‘A Real Durwan’ is a short story written by Jhumpa Lahiri.The story ‘A Real Durwan’ focuses on the life of Boori Ma, a frail, sixty-four year old woman who is the doorkeeper (durwan) to an apartment building in Calcutta, Southern India. Boori Ma is introduced as a refugee victim of the Partition, the event that led to the creation of Pakistan from India. characterisation has effectively been used by Jhumpa Lahiri to give her characters indirect and direct characteristics. The use of direct characterisation in this story tells the readers that Boori Ma does her job well as a gatekeeper in ensuring the stairwell is kept spotless and that unknown or suspicious people are kept out of the residential area.Boori Ma is indirectly characterised to be a victim of the harsh and underprivileged means of life. Boori Ma’s story reflects how life is not always fair and joyous for everyone. This was clearly shown how Boori Ma never really had the chance to live a better life after separation from her family. After getting a job as a durwan, the author made it seem that life would gradually improve for Boori Ma despite her hardships. Unfortunately, life for Boori Ma does not end well as she looses her job, home and life savings. Boori Ma’s story is indifferently ironic.
Summary of A Real Durwan:
Boori maa 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 to the roof and accuse her of telling robbers about the new basin. She tries to convince them, but after all of her lies, they say, how can they believe her now? The residents seek the advice of Mr. Chatterjee. He comes to the conclusion that the building needs a real durwan to keep their valuables safe. They toss Boori Ma out of on the street muttering, as her figure recedes, “believe me, believe me.”
Characters in A Real Durwan:
Boori Ma is a 64 year-old who lives on the roof of the Calcutta building, she is a stair sweeper, or durwan of this building and she also tells stories to residents of the same building of her past, the riches she behold, her servants and her estate. Boori Ma details her plight and losses suffered since her deportation to Calcutta after Partition in these stories. Boori Ma is an example of those displaced by Partition and her difficulty highlights the problems created after these events. The residents accuse Boori Ma of informing the robbers in negligence for her job. When Boori Ma protests,the residents continue to accuse her because of all her former unreliable stories. The story ends with all of her belongings being thrown out and the search for ‘A Real Durwan’.
Mr Dalal is a plumbing salesman who lives with his disgruntled wife in the building that Boori Ma works in. He does what he can for his wife’s happiness often buying her gifts and even going on vacations. When he is promoted at his job he gives back what he can to his community by installing a new sink in the stairway of his building. His aspiration of renovation spread throughout the building complex and many others start putting in new basins and renovating what they have.
Mrs Dalal a generally kindhearted women who leads a dissatisfied life, although she has a soft spot for Boori as she is very kind to her offering to buy her a new set of bedding and giving her food when she can. Mrs Dalal makes a big impact on Boori’s life through this kindness but the same cannot be said for Mrs Dalal as she does not see Boori as a vital part yet she understands her struggles in life.
Theme of A Real Durwan:
It is the sorry tale of Boori ma, a refugee in Calcutta after Partition. In her past an affluent woman has now fallen to misfortune and self appoints herself as the Durwan or the gatekeeper of an apartment building. It is story that appeals to the pathetic in us. Her incessant ramblings about her rich past and her comparisons between the past and the present life get on the nerves of the apartment residents. In a bid to give the building a face lift they throw Boor ma out along with her boxes and baskets. The irony is that even the kind people like Mrs. Dalal get lost in the quagmire of vanity and selfishness.
Solved Questions of A Real Durwan:
1.Describe the chatter of Mr. Dalal.
2. Write a note on the characteristics of the residents of the flat building and its neighborhood?