Identity Crisis in Interpreter of Maladies

Romy Tuli

- Romy Tuli

Diaspora is the dispersal of people from one country to another due to several reasons and circumstances. The study of diaspora in literature includes Cultural Hybridity, Postcolonial issues, Idenitity crisis, Marginalisation and so on. Jhumpa Lahiri, in her Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies has managed to bring all the aspects of diasporic literature.

Keywords: Culture, Diaspora, Identity

Diaspora is the dispersal of people from one country to another due to several reasons and circumstances. These can either be hurtful or due to personal and social circumstances. Diaspora is defined as “the spreading of people from one original country to other countries” (Cambridge Dictionaries). It is “a word of Greek origin refers to the dispersal throughout the world of people with the same territorial origin”(Ben-rafael 1). The term Diaspora has a history. Robin Cohen has described that the word “Diaspora” was “mainly confined with the study of Jewish Experience” (10).
Cohen has described four phases of Diaspora in his book Global Diasporas: An Introduction from catastrophic dispersal of Jews from Egypt to the dispersals of Arabs, Africans, Armenians, Irish and Turks. Discussing African Diaspora, he mentions about the slave trade in Africa. There were many voices raised against the slavery in America that degrades the life of Diaspora. Persons like Olaudah Equiano, Jupiter Hammon, Philip Wheatly, Harriet Wilson and many other black writers presented the suffering condition of slaves through their works. The crises of Diaspora went intensified with the political issues that led to the formation of refugees such as found in the case of India-Pakistan partition, the partition of Bangladesh and Pakistan and the arrival of Parsis in Bombay(Mumbai).
Cultural Identity is one of the major traits of the contemporary theory of Diaspora. The New Encyclopedia Britannica defines culture as:
Culture, the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior. … [it] consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and other related components. The development of culture depends upon humans’ capacity to learn and to transmit knowledge to succeeding generations. (874)
Thus culture is something that is accepted by people and passed on to the next generations. Identity is the outcome of the existing culture of any society when a person resides. But in Diasporic life, the cultural identity is affected because of the mixing of the lifestyle of the homeland country and the acceptance of the culture of the host country. The people fail to set themselves in either of the environment, and this results in their considering themselves as marginalised. According to Edward Said, the occident has the power to make the orient to term it as "other" and Stuart Hall has connected this othering to the identity crises in Diaspora.
Stuart Hall, in his essay "Cultural Identity and Diaspora", has described the identity crises in the African diaspora and these are applicable to the entire diaspora of the globe. He has explained that how the people in diaspora acquire a marginalised position as neither belonging to the host country nor the native land. Their culture seems hybrid, and doubling appears in their identity.  “Cultural identity … is a matter of becoming as well as of being … [the] inner exploration of cultural identity cripples and deforms [making those people] colourless, stateless [and] rootless” (Hall 112)
The partition of India and Pakistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh results in the formation of refugees. It can be “the expansion from a homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to further colonial ambitions”(Cohen 17). This journey out of the homeland is quite common these days, especially, the journey of Indians towards West. Further, he adds that there is a "collective memory and myth about homeland … location, history, suffering and achievements”. Stuart Hall has also accepted these views when he quotes for African diaspora; “Africa was, in fact present everywhere: in the everyday life and customs of the slave quarters, in the languages and patois of the plantations, in the names and words … and post-emancipation society” (11). This statement is quite relevant for whole of the diasporas existing across the globe that their native culture inspires their identity and hence affecting their host country resulting in “a tolerance for pluralism” (Cohen 17)
Hybridity is the term coined by Homi Bhabha, a post-colonial theorist who is settled in America. “Hybridity is often spoken of colloquially in terms of its use within horticulture as the combination of two kinds that produce a third”(Childs and Fowler 112). Hybridity is an important aspect of the theory of Diaspora as it describes how Diaspora change their values and customs while living in other countries under the impact of that country as;
During their stay in the new country and in interaction with the representative culture the subjectivities and modes of thinking of the diasporas also change and they too intervene in the cultural discourse of the dominant culture. (Densingh 3)
The hybrid culture directly influences the identity of the people living in Diaspora severely. They adapt the culture of the host country because their rituals, customs and living styles are made fun of by the natives of that country. As Said has suggested in his book Orientalism that it is the ability in the “occident” to make “orient” see themselves as “others” (11).
