Mr. Kapasi knew that his wife had little regard for his career as an interpreter. He new 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.

A. Would you please in a more readily way teach me what the bold sentence mean? especially the following phrases:

  • in his own small way

  • if ever

Any help would be greatly appreciated

Source: Extracted from the book "Interpreter of Maladies" by Lahiri

  • idioms.thefreedictionary.com/in+own+way
    – Kreiri
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 10:12
  • @Kreiri - I think there's a subtle difference between "in one's own way," and "in one's own small way." (Sinatra didn't croon, "I did it in my own small way.") Incidentally, I spent quite some time looking these phrases up before composing my answer, concluding that they wouldn't be easy to find in a dictionary, and that it would be hard to figure out their meanings with a simple Google search.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 10:22

1 Answer 1


In this context, "if ever she" is really just the same as "if she ever":

If ever she stepped on her dog's tail, the dog would yelp loudly.
If she ever stepped on her dog's tail, the dog would yelp loudly.

Those two sentences mean the same thing, although the first has a more "poetic" or "literary" feel.

This is in contrast to the "if ever" in the expression if ever there was one, which is used to emphasize the truth about something:

If she ever stepped on her dog's tail, the dog would let out a loud yelp, if ever there was one.

In that sentence, "if ever there was one" underscores the loudness of the dog's yelp. That makes it sound like her neighbors could probably hear the dog howl, not just the people in the room.

The phrase in his own small way refers to those little things that people do that somehow make a big difference. It's often used to in situations where someone is doing something they would regard as something small – something they might describe as, "Oh, that's the least I could do" – but somehow their deeds contribute to a larger cause and have a big impact. So, suppose I worked with someone named Jane, and Jane was always cheerful and ever friendly. Perhaps we didn't really think much about it at the time, but now that Jane's been gone for a year after moving to her new job, people realize that the office just isn't quite as sunny without her cordial remarks. Someone might reminisce:

I miss how Jane used to light up the room in her own small way.


Jane, in her own small way, sure had a knack for keeping things cheerful around here.

The phrase is most often used in a positive context; for example, from a film review:

Though living on a small income, he has been magnanimous in his own small way to provide shelter to an orphan girl.

and from a news article about philanthropic work:

Paul Lazarus knew he wanted to do more – maybe even, in his own small way, help to change the world.

and from a blogger writing at Christmastime:

And, I always give a card to Jeff, the garbage man who so simplifies my life in his own small way.

However, it could be used in a negative context as well, as was done in this 1869 novel:

So he was vexed with her, and chafed in his own small way, and was jealous, as if her leaving him was a willful act of neglect, or indifference to his happiness.

In that example, his little irritations are having a big impact in his life, and making it impossible for him to enjoy his life.


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