Module 04 written assignment – compare and contrast feminist


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For this assignment, you will write a 2-page compare and contrast paper on two of the authors from this week’s reading or video. Be sure to give equal weight to each author. You may include some background information on your authors, especially if their backgrounds impacted their subject matter. When writing about short stories, you do not want to simply restate the plot or events in the story, but instead, focus on the details of how each author handled the theme of the story. In this case, you might want to examine how the author explored gender roles in the time period of the story. Remember, this may not be in the same period as the author is writing but could be a different period in history.

Ideas to consider when comparing and contrasting (these are not required, just suggested):

  • Do both stories reflect the same theme? If not, what is the theme of each story?
  • What are the characters’ conflicts? How does each character resolve that conflict or do they?
  • Are there any epiphanies? (An epiphany is where the character changes as a result of the conflict)
  • What about symbolism? Are any major symbols or metaphorical images used?


Happy Endings


[b. 1939]

John and Mary meet.
What happens next?
If you want a happy ending, try A.

  1. John and Mary fall in love and get married. They both have worthwhile and remunerative jobs which they find stimulating and challenging. They buy a charming house. Real estate values go up. Eventually, when they can afford live-in help, they have two children, to whom they are devoted. The children turn out well. John and Mary have a stimulating and challenging sex life and worthwhile friends. They go on fun vacations together. They retire. They both have hobbies which they find stimulating and challenging. Eventually they die. This is the end of the story.
  2. Mary falls in love with John but John doesn’t fall in love with Mary. He merely uses her body for selfish pleasure and ego gratification of a tepid kind. He comes to her apartment twice a week and she cooks him dinner, you’ll notice that he doesn’t even consider her worth the price of a dinner out, and after he’s eaten the dinner he fucks her and after that he falls asleep, while she does the dishes so he won’t think she’s untidy, having all those dirty dishes lying around, and puts on fresh lipstick so she’ll look good when he wakes up, but when he wakes up he doesn’t even notice, he puts on his socks and his shorts and his pants and his shirt and his tie and his shoes, the reverse order from the one in which he took them off. He doesn’t take off Mary’s clothes, she takes them off herself, she acts as if she’s dying for it every time, not because she likes sex exactly, she doesn’t, but she wants John to think she does because if they do it often enough surely he’ll get used to her, he’ll come to depend on her and they will get married, but John goes out the door with hardly so much as a good-night and three days later he turns up at six o’clock and they do the whole thing over again.
    Mary gets run-down. Crying is bad for your face, everyone knows that and so does Mary but she can’t stop. People at work notice. Her friends tell her John is a rat, a pig, a dog, he isn’t good enough for her, but she can’t believe it. Inside John, she thinks, is another John, who is much nicer. This other John will emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon, a Jack from a box, a pit from a prune, if the first John is only squeezed enough.
    One evening John complains about the food. He has never complained about the food before. Mary is hurt.
    Her friends tell her they’ve seen him in a restaurant with another woman, whose name is Madge. It’s not even Madge that finally gets to Mary: it’s the restaurant. John has never taken Mary to a restaurant. Mary collects all the sleeping pills and aspirins she can find, and takes them and a half a bottle of sherry. You can see what kind of a woman she is by the fact that it’s not even whiskey. She leaves a note for John. She hopes he’ll discover her and get her to the hospital in time and repent and then they can get married, but this fails to happen and she dies.
    John marries Madge and everything continues as in A.
  3. John, who is an older man, falls in love with Mary, and Mary, who is only twenty-two, feels sorry for him because he’s worried about his hair falling out. She sleeps with him even though she’s not in love with him. She met him at work. She’s in love with someone called James, who is twenty-two also and not yet ready to settle down.
    John on the contrary settled down long ago: this is what is bothering him. John has a steady, respectable job and is getting ahead in his field, but Mary isn’t impressed by him, she’s impressed by James, who has a motorcycle and a fabulous record collection. But James is often away on his motorcycle, being free. Freedom isn’t the same for girls, so in the meantime Mary spends Thursday evenings with John. Thursdays are the only days John can get away.
    John is married to a woman called Madge and they have two children, a charming house which they bought just before the real estate values went up, and hobbies which they find stimulating and challenging, when they have the time. John tells Mary how important she is to him, but of course he can’t leave his wife because a commitment is a commitment. He goes on about this more than is necessary and Mary finds it boring, but older men can keep it up longer so on the whole she has a fairly good time.
    One day James breezes in on his motorcycle with some top-grade California hybrid and James and Mary get higher than you’d believe possible and they climb into bed. Everything becomes very underwater, but along comes John, who has a key to Mary’s apartment. He finds them stoned and entwined. He’s hardly in any position to be jealous, considering Madge, but nevertheless he’s overcome with despair. Finally he’s middle-aged, in two years he’ll be bald as an egg and he can’t stand it. He purchases a handgun, saying he needs it for target practice—this is the thin part of the plot, but it can be dealt with later—and shoots the two of them and himself.
    Madge, after a suitable period of mourning, marries an understanding man called Fred and everything continues as in A, but under different names.
  4. Fred and Madge have no problems. They get along exceptionally well and are good at working out any little difficulties that may arise. But their charming house is by the seashore and one day a giant tidal wave approaches. Real estate values go down. The rest of the story is about what caused the tidal wave and how they escape from it. They do, though thousands drown, but Fred and Madge are virtuous and lucky. Finally on high ground they clasp each other, wet and dripping and grateful, and continue as in A.
  5. Yes, but Fred has a bad heart. The rest of the story is about how kind and understanding they both are until Fred dies. Then Madge devotes herself to charity work until the end of A. If you like, it can be “Madge,” “cancer,” “guilty and confused,” and “bird watching.”
  6. If you think this is all too bourgeois, make John a revolutionary and Mary a counterespionage agent and see how far that gets you. Remember, this is Canada. You’ll still end up with A, though in between you may get a lustful brawling saga of passionate involvement, a chronicle of our times, sort of. 
  7. You’ll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don’t be deluded by any other endings, they’re all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.
    The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
    John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.
    So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with.
    That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.
    Now try How and Why.



