Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Short Story Tuesday: A Real Durwan by Jhumpa Lahiri

"A Real Durwan"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

This story made me sad. Boori Ma is a 64 year old Bengali woman who has taken up residence in the basement of an apartment building. She keeps the stairwell clean and performs other various tasks that a Durwan might, like keeping out unwanted visitors and watching out for the residents. In return, the residents look out for her, offering her tea now and then as well as listening to stories about her life, many of which they believe she's exaggerated or made up. How could a stairwell cleaner, after all, have once been a landowner?

Whatever the true story is, Boori Ma has done a great service for those living in the flats above her. Things begin to change, however, when progress comes to the flats. One of the residents, Mr. Dalal, is promoted and with it comes more money for improvements. The other residents begin to seek out their own improvements to their flats and the building as well.

One of the aspects of Jhumpa Lahiri's stories that I like is how authentic and true to life they are. In this case, "The Real Durwan" addresses the changes in time. Boori Ma is from another time and place. She hangs onto and retells her life story while the world, the flat building she lives in along with its residents are moving forward. She is at a loss when things begin to change. Unfortunately for those around her, they are not so tolerant of that which stays the same.

"Boori Ma's mouth is full of ashes, but she is the victim of changing times" was the refrain of old Mr. Chatterjee. [pg 72]

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  1. I don't remember this story much at all. Another sure sign that I need to re-read this one!!!! :D

  2. Andi - I really liked this story. I think if I were more academic minded, I could have a field day with this one. :-)

  3. I love short stories like these that transport us to another place and really make us think. I've heard other great reviews of this book of stories so I guess it is yet another one I have to add to my list!

  4. I also found this story sad, and although it's been a long time since I have read this book, it's a story that stands out. Great review, I found it to be very insightful.

  5. I found this one moved me very much!!!

  6. Kathleen - So do I! I love stories like this. I hope you do get a chance to read this collection one day.

    Zibilee - This is one I think I'll remember for a long while too. Thank you for your kind words.

    Staci - Me too. It was a good one.

  7. I may have told you before, but Jhumpa Lahiri is a favorite of mine. I'm so glad you are enjoying her short stories.

  8. I've been wanting to read this author. Maybe I should try some of her short stories.

  9. Teddy - It's a wonderful collection.

    Off topic, I've been carrying around a copy of that short story you recommended by T.C. Boyle but still haven't managed to read it. I am determined to do that this week.

    Terri - Her short stories are a good place to start, I think.

  10. I hope you do read it. I'd be interested in your thoughts. I just started a novel of Boyle's, The Tortilla Curtain. I am really enjoying it so far.

  11. I just read this an hour ago. And when I finished it, I had tears in my eyes. Something about the writing that makes you very upset about Boori ma's misfortune.
    In addition to authenticity, another thing that I really like about Lahiri is that her writing is simple, "no frills" type.

  12. Mendel Me - Yes, I like that about her writing too. It is beautiful in its simplicity. I still think of this story even though it's been a couple of years since I last read it.


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