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Interpreter of Maladies | Plot Summary

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Summary

A Temporary Matter

Shoba and Shukumar are a young Indian American couple living near Boston, Massachusetts. Electricity repairs require a power cut in their apartment for one hour a day, and they use the hour of darkness to take turns confessing mistakes and indiscretions to each other. Such a routine helps distract them from the growing alienation caused by the loss their child, who was stillborn six months earlier. Finally Shoba announces that she is moving out of the apartment because she wants to separate from her husband.

When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

Ten-year-old Lilia and her family are Indian Americans living in a New England university town in 1971. Lonely for company, Lilia's parents befriend Mr. Pirzada, a visiting scholar from Dacca in East Pakistan. The guest, formal and polite, comes every evening for dinner. That fall, as children celebrate Halloween, India and Pakistan come to the brink of war. Soon, Mr. Pirzada returns to Dacca to be reunited with his wife and seven children.

Interpreter of Maladies

Mr. and Mrs. Das are Indian Americans who have brought their three young children on a sightseeing trip to India. Mr. Kapasi, a middle-aged tour guide who doubles as a translator for doctors and patients, guides the family from Puri to the Sun Temple at Konarak. During the excursion, Mr. Kapasi, who is trapped in a loveless marriage, grows infatuated with Mrs. Das, who confesses to Mr. Kapasi about a secret extramarital affair she had. Her unburdening puzzles and repels Mr. Kapasi, who saves one of the Das children from some aggressive monkeys.

A Real Durwan

Boori Ma, aged 64, is a fragile but feisty durwan (live-in concierge) in an apartment building in Calcutta. The residents regard her as an eccentric entertainer, allowing her to come and go in their apartments. Mr. Dalal, who deals in plumbing supplies, installs two new water basins in the building—one of them in a public area; the residents soon grow resentful about their new amenity. In a collective act of ill will, they turn on Boori Ma and oust her from the building.

Sexy

Miranda and Laxmi are coworkers at a public radio station in Boston, and Laxmi confides that her cousin's husband has been having an extramarital affair. Soon afterward, Miranda, who is 22 and unmarried, meets Dev, a dashing middle-aged Indian American married man, with whom she begins an affair. After some months, however, Miranda becomes disillusioned, especially when Dev cannot remember the words that he himself whispered to her: "You're sexy." A visit from Rohin, the seven-year-old son of Laxmi's cousin, deepens Miranda's feelings of regret and confusion, and she breaks off the affair with Dev.

Mrs. Sen's

Mrs. Sen is an Indian American woman living in Massachusetts whose husband teaches at a local university. Mrs. Sen undertakes to babysit Eliot, an 11-year-old boy whose mother must commute to work at a distant office. The story dramatizes the conflicts facing Mrs. Sen as she struggles to become more assimilated into American life. She finds driving lessons especially challenging, and after she is involved in a minor traffic accident, she surrenders her babysitting job.

This Blessed House

Twinkle and Sanjeev are Indian American newlyweds with strikingly different personalities. As they explore the house recently purchased by Sanjeev, they discover more and more Christian memorabilia: effigies, busts, and posters. Sanjeev reacts with consternation, Twinkle with delight. At a housewarming party, the guests go on a treasure hunt in the attic, discovering an enormous silver bust of Jesus, which Twinkle places on the mantle.

The Treatment of Bibi Haldar

In India, Bibi Haldar, 29 years old, suffers from a mysterious illness whose symptoms suggest epilepsy or a case of hysteria; no doctor has been able to treat her successfully. Meanwhile, Bibi works taking inventory for her older cousin, Haldar, who owns a cosmetics shop. The neighbors decide she needs a man, and despite the antipathy of Haldar and his wife, a marriage advertisement is published, but to no result. Some months later, the neighbors find Bibi pregnant, and they help her deliver a son. No one can identify the father, but Bibi seems cured.

The Third and Final Continent

The narrator left India in 1964 to pursue his education—first in London, and then in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In America he rents a room from Mrs. Croft, an eccentric 103-year-old landlady. The narrator prepares for the arrival of his wife, Mala, from India, and he gives up his room for a furnished apartment. Sometime afterwards, he reads Mrs. Croft's obituary in the newspaper and laments her death. Many years later, the narrator and Mala have become American citizens. They now have a son, who attends Harvard University, and it is clear that they have assimilated successfully into American life.

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