Both Mr. Das and Mrs. Das neglect their duties as parents and partners. Most obviously, Mrs. Das has a secret affair—the guilt over which is eating away at her, and the revelation of which would threaten to tear her family apart. Mr. Das also displays a distinct aversion toward his role as a husband and father, failing to discipline or keep an eye on his children. The fact that Mr. Kapasi thinks Mr. and Mrs. Das behave more like siblings than parents to their three children further underscores their immaturity. Through Mr. and Mrs. Das, Lahiri argues that refusing to take responsibilities for one’s actions results in a sort of toxic stasis that leaves families vulnerable. Genuine growth and healing, the story ultimately suggests, requires a genuine acknowledgment of obligations to loved ones—something of which neither Mrs. Das nor Mr. Das seem capable.
Mrs. Das most clearly reflects the danger of failing to take responsibility for one’s actions. Her betrayal of her husband has trapped her in a painful state of guilt, made clear in her confession to Mr. Kapasi about the affair that she had many years earlier and which led to the birth of her second child, Bobby. She tells Mr. Kapasi that, ever since, she has felt “terrible” looking at her husband and children. Given that Mr. Kapasi has a second job working as an interpreter of maladies in a doctor’s office, she hopes that he can help her find some “relief.”
Mr. Kapasi correctly diagnoses Mrs. Das’s state as one that is provoked by guilt over her affair rather than any bodily malady, but Mrs. Das is hardly relieved to hear this. On the contrary, she becomes so angry that she storms away from Mr. Kapasi. This encounter suggests that Mrs. Das is, in fact, plagued by shame, yet refuses to confront her guilt in order to move beyond her pain.
Mrs. Das’s betrayal of her husband is just one of many ways in which responsibilities and obligations are neglected in the Das family. By choosing not to tell her husband about the affair, Mrs. Das compounds her initial betrayal by continuing to allow her husband to believe that she has been faithful. However, Lahiri suggests that Mr. Das is also culpable for the breakdown of their marriage. Mrs. Das tells Mr. Kapasi how lonely and tired she had felt after the birth of her first child, Ronny, which implies that Mr. Das failed to pay attention to his wife’s needs after she became a mother. Instead, he was content with returning from work to watch television and bounce “Ronny on his knee.” The story that Mrs. Das tells Mr. Kapasi about her marriage suggests that the responsibility for parenting and running the household had fallen squarely on her shoulders, and this is part of the reason that she had come to feel estranged from her husband. As such, both Mr. and Mrs. Das have failed, in different ways, in their responsibilities towards one another as husband and wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Das’s relationship to their three children further reveals that they are failing in their duties as parents. Mrs. Das allows Bobby to grow up believing that Mr. Das is his father, effectively lying to her son. More immediately, throughout the car trip Mr. and Mrs. Das often ignore, or fail to respond adequately, to their children’s needs. For instance, the story begins with Mr. and Mrs. Das bickering over who should take Tina to the bathroom, with neither parent wanting to accept the responsibility. When Tina later asks her mother to polish her nails, Mrs. Das coldly tells her to leave her alone, again underscoring her resentment of and aversion to her maternal obligations.
Mrs. Das’s negligence results in direct danger for Bobby—not incidentally, the physical reminder of her affair and guilt. It is the trail of puffed rice that she leaves behind as she storms away from Mr. Kapasi that leads the Hanuman monkeys to surround Bobby and attack him at the end of the story. For his part, Mr. Das shows little concern about his directives being repeatedly ignored by his children and has failed to properly keep an eye on Bobby in this moment. Mr. and Mrs. Das’s negligence is further reflected in the fact that it is Mr. Kapasi, rather than the boy’s parents, who comes to his rescue.
The Dases in Lahiri’s story represent a family riven by guilt and failure. Mr. and Mrs. Das’s refusal to accept their obligations towards one another or their children leads only to family dysfunction and pain. The danger that Bobby is put in at the end of the story ultimately suggests that this repeated denial of responsibility on the part of the parents hurts everyone in their orbit.
Guilt and Responsibility ThemeTracker
Guilt and Responsibility Quotes in Interpreter of Maladies
The first thing Mr. Kapasi had noticed when he saw Mr. and Mrs. Das, standing with their children under the portico of the hotel, was that they were very young, perhaps not even thirty. In addition to Tina they had two boys, Ronny and Bobby, who appeared very close in age and had teeth covered in a network of flashing silver wires. The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors.
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.”
Bobby was conceived in the afternoon, on a sofa littered with rubber teething toys, after the friend learned that a London pharmaceutical company had hired him, while Ronny cried to be freed from his playpen. She made no protest when the friend touched the small of her back as she was about to make a pot of coffee, then pulled her against his crisp navy suit.
“For God’s sake, stop calling me Mrs. Das. I’m twenty-eight. You probably have children my age.”
“Not quite.” It disturbed Mr. Kapasi to learn that she thought of him as a parent. The feeling he had had toward her, that had made him check his reflection in the rearview mirror as they drove, evaporated a little.
“I told you because of your talents.” She put the packet of puffed rice back into her bag without folding over the top.
“I don’t understand,” Mr. Kapasi said.
When they found him, a little farther down the path under a tree, he was surrounded by a group of monkeys, over a dozen of them, pulling at his T-shirt with their long black fingers. The puffed rice Mrs. Das had spilled was scattered at his feet, raked over by the monkeys’ hands. The boy was silent, his body frozen, swift tears running down his startled face. His bare legs were dusty and red with welts from where one of the monkeys struck him repeatedly with the stick he had given it to earlier.