The study of diaspora is quite common these days and there are many emerging authors of diaspora such as Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Sashi Deshpande, Sashi Tharoor and Upamanyu Chaterjee, Arundhathi Roy, Vikram Chandra and Vikram Seth make remarkable progress in this field through their works.
Jhumpa Lahiri was born on July 11, 1967 in London, England and then she shifted to Rhode Island with her parents. She belongs to second generation diaspora as her parents were Bengali. In 2003, Lahiri published The Namesake, her first novel. Lahiri's second collection of short stories was Unaccustomed Earth (2008). In December 2015 Lahiri published a non-fiction piece called "Teach Yourself Italian" in The New Yorker about her experience learning Italian.
Interpreter of Maladies (1999) is the debut work of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, full of the identity crises of the Indian (Bengali) people living in America and received 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN awarded in the same year. Interpreter of Maladies is “a text whose cross-cultural themes create a natural opportunity to compare the presence of juxtaposed cultural values” (Shea 1). The book describes Lahiri’s personal experiences as second generation diaspora as she described in an interview;
The question of identity is always a difficult one, but especially so for those who are culturally displaced, as immigrants are, or those who grow up in two worlds simultaneously … The older I get, the more I am aware that I have somehow inherited a sense of exile from my parents. (Lahiri, Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri)
Lahiri herself has described that she wrote Interpreter of Maladies due to the cultural differences faced by her in America as she could neither say herself as the citizen of America nor India. She wanted to teach her children the customs of India as well while living in America.
Jhumpa Lahiri's characters tend to be immigrants from India, and their American reared children, exiles who straddle two countries, two cultures, not belonging to either; they are too used to freedom to accept the rituals and conventions of home, and yet too steeped in tradition to embrace American mores fully.(Densingh 4)
In the book, she has collaborated the identity crises of the people, that is, their native cultural identity and their suffering identity under the accepted values of America. “Lahiri imagines an American world not just through American eyes but through eyes that have seen other cultures and a mind that has understood other ways of thought” (Caesar 52). She has woven diasporic themes into their personal behaviours, food habits, marital lives, extramarital affairs, class differences, age differences, communications, infidelity, child psychology. Along with these, she has a keen eye on the attires of the characters along with the difference in narration in each of the stories by offering her characters a new outlook outside the boundaries of their country and a new vision towards their lives.
Through Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri recounts the lives of Indians and Indian Americans who are caught between the culture they inherited and the world in which they now find themselves. (Shea 1)
            The title of the book, again, brings the idea of the interpretation, that is, communication of the pains of the characters and the author herself becomes the “interpreter” of those “maladies” faced by the people living in dilemma of identity crises. Many stories are set in abroad whereas others in India, and it describes the dual background of the author
 The stories have several aspects that link them to the cultural identity of the characters. Some stories describe the dispersal of Indian people towards America in search of some work, trade or some academic ambitions whereas other deal with the existence of Bangladeshis in India and the treatment provided to them by Indians. In some, it can be observed that how, after the partition of East and West Pakistan, the Indian diaspora in abroad react to the situation although they are no more Indian. “The characters in the stories challenge the notion of fixity and inhabit a sort of fluidity in newly forges cultural patterns that are redrawn on the palimpsest of the previous cultural bearings” (Gholipur and Sanahmadi 1).
            The stories have a communication link between the characters as in some stories, the characters express themselves to their talks whereas in others, they speak through their habits, looks, and attires. Their communications reveal their identity that how far they are affected by their hybrid lifestyles. The people in diaspora establish themselves in the whole world through their talks, their customs, names, lifestyles, their histories and their stories about their "original homelands” (Cohen 6). In the story "A Temporary Matter", the couple is presented living in the same house with a negligible conversation between them. The power cut for five days appears as a path to bring them back into their healthy marital status through the confessions of their past secrets but the last confession of Shobha as she says, “I’ve been looking for an apartment and I’ve found one,”(Lahiri 18) marks the ending of the relationship from her side. Shukumar’s revealing of the truth “Our baby was a boy” (Lahiri 18) is a sort of conversation that adds fuel to the fire. There are very fewer conversations between the couple and thus mark the ending of the relationship. They both share the same room, but the talks hardly left to the comments made by Shobha such as, “Don’t work too hard” and “I’m going to shower before the lights go” (Lahiri 13).
