quickly touches it.

  • Excitement at seeing monkeys


  • Has braces like his brother

  • Picks up stick that monkey snatches. He and monkey pass it back and forwards

  • Not Mr. Das’s biological son

  • Wanders off and gets surrounded by monkeys

  • Monkey hits him repeatedly with stick he’d given it earlier


Marital Relationships

  • They are arguing in opening line of the story

  • Mr. Kapasi has never seen his wife naked, has never admired the backs of her legs

  • ‘…and enjoy the evening newspaper and a cup of tea that his wife would serve him in silence.’ 60

  • Revelation of Mrs. Das’s affair and birth of Bobby

  • They married while still in college. Parents were best friends.

  • She is unhappy in her marriage – has kept her feelings secret for eight years

  • The effect on her of finally releasing her secret. She suddenly has renewed vigour and interest in family


  • Mrs. Das doesn’t hold Tina’s hand

  • Ronny ignores father on p44. So does Bobby p45

  • Don’t stop Tina playing with door locks on car

  • Mrs. Das tells Tina to leave her alone when applying nail polish p.48

  • Mrs. Das ignores children at temple: ‘…walking past her children as if they were strangers.’ 58

  • Seems to spring into maternal role after leaves Mr. Kapasi in a huff.

  • Concern when Bobby missing

  • Mrs. Das shows affection when Bobby hurt. Wants to fix his hair. Band-Aid.


  • Parents look Indian but dress as ‘foreigners’

  • Mr. Das greets differently to Mr. Kapasi: Mr. Kapasi presses palms together whilst Mr. Das squeezed hands

  • Guide book published abroad

  • Mr. Das proud he and his wife born in America. Their parents have retired to Assansol.

  • Boy wonders why driver on wrong side of the car

  • Mr. Kapasi knows something of America from ‘Dallas’, the TV show

  • Mr. Kapasi not used to a woman showing interest in him. Mrs. Das so different from his wife

  • Souvenirs stand at Sun Temple


  • Guidebook on INDIA

  • Camera and taking of photos

  • Children’s excitement at seeing monkeys

  • Ignorance of language and customs

  • Mr. Das taking photo of man 49


  • Gum: ‘…a thick sweet liquid burst onto his tongue.’ 50

  • Puffed rice

  • Lunch stop

  • Mrs. Das’s scent

Lack of fulfillment in life

  • Mr. Kapasi had dreamed of being an interpreter for diplomats and dignitaries and settling disputes of which he alone could understand both sides

  • Mrs. Das the first woman who had taken an interest in him

  • She doesn’t have many close friends as whole life dominated by Raj and children

  • has no-one to confide in

  • She has fallen out of love with husband, children and life


  • Mr. Kapasi dreams that letters between them would fulfill his dream of serving as an interpreter between nations.

  • Thinks about complimenting Mrs. Das or even holding her hand


  • Mr. Kapasi translating Gujarati words into Hindi

  • Mr. Kapasi speaks English

  • Mrs. Das’s use of the word ‘romantic’ to describe his job

  • Story-telling. Mr. Kapasi enjoys telling stories of the various patients for whom he has interpreted. ‘Mrs. Das listened attentively…asking more questions, for yet another example.’ 54

  • Thought of receiving letters from Mrs. Das

  • Mr. Kapasi dreads possibility of a lost letter

  • Mrs. Das’s use of the word ‘neat’. Mr. Kapasi not sure what it means.

  • Mrs. Das not close to her parents

  • Story of Bobby’s conception

  • Mrs. Das feels she hasn’t been able to express her anxieties to anyone – she wants advice

  • Use of looks: glares

  • Difficulty of communicating pain and problems to other people

Language and Style of Story

  • Use of colours: ‘mustard oil on her frosty pink lips’

  • Detail used to describe monkeys

  • Detailed description of carvings at the Sun Temple

  • Use of senses: smell, taste, touch, what the eyes see

  • Use of motifs such as the slip of paper with address on it


  • White Ambassador car: lots of references to seats, locks, windows

  • Tour book: Mr. Das always reading it. He prefers to draw his facts from the book rather than listen to Mr. Kapasi. Represents arrogance and ignorance of the tourist, especially a tourist of Indian heritage. Gap between America and India.

  • Camera: Mr. Das hopes to get a photo of the whole family together but doesn’t succeed. Clicks away on camera rather than simply appreciating what is in front of him. Thinks of family Christmas card. Noise of camera worries monkeys. Link to Mr. Kapasi who dreams of receiving copies of photos.

