Perception, Truth and Misconception in Interpreter of Maladies
Time and time again, humans make a habit of imagining their lives as more glorious than they are. Author Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories about misconception. She exploits the universal yearning for something greater and, through her characters, creates a clear deviation between a desired abstract and reality in each piece. For every storyline, the gap between perception and truth does not last for long and ultimately ends in a subtle personal tragedy.
The strongest example of constructing one’s own reality lies in “Interpreter of Maladies,” the namesake of the novel, which further supports the idea that misperception is Lahiri’s focus. The Das family, American tourists, take Mr. Kapasi’s taxi to Indian attractions. The cabbie quickly becomes obsessed with Mrs. Das, even imaging an entire life with her, all the while ignoring her coldness towards her family. Despite admitting her faults, even revealing that one of her children is the product of an affair, he still fantasizes of her. “In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world…” (Lahiri 56); Lahiri purposes uses the word “believe”—not knows, not understands, but believes. Having just faith means constructing a reality that is not actually there. There’s zero chance they have any future together, but it is nice for him to imagine so. He is disappointed but does nothing when she doesn’t even notice that the paper containing his contact information floats away in the wind, obliterating the potential for a future together. Then there is Mr. Das, who is infatuated with the country of India— but only the good parts. He’s elated to explore his motherland for the first time. On a road, he tells Mr. Kapasi to pull over because he wants “to get a shot of this guy” (Lahiri 49), an emaciated vagrant—but does nothing to aid the man in any way. By treating the situation so casually, he capitalizes on the poor man’s struggle in the name of what he imagines a developing, foreign country should look like for the sake of his memories. Later on, he is still too distracted by his camera to notice his son being attacked by monkeys. It is only once Mrs. Das shrieks during the attack that Mr. Das is brought back to the brutal reality of the situation and thus agrees to return to the hotel immediately, too shocked to really speak or act; he did not see the problems of India until they personally affected him. The obliteration of these men’s false realities, meant to comfort, unsettles them, as Lahiri leaves no resolution.
In the story “Sexy,” a young woman deludes herself in what it means to be a mistress. Miranda, lonely and new to Boston, is thrilled when a handsome, cultured, married man pays attention to her. She wholly embraces the role of mistress, going so far as to “buy herself things she thought a mistress should have” (Lahiri 92). She considers their relationship romantic, whereas it is truthfully lustful, largely consisting of a regularly scheduled sexcapades. The illusion is fully shattered when a child calls her “sexy”— a word she once treasured when Dev called her it— when she models her prime, never-worn “mistress” outfit. Miranda is appalled and further bothered by the young boy defining “sexy” as “loving someone you don’t know,” illuminating the illegitimacy of Dev and Miranda’s relationship. From that point onward, she stops seeing him, ignoring his calls, because the semblance of a relationship is no longer comforting.
Lahiri uses “This Blessed House” to draw attention towards the discomfort of making choices solely for comfort. Sanjeev misleads himself by trying to plan out the perfect life. He, like Lahiri’s other characters, focuses on the good while acting almost purposefully oblivious to the bad. This is most evident in his choice of home and wife. He is hasty and stubborn—before even buying the house that he and his wife live in, he “had already made up his mind, was determined that he and Twinkle should live there together, forever, and so he had not bothered to notice the switch plates covered with biblical stickers…” (Lahiri 137). It ends up being the religion iconography that drives him crazy about his home, which he could have avoided if he had only payed attention. But “when, after moving in, he tried to scrape it off, he scratched the glass” (Lahiri 137); not only is his ignorance a discomfort to him, it is literally damaging. The house is a metaphor for his marriage with Twinkle, a quasi-arranged marriage that he rushes into in desperate need for a companion that is a safe option. It is only later that aspects of her personality that he disregarded begin to aggravate him. Lahiri uses Sanjeev as an example of what happens when people make serious but ordinary life decisions on a basis of blatant misconceptions.
The reason the personal tragedies are “subtle” is because the characters cannot do anything about the unraveling of their delusions. Lahiri’s writing is not dramatic and rather insinuates a calm acceptance of the truth. Furthermore, the object of each character’s deceptions are not actually deceptive. All fault lies on those with the overly-active imagination, seeking to escape harsh realities. In life, the malady of delusion is unavoidable but never stands permanent. It is impossible for people to make their lives wholly comfortable.
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