 In the story "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine", the communication between the diaspora at America is presented who has fallen into the political crises, and thus their identities suffer. The story is presented from the viewpoint of a second diaspora child Lilia in her innocence so as to portray the conflict in her mind regarding the identity of Mr. Pirzada who, according to her father "Mr.Pirzada is Bengali, but he is a Muslim" (Lahiri 21). Her father further explains, “That too. One moment we were free and then we were sliced up … like a pie. Hindus here, Muslims there. Dacca no longer belongs to us” (Lahiri 22). This conversation puts a long lasting impact upon Lilia’s mind and raises a question that what the difference appears in the individuals after the political partition of native land. Lilia tries to figure out the difference between the two whereas, at the same time she notices, Mr. Pirzada and her parents spoke the same language, laughed at the same jokes, looked more or less the same.
 The communication that happens between Lilia and Mr. Pizada is, generally one-sided, less verbally but more through expressions and hence describing the identity of the latter. The expressions of Mr. Pirzada at the wrong cutting of pumpkin-
““Please forgive me.” He raised a hand to one side of his face, as if someone had slapped him there. “I am—it is terrible. I will buy another. We will try again” ”(Lahiri 25).
These expressions show the inner conflicts of Mr. Pirzada and about his worries for his homeland and family.
 The communication plays arole in the story "Interpreter of Maladies". Mr. Kapasi works as an interpreter at a doctor’s clinic. This work does not worth much to his wife whereas it appears “romantic” to second generation diaspora lady Mrs. Das. Lack of communication is in both the couples, that is, Mr. and Mrs. Das and Mr. and Mrs. Kapasi. “Mr. Kapasi realizes that the couple lacked communication and are stuck up in a loveless marriage that reminds of his own grief” (Shanthi 1064). The difference in the style of communication is visible when the story tells, “Their accents sounded just like the ones Mr.Kapasi heard on American television programs, though not like the ones on Dallas” (Lahiri 32). It means that the language used by diaspora is different from the natives of America and thus provide a difference between the two.
The communication between Das couple makes them more "siblings" and less a couple. The mode of communication used by Mrs. Das is less verbal and more through his cosmetics, attire, sunglasses, eating habits and her nail paint. Mr. Das communicates through his book and his camera. The verbal talk between them is almost negligible apart from "conflict in form of communication" (Shanthi). Mrs. Das seems interested in Mr. Kapasi for his job of an interpreter, and she feels like "expressing" her life experiences to him. She uses the word "express" "instead of "tell" or "say" because she does not feel that she expresses herself primarily in this way" (Shanthi 1066). Mrs. Das expresses her emotions to Mr. Kapasi by saying, “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.”  There are huge gaps between her and her husband and these circumstances force her to fall in extramarital affairs.
Moreover, the conversation that takes place between Mr. Kapasi and Das family, especially with Mr. Das is largely through mirror and thoughts and less through general talks. The communication between Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das is largely one-sided and through the imagination of Mr. Das. Within a single minute, he imagines each and every action and speech of Mrs. Das that how, while writing address of Mr. Kapasi, she would laugh at the most entertaining anecdotes made by Mr. Kapasi and would keep it as a memory in her place at 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 fried onions under a magenta umbrella” (Lahiri 35).
These imaginative conversations express Lahiri’s power to portray psychoanalytic themes in the stories. The identities of the characters further come out of their thoughts and actions collaboratively.