  • Puffed rice: represents self-centeredness of Mrs. Das. She doesn’t offer any to her family, only to Mr. Kapasi when she confides in him. Her carelessness, when puffed rice dropped on track, leads to monkeys attacking Bobby.

  • Straw bag: Mrs. Das keeps all sorts of ‘trivial’ items in it. Mr. Kapasi’s address tossed in carelessly and later blows away when she gets brush out.

  • Sunglasses: hide her face and emotions. She takes them off for the first time when Mr. Kapasi tells of his job.

  • Clothing: family’s American style clothing compared to Mr. Kapasi’s tailored synthetic suit. Focus on the strawberry appliqué on Mrs. Das’ blouse. Contrast to traditional Indian clothes Mr. Kapasi’s wife wears.

  • Monkeys: exciting for children but prove a menace. Mr. Kapasi’s advice that food can make them a threat comes true.

  • Carvings at Sun Temple at Konarak: emphasis on ‘erotic’ carvings where couples entwined together – the opposite of Mr. and Mrs. Das, and also Mr. Kapasi and his wife. The carvings of lovers may escalate Mr. Kapasi’s lust for Mrs. Das.

  • Dried up river and crumbled interior of the temple: The loss of cultural heritage

  • The tour: the events symbolize the ‘misinterpretations’ that occur in the two marriages.


  • India – American/Indian family are staying at Hotel Sandy Villa, near Puri. It is a Saturday in mid-July, ideal weather for sightseeing.

  • World Heritage Sites - Konarak - Sun Temple

Built in the thirteenth century, it was conceived as a gigantic solar chariot with twelve pairs of exquisitely-ornamented wheels dragged by seven rearing horses. The temple comprised a sanctum with a lofty (presumably over 68 m. high) sikhara, a jagamohana (30. m. square and 30. m. high) and a detached nata-mandira (hall of dance) in the same axis, besides numerous subsidiary shrines. The sanctum and the nata-mandira have lost their roof. The sanctum displays superb images of the Sun-god in the three projections which are treated as miniature shrines. The sanctum and the jagamohana together stand on a common platform studded with an intricate wealth of decorative ornaments and sculptures, often of a highly erotic type.

Key quotes

‘Mr. and Mrs. Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents.’ 49

“Doesn’t it get tiresome, Mr. Kapasi, showing people the same thing every day?” 49

“But so romantic,” Mrs. Das said dreamily, breaking her extended silence. 50

“I want to picture what happens.” 51

‘To him it was a thankless occupation. He found nothing noble in interpreting people’s maladies…’ 51

‘The job was a sign of his failings.’ 52

‘Mr. Kapasi knew it was not a remarkable talent.’ 52

‘…and the countless other ways he tried to console his wife and to keep her from crying in her sleep…’ 53

‘Mr. Kapasi knew that his wife had little regard for his career as an interpreter. He knew it reminded her of the son she’d lost…’ 53

‘He wondered if Mr. and Mrs. 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.’ 53

‘In addition to glancing at her face he glanced at the strawberry between her breasts and the golden brown hollow in her throat.’ 54

‘In time she would reveal the disappointment of her marriage, and he his. In this way their friendship would grow, and flourish.’ 55

‘In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world, that all struggles were rewarded, that all of life’s mistakes made sense in the end.’ 56

‘The promise that he would hear from Mrs. Das now filled him with the same belief.’ 56

‘The thought of that silence, something to which he’d long been resigned, now oppressed him.’ 60

‘I’ve kept it a secret for eight whole years…But now I’ve told you.” 62

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Das, but why have you told me this information?” 64

“I told you because of your talents.” 65

“Mr. Kapasi, don’t you have anything to say? I thought that was your job.” 65

“Don’t you realize what it means for me to tell you?” 65

“Is it really pain you feel, Mrs. Das, or is it guilt?” 66

‘It crushed him; he knew at that moment that he was not even important enough to be properly insulted.’ 66

‘Mr. Kapasi observed it too, knowing that this was the picture of the Das family he would preserve forever in his mind.’ 69


What are the key moments in this story?

What links can be made with other stories in the collection?

How is this story structured?

Does it have a clear beginning (opening section), middle (characters, situation and ideas are developed) and end (draws story to a conclusion)?

How does the story open?

Does it hold the reader’s attention? How?

How does it set the tone of the story?

Is there suggestion and implication used rather than direct description?

Does the story launch straight into the narrative?

How has the writer presented the characters?

Do they develop/ change?

Is there an event/ experience that leads them to personal development? Is there a moment of epiphany?

How do they relate to each other?

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