Interpreter of Maladies


[b. 1967]

At the tea stall Mr. and Mrs. Das bickered about who should take Tina to the toilet. Eventually Mrs. Das relented when Mr. Das pointed out that he had given the girl her bath the night before. In the rearview mirror Mr. Kapasi watched as Mrs. Das emerged slowly from his bulky white Ambassador, dragging her shaved, largely bare legs across the back seat. She did not hold the little girl’s hand as they walked to the rest room.

They were on their way to see the Sun Temple at Konarak. It was a dry, bright Saturday, the mid-July heat tempered by a steady ocean breeze, ideal weather for sightseeing. Ordinarily Mr. Kapasi would not have stopped so soon along the way, but less than five minutes after he’d picked up the family that morning in front of Hotel Sandy Villa, the little girl had complained. 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. Mr. Kapasi was accustomed to foreign tourists; he was assigned to them regularly because he could speak English. Yesterday he had driven an elderly couple from Scotland, both with spotted faces and fluffy white hair so thin it exposed their sunburnt scalps. In comparison, the tanned, youthful faces of Mr. and Mrs. Das were all the more striking. When he’d introduced himself, Mr. Kapasi had pressed his palms together in greeting, but Mr. Das squeezed hands like an American so that Mr. Kapasi felt it in his elbow. Mrs. Das, for her part, had flexed one side of her mouth, smiling dutifully at Mr. Kapasi, without displaying any interest in him.

As they waited at the tea stall, Ronny, who looked like the older of the two boys, clambered suddenly out of the back seat, intrigued by a goat tied to a stake in the ground.

“Don’t touch it,” Mr. Das said. He glanced up from his paperback tour book, which said “INDIA” in yellow letters and looked as if it had been published abroad. His voice, somehow tentative and a little shrill, sounded as though it had not yet settled into maturity.

“I want to give it a piece of gum,” the boy called back as he trotted ahead.

Mr. Das stepped out of the car and stretched his legs by squatting briefly to the ground. A clean-shaven man, he looked exactly like a magnified version of Ronny. He had a sapphire blue visor, and was dressed in shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt. The camera slung around his neck, with an impressive telephoto lens and numerous buttons and markings, was the only complicated thing he wore. He frowned, watching as Ronny rushed toward the goat, but appeared to have no intention of intervening. “Bobby, make sure that your brother doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“I don’t feel like it,” Bobby said, not moving. He was sitting in the front seat beside Mr. Kapasi, studying a picture of the elephant god taped to the glove compartment.

“No need to worry,” Mr. Kapasi said. “They are quite tame.” Mr. Kapasi was forty-six years old, with receding hair that had gone completely silver, but his butterscotch complexion and his unlined brow, which he treated in spare moments to dabs of lotus-oil balm, made it easy to imagine what he must have looked like at an earlier age. He wore gray trousers and a matching jacket-style shirt, tapered at the waist, with short sleeves and a large pointed collar, made of a thin but durable synthetic material. He had specified both the cut and the fabric to his tailor—it was his preferred uniform for giving tours because it did not get crushed during his long hours behind the wheel. Through the windshield he watched as Ronny circled around the goat, touched it quickly on its side, then trotted back to the car.

“You left India as a child?” Mr. Kapasi asked when Mr. Das had settled once again into the passenger seat.

“Oh, Mina and I were both born in America,” Mr. Das announced with an air of sudden confidence. “Born and raised. Our parents live here now, in Assansol. They retired. We visit them every couple years.” He turned to watch as the little girl ran toward the car, the wide purple bows of her sundress flopping on her narrow brown shoulders. She was holding to her chest a doll with yellow hair that looked as if it had been chopped, as a punitive measure, with a pair of dull scissors. “This is Tina’s first trip to India, isn’t it, Tina?”

“I don’t have to go to the bathroom anymore,” Tina announced.

“Where’s Mina?” Mr. Das asked.

Mr. Kapasi found it strange that Mr. Das should refer to his wife by her first name when speaking to the little girl. Tina pointed to where Mrs. Das was purchasing something from one of the shirtless men who worked at the tea stall. Mr. Kapasi heard one of the shirtless men sing a phrase from a popular Hindi love song as Mrs. Das walked back to the car, but she did not appear to understand the words of the song, for she did not express irritation, or embarrassment, or react in any other way to the man’s declarations.

He observed her. 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. She was a short woman, with small hands like paws, her frosty pink fingernails painted to match her lips, and was slightly plump in her figure. Her hair, shorn only a little longer than her husband’s, was parted far to one side. She was wearing large dark brown sunglasses with a pinkish tint to them, and carried a big straw bag, almost as big as her torso, shaped like a bowl, with a water bottle poking out of it. She walked slowly, carrying some puffed rice tossed with peanuts and chili peppers in a large packet made from newspapers. Mr. Kapasi turned to Mr. Das.

