Thursday, September 13, 2007

“ A Real Durwan”

Boori Ma, Sweeper of the Stairwell, like Mr. Pirzada, is a victim of Partition and has been deported to Calcutta as a result. She sleeps under the stairs of the building where she is allowed to live, functioning as a doorman, or durwan, for the building. Boori Ma is a character, but she’s hard to like, as are the people in her building. Boori Ma wants to be special, as evidenced in her reaction to finding herself terribly itchy one morning:
“Boori Ma preferred to think that what irritated her bed, what stole her sleep, what burned like peppers across her thinning scalp and skin, was of a less mundane origin.”

Do you believe that Boori Ma was truly rich before partition?

Did Boori Ma’s neighbors view her as a human being? Do you think she makes them uncomfortable, and if so, for what reasons?

When the neighbor tries to help Boori Ma by offering to buy her new bedding, what is her motivation?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I never believed Boori Ma was previously rich. She crafted her stories to prove that she was better than those who employed her. I think she makes everyone uncomfortable and in turn, dislike her.

Lila said...

It's true - her neighbors dislike her, and with good reason. She is one of those old women, or just one of those people - who must be negative and bitter and make things unpleasant for others. Perhaps she brought her fate upon herself - being kicked out of the building that is. At the same time, why do people like Boori Ma always seem to be such with no joy about it.
I wonder if Boori Ma believes the stories of riches herself, regardless of whether they are true.

Anonymous said...

I do think Ma Boori believed all her stories and got great joy out of constantly making others in the building feel badly about their situation. The sink, a whole other plot in itself, is an example of how everyone was always worried about their status. And on another note, Jhumpa Lahiri has a new book, Unaccustomed Earth, coming out in April, 2008. I don't know if it is short stories or a novel. It is to be published by Knopf. I read about this in Publishers Weekly.

Lila said...

Yes, I've read interviews with Lahiri and she seems always reticent to discuss what she is writing pre-publication. But I am definitely anticipating the new book. The Namesake, Lahiri's first novel, was wonderful.

Melissa said...

I think the story is more about class and insecurity than anything else (I read it almost a month ago, so this is my distilled memory of it). As an American, I would say that Boori Ma seems to be a physical reminder of the impoverished life that the other characters could be leading if their luck doesn't hold out (and maybe of the poverty of the other characters' forebears?). But that leaves out all the caste issues that undoubtedly underpin the story

Boori Ma is a dislikeable -- or at least irritating -- character, but I also felt sorry for her. That flighty neighbor with the new sink!

Lila said...

I just was so shocked that the nighbors could kick Boori Ma out like that.
Lahiri obviously shows compassion for her characters, but some people in her stories treat each other terribly. Lahiri's presentation of such behavior is so matter-of-fact that it makes me wince.

Anonymous said...

i don't think the neighbors do dislike her, initially her stories seem to amuse and interest them and the narrative makes it clear they try to make her feel welcome. Her unlikely stories or lies do however, seem to distance and exclude her from becoming particularly friendly with the residents.
It is due to the inhabitants' need to keep up with each other and desire to improve themselves and the building which ultimately leads to her being kicked out. She doesn't seem to have the same desire to self improve and seems to live in her past (that she has most likely dreamed up.) Overall, i think we can have a lot of sympathy for Boori Ma.

Ashley John Baptiste said...

I think that Boori Ma as Mr. Chatterjee asserts is a 'product of changing times.' Although she contradicts herself in her stories, this is not conclusive in proving her as a lier. Rather, I believe that these recounts provides her with dignitiy in this alien community and she may genuinely misinterpret events through the trauma of her exile. Boori Ma is definately a character that invokes compassion from her readers. The residents that cruelly accuse her of inspiring the theft are a demonstration of the effects of capitalism and social climbing on poverty stricken communities. The introduction of the 'basins' which seem to signify the manifestation of capitalist ideals cause a break down in the residents sense of community and humanity; this is demonstrated through their creulty to Boori Ma. Although she has irritating traits, Boori Ma's plight and suffering irrefutably raises empathy from readers that are able to understand this story on a deeper analytical level. This is from Ashley John Baptiste- Bacon's College, Rotherhithe, London.

Anonymous said...

I had nothing but sympathy for Boori Ma throughout the whole of The Real Durwan.
It is clear that the only reason she was eventually disliked by her neighbours was when they HAD possesions such as the basins. Until this point they had been humoured by Boori Ma and appreciated her. But the turning point of more possesions made them resent Boori Ma and act horribly towards her, a woman who had protected them for years.

Anonymous said...

I think it is irrelevant whether or not she was rich. Her existence is simply to get a point across. Mr. Chatterjee says at one point her mouth is full of ashes. Metaphorically, this is refering to old India and its ruin. Boori Ma's character represents the wealth of culture and values (non-materialist things) of ancient India. Due to global influence, these values were pushed out the door and replaced with commericalism and other western values. If you want to attach reality to Boori Ma though then it isnt too hard to see her as a confused, senile, victimized old woman. Im sure less sane individuals live on the streets of NYC

Anonymous said...

the book is really abt. progress and the marginalisation of the elderly and poor

Anonymous said...

whether the stories are true or not, i still feel horrible about her being kicked out. She used the stories as encouragement to herself, and she wasnt as superficial as her neighbors that all began to care about materialism