A Real Durwan by Jhumpa Lahiri
In A Real Durwan by Jhumpa Lahiri we have the theme of struggle, conflict, responsibility, jealousy, aspirations and resilience. Taken from her Interpreter of Maladies collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Lahiri may be exploring the theme of struggle. Boori Ma as she is walking up the stairs appears to be struggling. It is possible that Lahiri is symbolically suggesting by way of the stairs that Boori Ma is and has incurred difficulties in her life. If Boori Ma is to be believed she once had a comfortable life and had a family around her. Though it is difficult to know whether Boori Ma is telling the truth as her stories about her past change so often. However one thing is certain. Boori Ma is not living a life that a woman of her age should be living. She lives in complete poverty. She might have some savings but in all likelihood they wouldn’t amount to much. However it is noticeable that Boori Ma does not allow herself to be defeated. If anything she is a resilient woman determined to make it through each day regardless of the circumstances she might find herself in.
The theme of conflict is self-evident in the story. Mr and Mrs Dalal fight over Mr Dalal’s purchase of the two wash basins with Mrs Dalal thinking that her husband has been overly extravagant. Similarly the other residents in the building quarrel over the new wash basin with the reader sensing that each of the residents who use the wash basin may be jealous of Mr Dalal who has been promoted in work. Rather than being happy that they have access to a wash basin the residents query as to why they too can’t have a personal wash basin like Mr and Mrs Dalal. It is as though Mr Dalal’s act of goodwill is not appreciated by the residents in the building. It might also be worth noting that Mr Dalal also promises to buy Boori Ma a new blanket. Something he does not have to do. Which may leave some critics to suggest that Mr Dalal is a good natured and kind individual. However it is also noticeable that Mr Boori Ma does spend an excessive amount of time without a blanket.
The fact that Boori Ma talks about how her life used to be might also be important as Lahiri may be highlighting the fact that Boori Ma aspires for a return of the comforts that she once had. Though the other residents do not believe Boori Ma when she talks about her life prior to sweeping the building. The important thing to remember is that Boori Ma seems to have aspirations for a better life. Something that is noticeable when Boori Ma starts to spend some of her life savings. She is most likely treating herself in order to ease the hardship that she feels. Unfortunately Boori Ma pays a high price for treating herself when robbers rob her savings and her skeleton keys. The skeleton keys themselves may be important as for Boori Ma they represent a different type of life. She may not have any practical use for them but nonetheless they remind Boori Ma of a time when her life was better. When she did not have to struggle. Boori Ma’s broom may also have some symbolical significance as Lahiri could be using the broom to place an emphasis on the fact that Boori Ma feels comfortable when she has the broom by her side. The broom along with Boori Ma’s life savings and skeleton keys are the only things that bring comfort to Boori Ma. In fact they are all she has in life.
The end of the story is also interesting as Lahiri appears to be further exploring the theme of conflict. The residents in the building blame Boori Ma for the fact that the wash basin has been stolen. They feel as though she has not acted as a real durwan and that she is responsible for the theft of the wash basin. The fact that Mr Chatterjee makes the decision for the residents when it comes to what to do with Boori Ma might also be important. It is on Mr Chatterjee’s advice that the other residents dismiss Boori Ma. Yet symbolically Lahiri may be suggesting that Mr Chatterjee is blind to what is happening. Something that is a little clearer to the reader by Lahiri mentioning the shutters on Mr Chatterjee’s balcony. If anything Boori Ma has been incorrectly judged by those in the building. She is an easy target for the residents. They have no sympathy for her. Something that is noticeable by the way they treat Boori Ma and throw her belongings out of the building. The reader left aware that life is going to be harder for Boori Ma. Her struggles in life will continue even though she is an innocent woman and has not done anything wrong.