“Where in America do you live?”

“New Brunswick, New Jersey.”

“Next to New York.”

“Exactly. I teach middle school there.”

“What subject?”

“Science. In fact, every year I take my students on a trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City. In a way we have a lot in common, you could say, you and I. How long have you been a tour guide, Mr. Kapasi?”

“Five years.”

Mrs. Das reached the car. “How long’s the trip?” she asked, shutting the door.

“About two and a half hours,” Mr. Kapasi replied. 

At this Mrs. Das gave an impatient sigh, as if she had been traveling her whole life without pause. She fanned herself with a folded Bombay film magazine written in English.

“I thought that the Sun Temple is only eighteen miles north of Puri,” Mr. Das said, tapping on the tour book.

“The roads to Konarak are poor. Actually it is a distance of fifty-two miles,” Mr. Kapasi explained.

Mr. Das nodded, readjusting the camera strap where it had begun to chafe the back of his neck.

Before starting the ignition, Mr. Kapasi reached back to make sure the cranklike locks on the inside of each of the back doors were secured. As soon as the car began to move the little girl began to play with the lock on her side, clicking it with some effort forward and backward, but Mrs. Das said nothing to stop her. She sat a bit slouched at one end of the back seat, not offering her puffed rice to anyone. Ronny and Tina sat on either side of her, both snapping bright green gum.

“Look,” Bobby said as the car began to gather speed. He pointed with his finger to the tall trees that lined the road. “Look.”

“Monkeys!” Ronny shrieked. “Wow!”

They were seated in groups along the branches, with shining black faces, silver bodies, horizontal eyebrows, and crested heads. Their long gray tails dangled like a series of ropes among the leaves. A few scratched themselves with black leathery hands, or swung their feet, staring as the car passed.

“We call them the hanuman,” Mr. Kapasi said. “They are quite common in the area.”

As soon as he spoke, one of the monkeys leaped into the middle of the road, causing Mr. Kapasi to brake suddenly. Another bounced onto the hood of the car, then sprang away. Mr. Kapasi beeped his horn. The children began to get excited, sucking in their breath and covering their faces partly with their hands. They had never seen monkeys outside of a zoo, Mr. Das explained. He asked Mr. Kapasi to stop the car so that he could take a picture.

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 a 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.”

The little girl occupied herself by buttoning and unbuttoning a pinafore on the doll’s plastic body.

“All set,” Mr. Das said, replacing the lens cap.

The car rattled considerably as it raced along the dusty road, causing them all to pop up from their seats every now and then, but Mrs. Das continued to polish her nails. Mr. Kapasi eased up on the accelerator, hoping to produce a smoother ride. When he reached for the gearshift the boy in front accommodated him by swinging his hairless knees out of the way. Mr. Kapasi noted that this boy was slightly paler than the other children. “Daddy, why is the driver sitting on the wrong side in this car, too?” the boy asked.

“They all do that here, dummy,” Ronny said.

“Don’t call your brother a dummy,” Mr. Das said. He turned to Mr. Kapasi. “In America, you know … it confuses them.”

“Oh yes, I am well aware,” Mr. Kapasi said. As delicately as he could, he shifted gears again, accelerating as they approached a hill in the road. “I see it on Dallas, the steering wheels are on the left-hand side.”

“What’s Dallas?” Tina asked, banging her now naked doll on the seat behind Mr. Kapasi.

“It went off the air,” Mr. Das explained. “It’s a television show.”

They were all like siblings, Mr. Kapasi thought as they passed a row of date trees. Mr. and Mrs. Das behaved like an older brother and sister, not parents. It seemed that they were in charge of the children only for the day; it was hard to believe they were regularly responsible for anything other than themselves. Mr. Das tapped on his lens cap, and his tour book, dragging his thumbnail occasionally across the pages so that they made a scraping sound. Mrs. Das continued to polish her nails. She had still not removed her sunglasses. Every now and then Tina renewed her plea that she wanted her nails done, too, and so at one point Mrs. Das flicked a drop of polish on the little girl’s finger before depositing the bottle back inside her straw bag.

“Isn’t this an air-conditioned car?” she asked, still blowing on her hand. The window on Tina’s side was broken and could not be rolled down.

“Quit complaining,” Mr. Das said. “It isn’t so hot.”

“I told you to get a car with air-conditioning,” Mrs. Das continued. “Why do you do this, Raj, just to save a few stupid rupees. What are you saving us, fifty cents?”

Their accents sounded just like the ones Mr. Kapasi heard on American television programs, though not like the ones on Dallas.

“Doesn’t it get tiresome, Mr. Kapasi, showing people the same thing every day?” Mr. Das asked, rolling down his own window all the way. “Hey, do you mind stopping the car. I just want to get a shot of this guy.”

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. In the back seat Mrs. Das gazed out another window, at the sky, where nearly transparent clouds passed quickly in front of one another.

“I look forward to it, actually,” Mr. Kapasi said as they continued on their way. “The Sun Temple is one of my favorite places. In that way it is a reward for me. I give tours on Fridays and Saturdays only. I have another job during the week.”

“Oh? Where?” Mr. Das asked.

“I work in a doctor’s office.”

“You’re a doctor?”

“I am not a doctor. I work with one. As an interpreter.”

“What does a doctor need an interpreter for?”

“He has a number of Gujarati patients. My father was Gujarati, but many people do not speak Gujarati in this area, including the doctor. And so the doctor asked me to work in his office, interpreting what the patients say.”