            In “A Real Durwan”, the old lady, known as Boori Ma, is presented as a lady who is a refugee. According to the native Indians, she speaks nothing but lies. The people in her neighbours comments, "Boori Ma’s mouth is full of ashes, but she is the victim of changing times” (Lahiri 43). She idealizes her ancestral home by saying, “Believe me, don’t believe me, such comforts you cannot even dream them” (Lahiri 43). As Cohen suggests, there is “a collective memory and myth about homeland”, “an idealization of the real or imagined ancestral home”. The communication of Boori Ma brings these features of her life but unfortunately, due to “a troubled relationship with host societies, suggesting a lack of acceptance” (Cohen 17), these talks are not taken as granted by any of the character in the story. “She becomes an object of mock, pity and laughter which many times aroused her pain that she reflects” (Shanthi 7).
            The story “Sexy” itself communicates the meaning of the word ‘’sexy’’ which creates a huge difference between the mentality of diaspora and natives of America. Dev uses this word for his mistress Miranda and she takes it as a compliment. “It was the first time a man had called her sexy, and when she closed her eyes she could still feel his whisper drifting through her body, under her skin” (Lahiri 52) . The same word has a different meaning for Indian Diaspora as Rohin tells Miranda under the influence of his mother that “It means loving someone you don’t know” (Lahiri 59). Here, it is quite clear that how the language changes with the change of cultural background and it has power to break a relation whether a marital or extramarital.
            Hybridity is one of the common features of the stories as it describes the impact of mixed culture upon the lives of the characters that how they mix their own values and customs to that of American ones and a new sort of living style is produced. “Cultural identity … is the matter of being as well as becoming … what we really are ... what we have become” (Hall 115). A sort of “doubleness” is visible in the stories related to the identity of the characters. Hybridity is visible in almost all the stories.
            In “A Temporary Matter”, it is visible that the living style of Shobha and Shukumar is hybrid. They are Bengali and living in America but their living style is a blend of both the cultures. Certain things present this idea in the story. The Indian habits are presented as such as, use of peppers, rosemary and chutney in their foods, rubbing of half lemon on fingertips so as to get rid from the odour of garlic, use of garlic cloves and cardamom pod, cooking of rice, “shrimp malai” and “rogan josh” and Shukumar’s love for “Bengali poets”. Shukamar’s mother’s religious nature also depicts her Indian culture. American style of living such as “calander of Wiliam Morris Wallpaper patterns”, cooking of Italian in, using bottles of “vinho verde”, drinking of ginger ale from a martini glass as according to American Pregnancy Association, it is good for removing morning sickness. Shobha’s friendship with Gillian involves drinking and smoking which reflect American way of living in the truest sense of the word.
The hybridity is also visible in the story “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine”. The eating habits, living style, choice for music and talking habits of both Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s parents are same such as eating “chicken curry off the banana leaves”, chewing of “fennel seeds after meals as a digestive, drank no alcohol, for dessert dipped austere biscuits into successive cups of tea” (Lahiri 21). Eating “mincemeat kebabs with coriander chutney”, eating of lentils with fried onions, green beans with coconut, setting of watch by Mr. Pirzada to the local time of Dacca, interest in the music of Kishor Kumar, putting of World map on the table at Lilia’s home by marking the countries India, Pakistan and Bangladesh upon it, involvement of Lilia and his family along with Mr. Pirzada in the festival of Halloween such as making face out of pumpkin, going out of Lilia that evening, prayers done by Lilia for the well being of Mr. Pirzada’s family although she is never taught to do so are all the instances presenting culture of diaspora blended with that of Americans such as wearing of silk tie, haircut of Lilia’s mother “bobbed to a suitable length for a part-time job as a bank teller" (Lahiri 21) and  teaching of American History and Geography to Lilia at her school.
