Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories

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10 November 2015

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       The state of being a foreign is when a thing or a person is defined to be in a place where it, he or she does not originally belong. To elaborate this more, being introduced from outside also explains the state of being foreigner. From the mentioned definition, foreignness as a theme is how the writer (in our context lahiri) tries to express the whole idea of being a foreigner. Foreignness as a theme can also have a different meaning apart from being in a place where you do not belong. This other meaning reveals foreignness as slavery of today that enables people from one part of a planet to buy cheap goods produced by other people from another part of the country working in a slave like condition in a supply chain that runs across the planet.

        In the narration “interpreter of maladies”, lahiri tries to revel the themes of barrier to human and opportunities for human communication, if this is deeply explored, it shows kind of foreignness. From our definition of foreign, (being in a place where you don’t belong) when a barrier of communication is placed on human (who is a social being) it places him or her in another world of solitude thus making him or her foreigner in his new state (Lahiri, 98). Foreignness as a theme is also explained by how lahiri take a view of the community and its practises on marital, extra marital, parent child relationship and dichotomy of care and neglect.

       Lahiri’s ideas on the community explain the theme of foreignness through many comparisons throughout her narration. An example of how foreignness can affect a person life is seen when Mrs. Sen’s severe home sickness is compared to adoptability of Lilia’s mother and Mara. The severe home sickness is as a result of Mrs. Sen not being where she belongs. Another instance of foreignness as a theme is seen in Shakumars case. Despite his parent living in India with him, they had settled in New Hamshire and they preferred not travelling with him to Hamshire. ”As a teenager, he preferred sailing camp and scooping ice during summer holidays to going to Calcutta”. This was due to the fact that they feared that something bad might happen to their son in a foreign country. Reason behind this was the boy once almost died following an attack of amoebic dysentery. The attack was as a result of the boy being taken from where he belonged (India) to a foreign country (new hamshire). As Shakumars grew older and realised the importance of not be a foreigner, he opted to be left behind sailing and scooping ice at India to going to Calcutta with his parents.

       From the story “When Mr. Pirzada came to dine” it is clear how being a foreigner gets unnecessary attention from the people to whom he does not belong. This is evidenced by how a child takes note of how Mr. Pirzada arranges his pocket watch on a coffee table. .”Now that I had learned that Mr Pirzada was not an Indian started to study him with extra care to try to figure out what made him different’’ (jhumpa lahiri).

        It was not clear to this child observing him how the pocket watch should be arranged on the coffee table but him being a foreigner made the child believe that he was doing things differently from the way they should be done. This incidence also explains how being different from other can make you look like a foreigner (Lahiri, 161).From this context, Mr.pirzada’s decision to partition the country made him different from the others thus making him a foreigner. Still in trying to express how different people can judge you as being a foreigner, Mr. kapasi sees the Desi family as foreigners.“the family looked Indians but dressed like foreigners”(jhumpa lahiri, 159) despite their children are dressed with stiff brightly colour clothes and caps with translucent visors makes kapasi judge the Desi’s as foreigners.

        “A temporary matter” is a story inside interpreter of maladies. In this story, main focus is rested upon the sense of displacement attached to immigration experience. Here she explains foreignness as the sense of belonging to a particular place and culture and yet at the same time being an outsider to another (Lahiri, 113).This whole idea brings indifferent within the person involved making him or her feel a foreigner (not being where he belong). A study of lahiri’s stories by Asha Choubey revels that Indians who have settled abroad are afflicted with the sense of being in exile. From her summary of Lahiri’s stories, Asha Choubey notes that a sense of exile and being prone to getting subjected to frequent denial of human communication is found in all lahiri’s stories. Once a person becomes subjected to denial of his or her communication right rights he feels a foreigner because he or she is not in his or her state (his or her real sense have been in a way been uprooted from him or her).

        Broken marriage like that of that Booli Ma makes her feel a foreigner. This is seen by the way she enumerated twice a day as she swept the stairwell she could remember of her plights and losses ever since she got deported to Calcutta after partition. Was it not for the fact that she was a foreigner at Calcutta she could not have remembered all the bitter memories. It’s due to the loneliness that she gets after being made a foreigner at Calcutta that she recalls all the good she had at her previous home. She goes ahead recalling her separation with her husband, four daughters, her two-story brick house and her coffer boxes.