“Interesting. I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Mr. Das said.

Mr. Kapasi shrugged. “It is a job like any other.”

“But so romantic,” Mrs. Das said dreamily, breaking her extended silence. She lifted her pinkish brown sunglasses and arranged them on top of her head like a tiara. For the first time, her eyes met Mr. Kapasi’s in the rearview mirror: pale, a bit small, their gaze fixed but drowsy.

Mr. Das craned to look at her. “What’s so romantic about it?”

“I don’t know. Something.” She shrugged, knitting her brows together for an instant. “Would you like a piece of gum, Mr. Kapasi?” she asked brightly. She reached into her straw bag and handed him a small square wrapped in green-and-white-striped paper. As soon as Mr. Kapasi put the gum in his mouth a thick sweet liquid burst onto his tongue.

“Tell us more about your job, Mr. Kapasi,” Mrs. Das said. 

What would you like to know, madame?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, munching on some puffed rice and licking the mustard oil from the corners of her mouth. “Tell us a typical situation.” She settled back in her seat, her head tilted in a patch of sun, and closed her eyes. “I want to picture what happens.”

“Very well. The other day a man came in with a pain in his throat.”

“Did he smoke cigarettes?”

“No. It was very curious. He complained that he felt as if there were long pieces of straw stuck in his throat. When I told the doctor he was able to prescribe the proper medication.”

“That’s so neat.”

“Yes,” Mr. Kapasi agreed after some hesitation.

“So these patients are totally dependent on you,” Mrs. Das said. She spoke slowly, as if she were thinking aloud. “In a way, more dependent on you than the doctor.”

“How do you mean? How could it be?”

“Well, for example, you could tell the doctor that the pain felt like a burning, not straw. The patient would never know what you had told the doctor, and the doctor wouldn’t know that you had told the wrong thing. It’s a big responsibility.”

“Yes, a big responsibility you have there, Mr. Kapasi,” Mr. Das agreed.

Mr. Kapasi had never thought of his job in such complimentary terms. To him it was a thankless occupation. He found nothing noble in interpreting people’s maladies, assiduously translating the symptoms of so many swollen bones, countless cramps of bellies and bowels, spots on people’s palms that changed color, shape, or size. The doctor, nearly half his age, had an affinity for bell-bottom trousers and made humorless jokes about the Congress party. Together they worked in a stale little infirmary where Mr. Kapasi’s smartly tailored clothes clung to him in the heat, in spite of the blackened blades of a ceiling fan churning over their heads.

The job was a sign of his failings. In his youth he’d been a devoted scholar of foreign languages, the owner of an impressive collection of dictionaries. He had dreamed of being an interpreter for diplomats and dignitaries, resolving conflicts between people and nations, settling disputes of which he alone could understand both sides. He was a self-educated man. In a series of notebooks, in the evenings before his parents settled his marriage, he had listed the common etymologies of words, and at one point in his life he was confident that he could converse, if given the opportunity, in English, French, Russian, Portuguese, and Italian, not to mention Hindi, Bengali, Orissi, and Gujarati. Now only a handful of European phrases remained in his memory, scattered words for things like saucers and chairs. English was the only non-Indian language he spoke fluently anymore. Mr. Kapasi knew it was not a remarkable talent. Sometimes he feared that his children knew better English than he did, just from watching television. Still, it came in handy for the tours.

He had taken the job as an interpreter after his first son, at the age of seven, contracted typhoid—that was how he had first made the acquaintance of the doctor. At the time Mr. Kapasi had been teaching English in a grammar school, and he bartered his skills as an interpreter to pay the increasingly exorbitant medical bills. In the end the boy had died one evening in his mother’s arms, his limbs burning with fever, but then there was the funeral to pay for, and the other children who were born soon enough, and the newer, bigger house, and the good schools and tutors, and the fine shoes and the television, and the countless other ways he tried to console his wife and to keep her from crying in her sleep, and so when the doctor offered to pay him twice as much as he earned at the grammar school, he accepted. Mr. Kapasi knew that his wife had little regard for his career as an interpreter. He knew it reminded her of the son she’d lost, and that she resented the other lives he helped, in his own small way, to save. If ever she referred to his position, she used the phrase “doctor’s assistant,” as if the process of interpretation were equal to taking someone’s temperature, or changing a bedpan. She never asked him about the patients who came to the doctor’s office, or said that his job was a big responsibility.

For this reason it flattered Mr. Kapasi that Mrs. Das was so intrigued by his job. Unlike his wife, she had reminded him of its intellectual challenges. She had also used the word “romantic.” She did not behave in a romantic way toward her husband, and yet she had used the word to describe him. He wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Das were a bad match, just as he and his wife were. Perhaps they, too, had little in common apart from three children and a decade of their lives. The signs he recognized from his own marriage were there—the bickering, the indifference, the protracted silences. Her sudden interest in him, an interest she did not express in either her husband or her children, was mildly intoxicating. When Mr. Kapasi thought once again about how she had said “romantic,” the feeling of intoxication grew.