Through the character of Lilia, Lahiri has expressed her own experiences as she says in the interview that her parents were suspicious of the country in which they were living and its culture as well. Visits to India, remembering its cultural values and passing them to child Jhumpa was natural. She speaks her own experiences regarding that matter saying clearly,
“But when I was a child it was harder for me to understand their views. At times I felt that their expectations for me were in direct opposition to the reality of the world we lived in.” (Lahiri, Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri)
The lifestyle of Mr. and Mrs. Das in “Interpreter of Maladies” along with their habits, marital life, communications, children, behavior and language is set against a native Indian man Mr. Kapasi. The outcome is hybrid that some things are followed by America diaspora totally, some partially whereas other almost negligible. Story describes Das family as, “The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors” (Lahiri 29). The family of Mr. Kapasi follows Indian customs. The story ends when Mrs. Das "expresses" the truth of her life to Mr. Kapasi. It can be seen that how diaspora cannot differentiate themselves from their roots. Mrs. Das' eating of puffed rice and not offering it to anyone, her regret for making extramarital affairs represent Indian values whereas her dress as viewed from the eyes of Mr. Kapasi;
 “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 appliqué in the shape of a strawberry” (Lahiri 30).
Her dressing shows her an American, but her values are Indian. She thus represents a hybrid culture. The children face some trouble due to shifting atmosphere as they get confused by the driver sitting on the "wrong" side of the car. Mr. Kapasi's job that appears "thankless" to him, to his wife and other people of his community seems a "responsible" job to Das family. This is how the point of view shifts. 
            Cultural differences are visible in the story “Sexy” where Dev, an Indian living in America falls in love will American girl Miranda though he is already married to an Indian diasporic girl whom he terms as “Madhuri Dixit”, a famous Bollywood actress. Clash of cultures affect the characters especially Rohin and his mother, Miranda and Dev. Dev’s extramarital affair with Miranda shows the hybridity of his character that how a married Indian man fails to hold his relationship with his wife. Similarly, Marinda also shows her interest in Indians and their culture by visiting an Indian grocery in Central Square, asking the shopkeeper for "Hot Mix" which he says that it is too spicy for her. Moreover, her interest in The Economist and locating Bengal in the map to find the birth place of Dev also shows her hybrid identity. Whereas, at the same time, Dev tries to change the topic by saying her; “Nothing you’ll ever need to worry about”. She, at the end, finds that church suits her more rather that her love affair, so she ends her relationship with Dev. Rohin’s learning of the capitals of the countries of the whole of the world for a competition indicates his interest in the world outside the countries India and America.
          As Cohen puts it, there is “an idealization of the real or imagined ancestral home and a collective commitment to its maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity, even to its creation”. This idealization of the ancestral home is visible in Interpreter of Maladies along with “a collective memory and myth about the homeland, including its location, history, suffering and achievements” (Cohen 17). The characters of diaspora appear as idealizing their ancestral home by one or the other way whether they belong to first or second generation diaspora. These memories and myths enhance the impact of their culture upon their identities.
 Shobha and Shukumar, although, belong to the diaspora, but even then they introduce "India" by one or the other way in their talks. The power cuts for five days remind Shobha of India and she exclaims, “It’s like India … Sometimes the current disappears for hours at a stretch. I once had to attend an entire rice ceremony in the dark. The baby just cried and cried. It must have been so hot” (Lahiri 13). Moreover, Shukumar’s dissertation is also on agrarian revolts in India expresses how they are still connected to India by one or the other way. Their game of confessing their past secrets is also connected with the memory of Shobha when she says, “I remember during power failures at my grandmother’s house, we all had to say something” (Lahiri 12). The story has certain aspects that shows the remembrance of the homeland in the minds of the characters such as preserving of "a wedding gift from an uncle in Lucknow", following rituals such as the description of first solid food given to a newly born baby depending on its gender.
            Idealization of the past is fully flourished in the story “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” through the character portrayal of Lilia’s parents and Mr. Pirzada. The story is entirely presented through the eyes of Lilia and thus explores Lahiri’s talent in presenting child psychology through many instances such as Lilia’s prayers by putting a candy in her mouth a night, saying prayer for the well being of Mr. Pirzada’s family and then not brushing the teeth due to the fear of losing the essence of that prayer. Presentation of child psychology can be seen by Lilia's noting down each and every act of the elders.
