The expensive camera with a telephoto lens that Mr. Das uses to snap pictures throughout the story symbolizes the Das family’s bi-cultural identity and wealth. Mr. Das often uses the camera to take photographs of things that are common sights in India—for instance, the Hanuman monkeys, as well as a man with a turban sitting atop a cart. In presenting Mr. Das taking pictures of these everyday sights, Lahiri positions him and his family as outsiders in relation to their own country of origin. The Das family may have Indian roots, but their identity is ultimately shaped by having been born and raised in America.
On another level, the camera represents the Das family’s wealth, especially in comparison with that of their tour guide, Mr. Kapasi. Mr. Kapasi has to work two jobs to support his family. Mr. Das, meanwhile, not only can afford to go on vacation in India, but can also afford expensive equipment to document the trip. In this way, the camera signifies the gap in affluence that exists between the Das family and Mr. Kapasi, as well as that between India and America more broadly.
The Camera Quotes in Interpreter of Maladies
While Mr. Das adjusted his telephoto lens, Mrs. Das reached into her straw bag and pulled out a bottle of colorless nail polish, which she proceeded to stroke on the tip of her index finger.
The little girl stuck out her hand. “Mine too. Mommy, do mine too.”
“Leave me alone,” Mrs. Das said, blowing on her nail and turning her body slightly. “You’re making me mess up.”
Mr. Kapasi pulled over to the side of the road as Mr. Das took a picture of a barefoot man, his head wrapped in a dirty turban, seated on top of a cart of grain sacks pulled by a pair of bullocks. Both the man and the bullocks were emaciated.