He began to check his reflection in the rearview mirror as he drove, feeling grateful that he had chosen the gray suit that morning and not the brown one, which tended to sag a little in the knees. From time to time he glanced through the mirror at Mrs. Das. In addition to glancing at her face he glanced at the strawberry between her breasts, and the golden brown hollow in her throat. He decided to tell Mrs. Das about another patient, and another: the young woman who had complained of a sensation of raindrops in her spine, the gentleman whose birthmark had begun to sprout hairs. Mrs. Das listened attentively, stroking her hair with a small plastic brush that resembled an oval bed of nails, asking more questions, for yet another example. The children were quiet, intent on spotting more monkeys in the trees, and Mr. Das was absorbed by his tour book, so it seemed like a private conversation between Mr. Kapasi and Mrs. Das. In this manner the next half hour passed, and when they stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant that sold fritters and omelette sandwiches, usually something Mr. Kapasi looked forward to on his tours so that he could sit in peace and enjoy some hot tea, he was disappointed. As the Das family settled together under a magenta umbrella fringed with white and orange tassels, and placed their orders with one of the waiters who marched about in tricornered caps, Mr. Kapasi reluctantly headed toward a neighboring table.

“Mr. Kapasi, wait. There’s room here,” Mrs. Das called out. She gathered Tina onto her lap, insisting that he accompany them. And so, together, they had bottled mango juice and sandwiches and plates of onions and potatoes deep-fried in graham-flour batter. After finishing two omelette sandwiches Mr. Das took more pictures of the group as they ate.

“How much longer?” he asked Mr. Kapasi as he paused to load a new roll of film in the camera.

“About half an hour more.”

By now the children had gotten up from the table to look at more monkeys perched in a nearby tree, so there was a considerable space between Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi. Mr. Das placed the camera to his face and squeezed one eye shut, his tongue exposed at one corner of his mouth. “This looks funny. Mina, you need to lean in closer to Mr. Kapasi.”

She did. He could smell a scent on her skin, like a mixture of whiskey and rosewater. He worried suddenly that she could smell his  

suddenly that she could smell his perspiration, which he knew had collected beneath the synthetic material of his shirt. He polished off his mango juice in one gulp and smoothed his silver hair with his hands. A bit of the juice dripped onto his chin. He wondered if Mrs. Das had noticed.

She had not. “What’s your address, Mr. Kapasi?” she inquired, fishing for something inside her straw bag.

“You would like my address?”

“So we can send you copies,” she said. “Of the pictures.” She handed him a scrap of paper which she had hastily ripped from a page of her film magazine. The blank portion was limited, for the narrow strip was crowded by lines of text and a tiny picture of a hero and heroine embracing under a eucalyptus tree.

The paper curled as Mr. Kapasi wrote his address in clear, careful letters. She would write to him, asking about his days interpreting at the doctor’s office, and he would respond eloquently, choosing only the most entertaining anecdotes, ones that would make her laugh out loud as she read them in her house in 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, which he would keep, he decided, safely tucked between the pages of his Russian grammar. As his mind raced, Mr. Kapasi experienced a mild and pleasant shock. It was similar to a feeling he used to experience long ago when, after months of translating with the aid of a dictionary, he would finally read a passage from a French novel, or an Italian sonnet, and understand the words, one after another, unencumbered by his own efforts. In those moments Mr. Kapasi used to believe that all was right with the world, that all struggles were rewarded, that all of life’s mistakes made sense in the end. The promise that he would hear from Mrs. Das now filled him with the same belief.

When he finished writing his address Mr. Kapasi handed her the paper, but as soon as he did so he worried that he had either misspelled his name, or accidentally reversed the numbers of his postal code. He dreaded the possibility of a lost letter, the photograph never reaching him, hovering somewhere in Orissa, close but ultimately unattainable. He thought of asking for the slip of paper again, just to make sure he had written his address accurately, but Mrs. Das had already dropped it into the jumble of her bag.


They reached Konarak at two-thirty. The temple, made of sandstone, was a massive pyramid-like structure in the shape of a chariot. It was dedicated to the great master of life, the sun, which struck three sides of the edifice as it made its journey each day across the sky. Twenty-four giant wheels were carved on the north and south sides of the plinth. The whole thing was drawn by a team of seven horses, speeding as if through the heavens. As they approached, Mr. Kapasi explained that the temple had been built between A.D. 1243 and 1255, with the efforts of twelve hundred artisans, by the great ruler of the Ganga dynasty, King Narasimhadeva the First, to commemorate his victory against the Muslim army.

“It says the temple occupies about a hundred and seventy acres of land,” Mr. Das said, reading from his book.

“It’s like a desert,” Ronny said, his eyes wandering across the sand that stretched on all sides beyond the temple.

“The Chandrabhaga River once flowed one mile north of here. It is dry now,” Mr. Kapasi said, turning off the engine.

They got out and walked toward the temple, posing first for pictures by the pair of lions that flanked the steps. Mr. Kapasi led them next to one of the wheels of the chariot, higher than any human being, nine feet in diameter.

“‘The wheels are supposed to symbolize the wheel of life,’” Mr. Das read. “‘They depict the cycle of creation, preservation, and achievement of realization.’ Cool.” He turned the page of his book. “‘Each wheel is divided into 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.’”

What he referred to were the countless friezes of entwined naked bodies, making love in various positions, women clinging to the necks of men, their knees wrapped eternally around their lovers’ thighs. In addition to these were assorted scenes from daily life, of hunting and trading, of deer being killed with bows and arrows and marching warriors holding swords in their hands.

It was no longer possible to enter the temple, for it had filled with rubble years ago, but they admired the exterior, as did all the tourists Mr. Kapasi brought there, slowly strolling along each of its sides. Mr. Das trailed behind, taking pictures. The children ran ahead, pointing to figures of naked people, intrigued in particular by the Nagamithunas, the half-human, half-serpentine couples who were  

said, Mr. Kapasi told them, to live in the deepest waters of the sea. Mr. Kapasi was pleased that they liked the temple, pleased especially that it appealed to Mrs. Das. She stopped every three or four paces, staring silently at the carved lovers, and the processions of elephants, and the topless female musicians beating on two-sided drums.