        Mirandas foreignness makes her so frightened that she holds her breath as she walked passed along side Dixit’s house. She is so frightened that she even compares this fear to the one that she felt as the school bus passed cemetery (Lahiri, 97). From these exposures cited from lahiri’s stories, it’s clear that if one is subjected to being a foreigner he or she feels not accepted by the new environment. This is seen by how all characters mentioned above keep on recalling and reflecting their past at the places they originally belonged.

        To further elaborate this, lahiri once again points at the behaviour of mentioned earlier character who is Mrs. Sen. She gets married to Mr Sen. which implies that she had to be a foreigner at her husband’s place. Once there she is obsessed by how people from her behaved. She points a scene before the wedding about how women would gather to prepare food. She states that it was hard for her to sleep listening to their chatter. She even goes ahead to ask Eliot if she screamed at night whether anybody could help.’’ If I began to scream right now at the top of my lung, would someone come”? (jhumpa lahiri, 116). Like Mirando, her being in new environment makes her so afraid that she can’t sleep. This makes her so homesick that she misses the community she had in India that which is defined by taking care of each other rather than which she was now experiencing of being intrusive in the lives of others.

        Mrs. Sen also experiences difficulties in her foreign place in that she fearfully drives. Her ability to become distracted when driving marks her as someone lost in her own world making less the cautious to the needs and safety of other drivers. In an attempt to negotiate the road as Eliot’s mother, she finds herself being a very careless driver who causes a minor accident to Eliot and herself. All this was caused by her being new to America. Again foreignness as a theme evidenced.

         The aspect of foreignness is somehow linked to change of behaviour traits of characters seen in her stories. Many characters find themselves changing their behaviours in an attempt to adapt to their new environment (Lahiri, 126). For others it’s so wanting that they find themselves doing things that they later regret. An example is Miranda who made was ashamed of herself for making love with Dev. The act disturbs her that when she has nothing to do she goes to an Indian hotel and orders Indians food. She is so carried away by Indian language that she even wants to her name to an Indian one. It is clear then that people who are exposed to foreignness will evolve after having succumbed to their new culture.

        As represented by lahiri from two stories that were set from other stories, it’s clear that being a foreigner denies one a chance to fully express his thoughts. An example is taken from

      “A Real Durwan” and “The Treatment of Bibi Hardar”. In these two stories, the characters involved that is Boori Ma and Bibi Hardar are foreigners. They are used to show dichotomy carefulness and carelessness. To start with Boori Ma is described as a woman refugee who takes up man duties. The aspect of carelessness is seen when we first meet her inspecting her torn beddings for insects (Lahiri, 197). One of her neighbour took sympathy on her and asked if she thought the neighbours would give her some new bedding. Being a refugee it meant she was a foreigner and that is the neighbour took no interest in caring for her. Her on the other had being a care taker of the building took her time in sweeping the compound twice a day and more still she kept suspicious people off the building . This shows how careful she was handling he neighbours despite them not noticing her efforts.

        On the other hand, “treatment of Bibi harder” shows a completely different picture from that of “A Real Durwan” here, Bibi although suffering from epilepsy was given attention by the whole of community the community continued with its support for her until her father died. Once that happened, her care was taken to her neglect cousin Hardar and his wife. This to her was foreignness due to the fact that her being taken care of belonged to her passed father. The death of her father made her a foreigner in her cousin’s care. Later on this foreignness made the people who used to take care of her neglect her. It is then clear that foreignness can subject an individual great suffering more one is a foreigner in a place where dichotomy is an issue (Lahiri, 201).


Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. Internet resource.

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"Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories" StudyScroll, 10 November 2015,

StudyScroll. (2015). Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28 January, 2023]

"Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories" StudyScroll, Nov 10, 2015. Accessed Jan 28, 2023.

"Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories" StudyScroll, Nov 10, 2015.

"Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories" StudyScroll, 10-Nov-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

StudyScroll. (2015). Foreignness. Interpreter of Maladies: Stories. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 28-Jan-2023]

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