 The story presents many instances of the remembrance of homeland through Mr. Pirzada's acts such as preserving photograph of his seven daughters whose name starting with the letter "A". Wearing of "black fez" by Mr. Pirzada resembles his Muslim identity. The recognizable tag of "Z.Sayeed Suitors" embroidered inside his coat expresses the same. Watching of News of disputes in Asia, marking of Calcutta by a “silver star” on the map of the world, continuous questions put by Lilia’s father regarding the history and Geography of India to Lilia by her father, Lilia’s interest in the books showing Geography of Dacca rather than other project work assigned to her by her teacher Mrs. Kenyon. The grim faces of the family along with their phone calls to Calcutta to know the condition of the country bring the involvement of diaspora to their homeland along with the host country. The effects of these remembrances are also visible in second generation diaspora such as by preserving a sandalwood box used by Lilia to store her candies given by Mr. Pirzada. This box was used by Lilia’s paternal grandmother to store the “ground areca nuts” and ate after taking a bath every morning.
            In “Interpreter of Maladies”, Das couple is, no doubt, belongs to second generation diaspora and are observed on a visit to India but even then, their talks represent India. Mr. Das holds a book upon which it is written “India” explains that how the couple is still attached to the country.
The description of Sun Temple read by Mr. Das from tour book which he is holding expresses the rich heritage of India. The book describes how the wheels of the chariot are supposed to symbolize the wheel of life depicting the cycle of “creation, preservation, and achievement of realization … eight thick and thin spokes, dividing the day into eight equal parts. 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” (Lahiri 35).
 "A Real Durwan" is a story that is based on the idealization of homeland and its collective memory by Boori Ma who is a refugee from Bangladesh. “The story is an emotional description of the communication between the exiled citizens and the present society in which they now live in” (Lahiri 1067).  She is capable of exaggerating her past at such lengths and heights. All the time, to anyone and everyone, she recites the stories if her past either richness of hardships with her voice “brittle and sorrow”. Lahiri writes for her in the voice of third person narrator;
“It was with this voice that she enumerated, twice a day as she swept the stairwell, the details of her plight and losses suffered since her deportation to Calcutta after Partition” (Lahiri 42).
All that she has, is gone, along with her family and nation. As she says, she has seen a lot of riches which everyone cannot dream are gone and rather she works as a mere sweeper who is looked down at by everyone living there. Her condition is explained as;
“At that time, she maintained, the turmoil had separated her from a husband, four daughters, a two-story brick house, a rosewood almari, and a number of coffer boxes whose skeleton keys she still wore, along with her lifesavings, tied to the free end of her sari” (Lahiri 42).
By the time she reaches the second-floor landing, she grasps the attention of everyone present there to "menu of her third daughter's wedding night" who is married to a school principal. She describes everything including the foods prepared, the guests invited and the washing of the hands done by the public.
            Going away from homeland either due to any catastrophic reasons such as forced dispersal by the cruel treatment of the ruler or due to some political reasons or in search of job or any other work/occupation are frequent phenomenon in Diaspora.  William Safran has described the concept through "myths" of return that in some cases, the return of diaspora to their native lands is possible whereas in others it is not.
Being a diasporic fiction, Interpreter of Maladies shows the dispersal of the characters from India to abroad. Some stories are set in America whereas other in India. The stories of America show the life of the diaspora in abroad whereas the stories set in India deal with the visit of these people to their homeland. It is quite clear from the stories that the diaspora come to India just for visits or sight-seeing as in “Interpreter of Maladies”, “A Temporary Matter” and “sexy”. Jhumpa Lahiri has involved her personal experience in the book as she describes in her interview regarding her first serious writing,
“my first attempts were … always set in Calcutta, which is a city I know quite well as a result of repeated visits with my family, sometimes for several months at a time … The reason my first stories were set in Calcutta is due partly to that perspective — that necessary combination of distance and intimacy with a place.” (Lahiri, Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri)
In “A Temporary Matter”, even both Shukumar and Shobha visit to India very less but even then, there is very long lasting impact of the country upon their psyche. Shukumar is preparing his dissertation “agrarian revolts in India” and this topic has its roots in India only,
“The country began to interest him, and he studied its history from course books as if it were any other subject. He wished now that he had his own childhood story of India” (Lahiri
The going away from homeland is also presented in “When Mr. Pirzada came to Dine” as Mr. Pirzada a Bengali muslim has come to America for study as the government of Pakistan has awarded him a grant to “study the foliage of New England”.  In spring and summer, he collects data in Vermount and Maine while in rest of the year, that is, in autumn and winters he shifts to a university north of Boston for writing books regarding whatever he has read and discovered. Visits of Lilia’s parents to India are frequent sometimes along with Lilia also. The story appears full of political background when Mr. Pirzada says viewing the condition of India, “Another refugee, I am afraid, on Indian territory.” It means that the people who themselves are living as diaspora in some country are threatened by the coming of refugees in their own homeland. At the end of the story, Mr. Pirzada returns to Bangladesh to his family happily and sends regards to Lilia’s family.