Though Mr. Kapasi had been to the temple countless times, it occurred to him, as he, too, gazed at the topless women, that he had never seen his own wife fully naked. Even when they had made love she kept the panels of her blouse hooked together, the string of her petticoat knotted around her waist. He had never admired the backs of his wife’s legs the way he now admired those of Mrs. Das, walking as if for his benefit alone. He had, of course, seen plenty of bare limbs before, belonging to the American and European ladies who took his tours. But Mrs. Das was different. Unlike the other women, who had an interest only in the temple, and kept their noses buried in a guidebook, or their eyes behind the lens of a camera, Mrs. Das had taken an interest in him.

Mr. Kapasi was anxious to be alone with her, to continue their private conversation, yet he felt nervous to walk at her side. She was lost behind her sunglasses, ignoring her husband’s requests that she pose for another picture, walking past her children as if they were strangers. Worried that he might disturb her, Mr. Kapasi walked ahead, to admire, as he always did, the three life-sized bronze avatars of Surya, the sun god, each emerging from its own niche on the temple facade to greet the sun at dawn, noon, and evening. They wore elaborate headdresses, their languid, elongated eyes closed, their bare chests draped with carved chains and amulets. Hibiscus petals, offerings from previous visitors, were strewn at their gray-green feet. The last statue, on the northern wall of the temple, was Mr. Kapasi’s favorite. This Surya had a tired expression, weary after a hard day of work, sitting astride a horse with folded legs. Even his horse’s eyes were drowsy. Around his body were smaller sculptures of women in pairs, their hips thrust to one side.

“Who’s that?” Mrs. Das asked. He was startled to see that she was standing beside him.

“He is the Astachala-Surya,” Mr. Kapasi said. “The setting sun.”

“So in a couple of hours the sun will set right here?” She slipped a foot out of one of her square-heeled shoes, rubbed her toes on the back of her other leg.

“That is correct.”

She raised her sunglasses for a moment, then put them back on again. “Neat.”

Mr. Kapasi was not certain exactly what the word suggested, but he had a feeling it was a favorable response. He hoped that Mrs. Das had understood Surya’s beauty, his power. Perhaps they would discuss it further in their letters. He would explain things to her, things about India, and she would explain things to him about America. In its own way this correspondence would fulfill his dream, of serving as an interpreter between nations. He looked at her straw bag, delighted that his address lay nestled among its contents. When he pictured her so many thousands of miles away he plummeted, so much so that he had an overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around her, to freeze with her, even for an instant, in an embrace witnessed by his favorite Surya. But Mrs. Das had already started walking.

“When do you return to America?” he asked, trying to sound placid.

“In ten days.”

He calculated: A week to settle in, a week to develop the pictures, a few days to compose her letter, two weeks to get to India by air. According to his schedule, allowing room for delays, he would hear from Mrs. Das in approximately six weeks’ time.

The family was silent as Mr. Kapasi drove them back, a little past four-thirty, to Hotel Sandy Villa. The children had bought miniature granite versions of the chariot’s wheels at a souvenir stand, and they turned them round in their hands. Mr. Das continued to read his book. Mrs. Das untangled Tina’s hair with her brush and divided it into two little ponytails.

Mr. Kapasi was beginning to dread the thought of dropping them off. He was not prepared to begin his six-week wait to hear from Mrs. Das. As he stole glances at her in the rearview mirror, wrapping elastic bands around Tina’s hair, he wondered how he might make the tour last a little longer. Ordinarily he sped back to Puri using a shortcut, eager to return home, scrub his feet and hands with sandalwood soap, and enjoy the evening newspaper and a cup of tea that his wife would serve him in silence. The thought of that silence, something to which he’d long been resigned, now oppressed him. It was then that he suggested visiting the hills at Udayagiri and Khandagiri, where a number of monastic dwellings were hewn out  

of the ground, facing one another across a defile. It was some miles away, but well worth seeing, Mr. Kapasi told them.

“Oh yeah, there’s something mentioned about it in this book,” Mr. Das said. “Built by a Jain king or something.”

“Shall we go then?” Mr. Kapasi asked. He paused at a turn in the road. “It’s to the left.”

Mr. Das turned to look at Mrs. Das. Both of them shrugged.

“Left, left,” the children chanted.

Mr. Kapasi turned the wheel, almost delirious with relief. He did not know what he would do or say to Mrs. Das once they arrived at the hills. Perhaps he would tell her what a pleasing smile she had. Perhaps he would compliment her strawberry shirt, which he found irresistibly becoming. Perhaps, when Mr. Das was busy taking a picture, he would take her hand.

He did not have to worry. When they got to the hills, divided by a steep path thick with trees, Mrs. Das refused to get out of the car. All along the path, dozens of monkeys were seated on stones, as well as on the branches of the trees. Their hind legs were stretched out in front and raised to shoulder level, their arms resting on their knees.

“My legs are tired,” she said, sinking low in her seat. “I’ll stay here.”

“Why did you have to wear those stupid shoes?” Mr. Das said. “You won’t be in the pictures.”

“Pretend I’m there.”

“But we could use one of these pictures for our Christmas card this year. We didn’t get one of all five of us at the Sun Temple. Mr. Kapasi could take it.”

