Our entire perception of the world is, inevitably, quite surficial. We live our lives according to how we want to, assigning roles to people around us regardless of their preference, which subsequently leaves to their dissonance and our frustration and disappointment. While for me a person may be, first, my girlfriend or my friend, it will never be the central point of their self-identification. Say, for instance, to my mother I will always remain her son, that being my only and main role in her life, but I still identify myself as a Russian, a student, a 19-year-old, etc. That will always be one of the key reasons of misunderstandings and conflicts between people. In my opinion, Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ is revolving around this exact issue – the discrepancy between what we want to see (here – what we want a person to be) and what the thing really is (how the person sees himself).
The story does a fantastic job at illustrating this issue with both the dialogue and the symbolism of its setting. The dialogue supports the idea quite clearly, especially near the end of the piece in the exchange between Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Das, but why have you told me this information?”- he responds to her confession, disproving her assumption that he is a telepathically-skilled interpreter of maladies both spiritual and physical. No, Mr. Kapasi was always just a translator, but it is merely his self-identification, which has nothing to do with her perception. Mrs. Das sees what she wants to see, and the one she thought she could confide in turns out to be a stranger.
The Sun Temple, which the characters of the book had been planning to see all along, is a symbol for all the relationships fallen victim to misunderstanding and unwillingness to understand. The description of the temple features a lot of symbols – some more obvious than others (say, the depiction of erotic scenes on the exterior walls would be a symbol from a naive expectation from a relationship), but I am only going to focus on one excerpt from the exposition. “It was no longer possible to enter the temple, for it had filled with rabble years ago, but they admired the exterior; as did all the tourists Mr. ’Kapasi brought there, slowly strolling along each of its sides” – this, perhaps, exemplifies all the withered and faded loves. Basically, what was once beautiful is now only possible to observe from the outside, similarly to how Mr. Kapasi sees the Das couple. The exterior is the only thing deserving admiration, because the inside is ruins. The tourists walking outside, at the same time, are all the people in our lives, looking at us and our loves with glass eyes of fake involvement.
Reference: all quotations taken from Jhumpa Lahiri, “Interpreter of maladies: stories”, Houghton Mifflin, 1999.