A REAL DURWAN

Topics: Short story, Jhumpa Lahiri, House Pages: 5 (1535 words) Published: October 12, 2014
Jhumpa Lahiri born on July 11, 1967 is an Indian American author. Lahiri was born in London, raised in Rhode island, the daughter of Indian immigrants from the state of West Bengal. Her family moved to the United States when she was two; Lahiri considers herself an American. Some of Lahiri's books are, Interpreter of Maladies, her first novel The Namesake film of the same name The Lowland.

Boori Ma, an increasingly frail 64-year-old woman, is the durwan (live-in doorkeeper) to an apartment building of Calcutta. Each day, she trudges up the stairs, lugging her reed broom and flimsy mattress behind her. As she sweeps, her raspy voice details the losses she has suffered because of Partition. She was separated from her husband, two daughters, and home. Tied to the end of her sari is a set of skeleton keys belonging to coffer boxes that housed her valuables. She chronicles the easier times in her life, the feasts and servants and marble floor of her home. Each litany ends with the same phrase, “Believe me, don’t believe me.” The details of her journey across the border shift in each retelling. But her tales were so impassioned that no one could dismiss her outright. Each resident of the building had a different interpretation of her tales. Mr. Dalal of the third floor can’t fathom how a landowner ends up sweeping stairs, wives think she is the victim of changing times, Mr. Chatterjee believes she simply mourns her family and wraps herself in illusion. Nevertheless, her tales harmed no one and she was entertaining. Best of all, she kept the stairs spotlessly clean and the outside world at bay. She routed away any suspicious person with a few slaps of her broom. Though there was nothing to steal from the apartments, the residents were comforted by her presence. Boori Ma suffers from sleepless nights. Mrs. Dalal, who has a soft spot for Boori Ma, comes to the roof to dry lemon peels. Boori Ma asks her to inspect her back for the mites she assumes torment her in her sleep. Mrs. Dalal finds nothing. Boori Ma talks again about her lost comforts – such comforts Mrs. Dalal can’t dream of. The women commiserate and Mrs. Dalal offers to buy the woman new bedding. Later rains turn Boori Ma’s mattress into yogurt, so she focuses on the offer of new bedding. Boori Ma is allowed to wander in and out of the apartments, offered tea and crackers for help with cleaning of children’s activities. She knows better than to sit on the furniture, so she crouches in doorways and takes in life from a distance. She visits The Dalals. Mr. Dalal asks her to help tote basins to his apartment. Mrs. Dalal is not pleased. A basin does not make up for not having a phone or a fridge, or other amenities promised but not delivered. The argument rings through the building and Boori Ma does not ask about bedding. She sleeps on newspaper that night. Mr. Dalal installs one basin – the first of the building – in his home and another in the foyer for all of his neighbors to use. Instead of being moved by the gesture, the residents of the building are awash in resentment. Why did they have to share, why were the Dalals the only ones who could improve the building, why couldn’t they buy their own basins? To appease his wife after their argument, it is rumored that Mr. Dalal purchased lavish shawls and soaps. He takes her away for ten days and Mrs. Dalal assures Boori Ma that she has not forgotten her promise of renewed bedding. While the Dalals are away, the other wives plan renovations and the stairs become choked by workmen. Unable to sweep, Boori Ma keeps to her roof, keeping an eye on her dwindling set of newspapers and wondering when she had her last glass of tea. When she grows restless of the roof, she wanders around the town spending her life’s savings on treats. She feels a tug at the end of her sari and finds her purse and skeleton keys gone. When she returns to the building, she finds the basin has been torn out of the wall. The residents carry her up...
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