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The Financial Express

Interpreter of maladies


Interpreter of maladies

The other day I was reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer winning book "Interpreter of Maladies." I always wanted to read this one but could never managed time and kept on making flimsy excuses like today-not-a-good-day-to-read or this-is-my-last-episode-on-Netflix. I loved all nine stories, specially the title story. That story's main protagonist is a man who is an interpreter of native Indian languages for a doctor and moonlights as a tour guide for visitors to India. He talks about his interpreting profession to a Bengali-American couple with kids, visiting India for summer holidays. The wife thinks of his interpreting profession as noble and romantic, making the interpreter realize how valuable his profession is. The wife tells him the doctor would have never been able to prescribe and cure the natives if the man couldn't interpret the patients' pains and diseases correctly, comparing the tour guide and interpreter to a psychological counsellor.
Like Jhumpa portrayed in her story, I began to think who could be a good interpreter of my maladies. How could I interpret to my therapist when I speak to her in our next session, that what makes me wake up three o'clock at night, being jumpy at the slightest vibration of the cell phone, checking on my parents like zillion times a day, and look at social media memory photos of my parents dreading inside when I will be able to visit them next, safely without maintaining social distance. I do not know how to interpret why sometimes I sit in front of my workstation for hours staring at the monitors blankly while tears ran down my cheeks. And, I personally know at least thousands like me are suffering with exact similar symptoms. I think these pandemic-induced maladies need no interpreters. They are here to stay and I have to learn how to live with them.
The other day while being melancholic, after we finished our meeting, my colleague Zeke Honeycutt described how his neighbour let his pet snake Marvin off loose one day, and Zeke saw Marvin lying silently one morning on his front porch not-hurting-a-fly. Marvin went back inside after lots of drama. Marvin could be seen outside in the garden time-to-time tied to a leash, while the neighbour enjoys a little stroll. As bizarre as this story sounds, Zeke and Marvin totally made my day. I typed and coded all day with a smile at the corner of my lips being extra cheery, picturing Marvin tied to a black leash while bewildered Condo Community dwellers stare at her (Marvin's owner changed her name later after he learned it's a she).
Zeke needs some introduction. Any boring monotonous meeting would become a cheerful happy event with Zeke's presence, with his short jokes on energy industry's flaws or on some generator's tendency to fail to dispatch. Zeke would take a lame joke like "do you know what one wall whispered to another? Yes, they said, let's meet in the corner", and practically polish it as smart and meaningful that it wouldn't feel like that lame anymore. I never enjoyed those team meetings when Zeke was on holidays, where we spoke like robots and left right after our assignment was done.
Zeke reminds me of the movie that I saw back in college (university in Bangladesh's context), La vita è bella - Life is Beautiful. The protagonist of the movie, a Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido and his son Giosue, are taken to a concentration camp and are separated from Guido's wife Dora. Guido makes up that the whole Nazi detention camp thing is nothing but a childish game and presents severe punishment or labour work at the camp as funny game rules. While I never had Guido's sense of humour or the ability to convert every little thing of mundane daily life as humorous tasks, certainly Zeke did.
I am sure Zeke goes through the exact same hurdles that I or we do. He wakes up at 3:00 am stressed out for his mom, but checks on her, makes a little joke and moves on. I am sure Zeke has similar problems that we all do, kids, finance, elderly parents or relatives, everything - the whole package. However, he found the interpreter of his maladies. He learned from life to laugh away through the difficulties, through the hardships, through the complications. It was never easy for me to be a Zeke, to be the interpreter of the maladies. Perhaps you can, in a world full of melancholic, depressed Naimas, be one Zeke. Be the one to interpret the pandemic maladies, be the one to make fun of the little things like cheese or milk or whatever. After all, life is beautiful and we all need to live through it. Why not make it a joy ride as well?

(This article is dedicated to my colleague and teammate Zeke Honeycutt. Zeke, you will never know how many 11 o'clocks I dialled in only to hear your jokes, only to laugh muting my microphone.)
Dr Naima Farah is an economist working at Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, USA. [email protected]

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