“I’m not coming. Anyway, those monkeys give me the creeps.”

“But they’re harmless,” Mr. Das said. He turned to Mr. Kapasi. “Aren’t they?”

“They are more hungry than dangerous,” Mr. Kapasi said. “Do not provoke them with food, and they will not bother you.”

Mr. Das headed up the defile with the children, the boys at his side, the little girl on his shoulders. Mr. Kapasi watched as they crossed paths with a Japanese man and woman, the only other tourists there, who paused for a final photograph, then stepped into a nearby car and drove away. As the car disappeared out of view some of the monkeys called out, emitting soft whooping sounds, and then walked on their flat black hands and feet up the path. At one point a group of them formed a little ring around Mr. Das and the children. Tina screamed in delight. Ronny ran in circles around his father. Bobby bent down and picked up a fat stick on the ground. When he extended it, one of the monkeys approached him and snatched it, then briefly beat the ground.

“I’ll join them,” Mr. Kapasi said, unlocking the door on his side. “There is much to explain about the caves.”

“No. Stay a minute,” Mrs. Das said. She got out of the back seat and slipped in beside Mr. Kapasi. “Raj has his dumb book anyway.” Together, through the windshield, Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi watched as Bobby and the monkey passed the stick back and forth between them.

“A brave little boy,” Mr. Kapasi commented.

“It’s not so surprising,” Mrs. Das said.


“He’s not his.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Raj’s. He’s not Raj’s son.”

Mr. Kapasi felt a prickle on his skin. He reached into his shirt pocket for the small tin of lotus-oil balm he carried with him at all times, and applied it to three spots on his forehead. He knew that Mrs. Das was watching him, but he did not turn to face her. Instead he watched as the figures of Mr. Das and the children grew smaller, climbing up the steep path, pausing every now and then for a picture, surrounded by a growing number of monkeys.

“Are you surprised?” The way she put it made him choose his words with care.

“It’s not the type of thing one assumes,” Mr. Kapasi replied slowly. He put the tin of lotus-oil balm back in his pocket.

“No, of course not. And no one knows, of course. No one at all. I’ve kept it a secret for eight whole years.” She looked at Mr. Kapasi, tilting her chin as if to gain a fresh perspective. “But now I’ve told you.”

Mr. Kapasi nodded. He felt suddenly parched, and his forehead was warm and slightly numb from the balm. He considered asking Mrs. Das for a sip of water, then decided against it.

“We met when we were very young,” she said. She reached into her straw bag in search of something, then pulled out a packet of puffed rice. “Want some?”

“No, thank you.”

She put a fistful in her mouth, sank into the seat a little, and looked away from Mr. Kapasi, out the window on her side of the car. “We married when we were still in college. We were in high school when he proposed. We went to the same college, of course. Back then we couldn’t stand the thought of being separated, not for a day, not for a minute. Our parents were best friends who lived in the same town. My entire life I saw him every weekend, either at our house or theirs. We were sent upstairs to play together while our parents joked about our marriage. Imagine! They never caught us at anything, though in a way I think it was all more or less a setup. The things we did those Friday and Saturday nights, while our parents sat downstairs drinking tea … I could tell you stories, Mr. Kapasi.”

As a result of spending all her time in college with Raj, she continued, she did not make many close friends. There was no one to confide in about him at the end of a difficult day, or to share a passing thought or a worry. Her parents now lived on the other side of the world, but she had never been very close to them, anyway. After marrying so young she was overwhelmed by it all, having a child so quickly, and nursing, and warming up bottles of milk and testing their temperature against her wrist while Raj was at work, dressed in sweaters and corduroy pants, teaching his students about rocks and dinosaurs. Raj never looked cross or harried, or plump as she had become after the first baby.

Always tired, she declined invitations from her one or two college girlfriends, to have lunch or shop in Manhattan. Eventually the friends stopped calling her, so that she was left at home all day with the baby, surrounded by toys that made her trip when she walked or wince when she sat, always cross and tired. Only occasionally did they go out after Ronny was born, and even more rarely did they entertain. Raj didn’t mind; he looked forward to coming home from teaching and watching television and bouncing Ronny on his knee. She had been outraged when Raj told her that a Punjabi friend, someone whom she had once met but did not remember, would be staying with them for a week for some job interviews in the New Brunswick area.

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. He made love to her swiftly, in silence,  

with an expertise she had never known, without the meaningful expressions and smiles Raj always insisted on afterward. The next day Raj drove the friend to JFK. He was married now, to a Punjabi girl, and they lived in London still, and every year they exchanged Christmas cards with Raj and Mina, each couple tucking photos of their families into the envelopes. He did not know that he was Bobby’s father. He never would.

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Das, but why have you told me this information?” Mr. Kapasi asked when she had finally finished speaking, and had turned to face him once again.

“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.

“Don’t you see? For eight years I haven’t been able to express this to anybody, not to friends, certainly not to Raj. He doesn’t even suspect it. He thinks I’m still in love with him. Well, don’t you have anything to say?”

“About what?”

“About what I’ve just told you. About my secret, and about how terrible it makes me feel. I feel terrible looking at my children, and at Raj, always terrible. I have terrible urges, Mr. Kapasi, to throw things away. One day I had the urge to throw everything I own out the window, the television, the children, everything. Don’t you think it’s unhealthy?”

He was silent.

“Mr. Kapasi, don’t you have anything to say? I thought that was your job.”

“My job is to give tours, Mrs. Das.”

