The fact that this short story is called “A Temporary Matter” is interesting on two levels. First of all, although the main action of the short story “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri revolves around very important life events such as the death of the child or the end of a once happy marriage, the narrative is mostly centered around the little things in life. Dinner plans, work, and dentist appointments are used to reveal the pain since the change in the couple’s relationship can be seen through the small ways everything has changed and thus what seems small or like a “temporary matter” is actually something important and complex. The title is also interesting because it is almost a summary of “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri because it seems as though the power outage might bring the couple closer together yet it is only a temporary matter, or a temporary respite to the pain the couple is feeling and is a brief moment in which they can reflect on what has changed between them.
As it is clear by the main themes in the short story “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri it is common to hear the expression, “it’s the little things in life” and this story seems to sum up that sentiment perfectly. Although the couple in “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri has experienced great pain and this is made evident in the first several paragraphs of the story, there is little talk between (or in the internal dialogue) of either character. Instead of addressing the pain, the narrator, Shukumar, discusses the changes he feels by talking about the “little things in life” such as his wife’s habits and his feelings about his work. For instance, even though it is clear that the couple is not feeling the same way they used to and feeling as though things have changed, this is only truly visible through the little observations Shukumar makes. He states in one of the important quotes from “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri “He ran his tongue over the tops of his teeth; he’d forgotten to brush them that morning. It wasn’t the first time. He hadn’t left the house at all that day, or the day before.” While this may seem like an average and everyday observation, it masks a much deeper feeling. He is growing depressed and does not care about himself the way he used to. He can sit indoors and not want to go outside and is letting himself go, yet this is not as simple as it may at first seem.
The fact is, at this point in the short story “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri, he is finally realizing that there is something terrible and sad that is happening between the love of his life, yet he is at a loss when it comes to knowing what to do about it. The fact that his teeth are not clean masks his lack of concern about things that used to affect him deeply—things he used to care about. The reader knows he is a conscientious man, especially when one of his greatest admissions to his wife is that he cheated on a exam in college. As the story moves on we see how both he and his wife were and how far they have grown apart and moved away from things that used to be important to them. Although the title is “A Temporary Matter” none of these things seem temporary for people who are as steady in their lives as these two.
Throughout “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri, the little things in life mask the most important events in Shoba and Shukumar’s lives. Interestingly, even when Shukumar talks about the day his wife went into labor, a very important event for any couple, his memory focuses only on images and “little” things. For instance, when he thinks of the day he left Shoba alone before she had the child, he doesn’t remember that she was beautiful or happy, but only small things. He says, “Each time he thought of that moment, the last moment he saw Shoba pregnant, it was the cab he remembered most, a station wagon, painted red with blue lettering. It was cavernous compared to their own car. Although Shukumar was six feet tall, with hands too big ever to rest comfortably in the pockets of his jeans, he felt dwarfed in the back seat.” In some ways, even though this might seem callous, this is usually how we realistically remember events from our lives. Important events do not happen our memory as sequential narratives, but in a series of random feelings, senses, and observations. In this way, the story is narrative realistically and the story tells us that it is the little things, the small, seemingly inconsequential memories that form our realities and memories. This happens again in the short story “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri when Shoba speaks her confession and says, “You went to answer the telephone in the other room. It was your mother, and I figured it would be a long call. I wanted to know if you’d promoted me from the margins of your newspaper.” Instead of looking for clues about her future husband or finding something of earth-shattering importance, she looks to see if she is making up the little details of Shukumar’s life. Again, it is clear that the little things mask the greater realities.
Unfortunately, the power outage is a “temporary matter” and something that is not a great life event, and thus it cannot trump all of the little things that have been a signaling a problem with the couple’s marriage. “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri has shown that is the little things in life that form and define all of the major events in our lives and it will take more than something temporary to solve these problems or shed light on the truth. Although it may seem as though the couple’s problems do not come to light until the temporary matter of the power outage, the whole story, comprised of small, seemingly insignificant memories or thoughts are just as important as the confessions of not being in love the same way. The title of “A Temporary Matter” by Jhumpa Lahiri is certainly ironic since none of the couple’s problems are going to be solved in a temporary manner, and it shows us that the little things in life really do matter a great deal.
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