Children play a very important role in the many tales that are found in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, in which frequently "the pang of disappointment turns into a sudden hunger to know more" (Crain 1999). However, this fact is most noticeable, and perhaps most dire to the plot of the stories "A Temporary Matter" and "Interpreter of Maladies." Although both of these stories are about Indian people and their duality as American citizens (Wcislo 2001), the author uses children and allusions to them as harbingers of dissatisfaction in romantic relationships. Within most satisfactory unions, marriages, or romantic relationships between people, children typically symbolize the offspring and birth of a love that was produced by a happy pair. However, the author of Interpreter of Maladies utilizes children largely for the opposite effect in the aforementioned pair of stories. Within these tales, children are merely a means of physical evidence that reflects the fact that there are inherent troubles in the romantic relationships of the couples depicted.
This fact is perhaps most obvious in "A Temporary Matter," which is about a trip to India taken by a relatively young couple and their children. In this story, Mrs. Das ends up making an admission to her tour guide, Mr. Kapasi, that one of the children in her family was not fathered by her husband, Mr. Das. Instead, that son, whose name is Bobby, was sired by a friend of her husband's during a surreptitious affair the pair had approximately 10 years prior. In a brief moment of intimacy between Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi, the former chooses to ask the latter about what do regarding this situation in which a child was produced because of the simple fact that Mrs. Das is no longer in love with her husband. Mr. Kapasi's answer is fairly accusatory, and demonstrates the fact that this child of Mrs. Das actually reflects the state of despair her marriage is in. The following quotation demonstrates this fact well. "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 guilt?" (Lahiri 2000). This quotation indicates that Mrs. Das feels both pain and guilt at the birth of Bobby -- since he was sired out of wedlock and represents an egregious act of infidelity. The constant presence of Bobby in the lives of the Das family symbolizes this transgression of Mrs. Das' union to her husband, and is an enduring reminder of her cheating on her husband -- despite the fact that he is unaware that Bobby is not his child. In such a way does the author utilize children within this story to represent an unhappy, damaged relationship between the Das's in which they no longer love one another.
Whereas human offspring symbolize a history of troubles in the relationship between the principle couple in "A Temporary Matter," they serve as a precursor to the problems and falling out of love that eventually takes place within this story. This notion is largely due to the fact that the lone child within this short story is still-born, and after its death the relationship between Shoba and Shukumar slowly unravels to the point that the former eventually leaves the latter at the conclusion of this tale. Stylistically, the author utilizes a narrative technique that constantly incorporates elements of the past as well as of the present, and which frequently invokes references to the couple's still-born child. In such a way does the death of this child actually represent the impending death of the happiness of Shoba and Shukumar, as well as the impending death of their marriage. The following quotation, in which Shukumar reminisces about the child's crib, indicates this fact.
By the end of August there was a cherry crib under the window, a white changing table… and a rocking chair…Shukumar had disassembled it all before bringing Shoba back from the hospital... For some reason the room did not haunt him the way it haunted Shoba. In January…he set up…