“Not that. Your other job. As an interpreter.”

“But we do not face a language barrier. What need is there for an interpreter?”

“That’s not what I mean. I would never have told you otherwise. Don’t you realize what it means for me to tell you?”

“What does it mean?”

“It means that I’m tired of feeling so terrible all the time. Eight years, Mr. Kapasi, 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.”

He looked at her, in her red plaid skirt and strawberry T-shirt, a woman not yet thirty, who loved neither her husband nor her children, who had already fallen out of love with life. Her confession depressed him, depressed him all the more when he thought of Mr. Das at the top of the path, Tina clinging to his shoulders, taking pictures of ancient monastic cells cut into the hills to show his students in America, unsuspecting and unaware that one of his sons was not his own. Mr. Kapasi felt insulted that Mrs. Das should ask him to interpret her common, trivial little secret. She did not resemble the patients in the doctor’s office, those who came glassy-eyed and desperate, unable to sleep or breathe or urinate with ease, unable, above all, to give words to their pains. Still, Mr. Kapasi believed it was his duty to assist Mrs. Das. Perhaps he ought to tell her to confess the truth to Mr. Das. He would explain that honesty was the best policy. Honesty, surely, would help her feel better, as she’d put it. Perhaps he would offer to preside over the discussion, as a mediator. He decided to begin with the most obvious question, to get to the heart of the matter, and so he asked, “Is it really pain you feel, Mrs. Das, or is it guilt?”

She turned to him and glared, mustard oil thick on her frosty pink lips. She opened her mouth to say something, but as she glared at Mr. Kapasi some certain knowledge seemed to pass before her eyes, and she stopped. It crushed him; he knew at that moment that he was not even important enough to be properly insulted. She opened the car door and began walking up the path, wobbling a little on her square wooden heels, reaching into her straw bag to eat handfuls of puffed rice. It fell through her fingers, leaving a zigzagging trail, causing a monkey to leap down from a tree and devour the little white grains. In search of more, the monkey began to follow Mrs. Das. Others joined him, so that she was soon being followed by about half a dozen of them, their velvety tails dragging behind.

Mr. Kapasi stepped out of the car. He wanted to holler, to alert her in some way, but he worried that if she knew they were behind her, she would grow nervous. Perhaps she would lose her balance. Perhaps they would pull at her bag or her hair. He began to jog up the path, taking a fallen branch in his hand to scare away the monkeys. Mrs. Das continued walking, oblivious, trailing grains of puffed rice. Near the top of the incline, before a group of cells fronted by a row of squat stone pillars, Mr. Das was kneeling on the ground, focusing the lens of his camera. The children stood under the arcade, now hiding, now emerging from view.

“Wait for me,” Mrs. Das called out. “I’m coming.”

Tina jumped up and down. “Here comes Mommy!”

“Great,” Mr. Das said without looking up. “Just in time. We’ll get Mr. Kapasi to take a picture of the five of us.”

Mr. Kapasi quickened his pace, waving his branch so that the monkeys scampered away, distracted, in another direction.

“Where’s Bobby?” Mrs. Das asked when she stopped.

Mr. Das looked up from the camera. “I don’t know. Ronny, where’s Bobby?”

Ronny shrugged. “I thought he was right here.”

“Where is he?” Mrs. Das repeated sharply. “What’s wrong with all of you?”

They began calling his name, wandering up and down the path a bit. Because they were calling, they did not initially hear the boy’s screams. 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 to it earlier.

“Daddy, the monkey’s hurting Bobby,” Tina said.

Mr. Das wiped his palms on the front of his shorts. In his nervousness he accidentally pressed the shutter on his camera; the whirring noise of the advancing film excited the monkeys, and the one with the stick began to beat Bobby more intently. “What are we supposed to do? What if they start attacking?”

“Mr. Kapasi,” Mrs. Das shrieked, noticing him standing to one side. “Do something, for God’s sake, do something!”

Mr. Kapasi took his branch and shooed them away, hissing at the ones that remained, stomping his feet to scare them. The animals retreated slowly, with a measured gait, obedient but unintimidated. Mr. Kapasi gathered Bobby in his arms and brought him back to where his parents and siblings were standing. As he carried him he was tempted to whisper a secret into the boy’s ear. But Bobby was  

stunned, and shivering with fright, his legs bleeding slightly where the stick had broken the skin. When Mr. Kapasi delivered him to his parents, Mr. Das brushed some dirt off the boy’s T-shirt and put the visor on him the right way. Mrs. Das reached into her straw bag to find a bandage which she taped over the cut on his knee. Ronny offered his brother a fresh piece of gum. “He’s fine. Just a little scared, right, Bobby?” Mr. Das said, patting the top of his head.

“God, let’s get out of here,” Mrs. Das said. She folded her arms across the strawberry on her chest. “This place gives me the creeps.”

“Yeah. Back to the hotel, definitely,” Mr. Das agreed.

“Poor Bobby,” Mrs. Das said. “Come here a second. Let Mommy fix your hair.” Again she reached into her straw bag, this time for her hairbrush, and began to run it around the edges of the translucent visor. When she whipped out the hairbrush, the slip of paper with Mr. Kapasi’s address on it fluttered away in the wind. No one but Mr. Kapasi noticed. He watched as it rose, carried higher and higher by the breeze, into the trees where the monkeys now sat, solemnly observing the scene below. Mr. Kapasi observed it too, knowing that this was the picture of the Das family he would preserve forever in his mind.

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