A Temporary Matter by Jhumpa Lahiri
In A Temporary Matter by Jhumpa Lahiri we have the theme of loss, connection, honesty, guilt and moving on. Taken from her Interpreter of Maladies collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realizes that Lahiri may be exploring the theme of loss. Shoba and Shukumar have lost their only child in birth. The sense of loss is so tragic that both Shoba and Shukumar drift apart from each other only coming together a few months later when they play games of honesty with one another. These games appear to connect Shoba and Shukumar for the first time since the loss of their baby. However the reality is very different. The games only lead to a wedge to be formed between both characters and allowing for Shoba to remove any guilt she may feel about leaving Shukumar. Something that Shukumar does not realize until the end of the story. Where both characters ironically connect with one another and grieve the loss of their baby together for the first time, but the reader is aware that it may be too late for the young would-be parents.
This sense of loss and connection is also noticeable by Shoba and Shukumar’s lack of engagement with family and friends since the loss of their baby. They have not invited anyone to their house apart from Shoba’s mother who came to the house in order to help Shoba through her ordeal. What is also interesting about Shoba and Shukumar’s withdrawal from society and each other is the fact that Shoba appears to throw herself into her work. Taking it home with her while Shukumar spends his days in his home office. Avoiding Shoba as much as he can. It may also be significant that the games of honesty act as a trigger for Shoba and Shukumar to make love to one another. Something that Shukumar thinks is bringing both him and Shoba together again and moving on from the past and the loss of their baby. However that is not how Shoba is thinking. Instead she is letting go of the past and moving on alone without Shukumar.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Food acts to provide a connection, not only between Shoba and Shukumar, but between them and their friends and family. It acts so much as a tool for connection, prior to it highlighting the differences between each character. The placing on the plates on top of each other. Firstly with Shoba placing her plate on top of Shukumar’s plate and then aside the next night, when she tells him that she has her own apartment and is leaving him. This is symbolically significant as it suggests control. At all stages of the present Shoba remains in control. She may not have been able to remain in control of what happened her baby but she can control her present and future. The title of the story could refer to either the loss of electricity (another sense of loss) or the fact that Shoba and Shukumar’s relationship has been a temporary matter and is over or the fact that Shoba and Shukumar have overcome their difficulties since the loss of their baby.
The end of the story is interesting, if not important. Shoba and Shukumar have finished eating. Which mirrors the state of their relationship. Through their game of honesty they have torn each other apart with Shukumar, who obviously feels hurt by Shoba’s actions, being particularly cruel when he reveals the baby’s sex to Shoba. Who had chosen not to know and who thought that Shukumar had not known either. It is through each other’s pain that both characters connect for the final time. Crying to each other over the loss of their baby, for the first time, and the loss of their marriage. However so ambiguous is the ending that it could have several meanings including the possibility that Shoba and Shukumar have in fact grown to love one another again and that their marriage and relationship remains firm. That they will try again for a child and remain with one another.