The return to India by second generation diaspora couple to India for sight-seeing in “Interpreter of Maladies” describes how they are interested in Indian beauty in the Sun Temple at Konarak. Mr. Das is holding a paperback tour book named “INDIA”. Children are very much interested in monkeys to which Mr. Kapasi says “we call them the hanuman”. Mr. Das, too, is much interested in the monkeys that he takes pictures of them. Mr. Das is very much interested in the geographical beauty of the Sun Temple fully well as he keeps on reading from the book.
In “A Real Durwan” the trauma of dispersal of Boori Ma from Bangladesh to India and the attitude of natives towards her describes the ill effects of the political partition of the countries upon the people. She has come to India and has faced catastrophic situations throughout her life by saying “believe me, don’t believe me”. In “Sexy”, Indians are presented only as doing job in America such as Laxmi works for a public radio station in the fund raising department. The frequent visits of the diaspora are also there such as Dev’s wife’s visit to India.
The difference between Education System of India and America has been pointed out by Lahiri in her stories. The story “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” describes how Western Education distracts the minds of diasporic children from their roots. Lilia is always taught American Education- history and Geography at her school and nobody talks about the current disputes of East and West Pakistan. The mind of the child automatically shuffles between the environment at residence and at school.
Cohen has described the characteristics of diaspora as,
“A sense of empathy and co-responsibility with co-ethnic members in other countries of settlement even where home has become more vestigial” (Cohen)
This sharing can be the result of “troubled relationships” with the people of host countries. The theme of empathy and co-responsibility with the members of same community in diaspora runs throughout the stories of Interpreter of Maladies. The people share their food stuffs, talks, problems, emotions with each other.
            In “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine”, the family of Lilia invites Mr. Pirzada only because his name appears Indian. They have many acquaintances at university by finding the names familiar to them in the directory at the beginning of every semester and circling them. They do so only due to troubled relationships with the host country America and its citizens such as non availability of desired utilities at supermarkets and no home visits by doctors. The story is one of the fine examples of Lahiri’s command upon presenting brotherhood among diaspora. They have a common culture although they are politically separated. During traumatic circumstances at Dacca, Mr. Pirzada starts spending nights with the family. A grim look appears on the faces of entire family.
            “Interpreter of Maladies” shows that how second generation diaspora show non-involvement with the native Indians in the beginning but ultimately consider the Indians only as their companion. The story “A Real Durwan” and “Sexy” also describes the hostile attitude of people towards the members of other community. In “A Real Durwan”, the people fail to trust the cries of Boori Ma at the end when she shouts that she has no involvement in the theft. In “Sexy”, the people of Indian diaspora have their own understanding and they avoid Americans to involve their daily talks as they have their own method of using language for their own community.
            Concluding the argument, the above discussion makes it clear that Interpreter of Maladies describes how the people of Indian origin, living in America, are connected to their homeland by one or the other ways. They pass their culture to their younger ones and thus the second generation of diaspora is equally affected. They neither belong to America nor to India. The stories also describe that how the identity of a person is highly influenced by the culture of its society.

Works Cited

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About the AuthorRomy Tuli has done her Master of Philosophy in Comparative Literature from the Central University of Punjab. Currently, she is working as an Assistant Professor at Amity University, Haryana. She has publication in Sufi Literature and Ecocriticism. Her interest is mostly in poetry and story writing. Her works are published at, and 

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