We often dismiss the notion of social constructs and the systems of resentment they can inspire as a way to separate ourselves from what is already known to be true. That is to say, we ignore our faults so that we don’t have to face them. The same can be said about the residents in the story A Real Durwan, who disregard the needs of Boori Ma.
The story is written by Jhumpa Lahiri, a daughter of Bengali parents who moved to London (where Lahiri was born) and then immediately to Rhode Island where Lahiri was raised. Critics identify the following characteristics with Lahiri that shape her writing: conflicting expectations
and emotional exile.
In the story, the main character Boori Ma is known as the sweeper of the stairwell. She often constructs tales as a way of mourning the loss of her family, which was preceded by the partition of the British Empire. At sixty-four years of age, Boori Ma has but a rattling set of skeleton keys, her life savings, and a broom to her name. The residents of the building are not always sure of Boori Ma’s honesty, but that does not stop them from allowing her to clean their building and keep watch at night. Mrs. Dala is the only resident who treats Boori Ma with decency, but once she leaves, Boori Ma is left to fend for herself against the residents who kick her out onto the streets.
Readers should keep in mind that the residents themselves are not rich, and live in a “very old building,” that has windows without glass and bath water stored in drums.
How can students use the theme of diaspora as well as the blatant disregard for peers and social construct in a classroom setting? This would make a great cross-subject curriculum assignment in which the history department and the English department team up in order to teach the story properly. History teachers would explain the Partition of the British Empire in 1947 and the formation of the United Nations that contributed to map re-writing and the movement of Indian peoples. The English teachers would then discuss the literary techniques that Lahiri uses in order to emphasize her characters and the theme. These include:
- Boori Ma’s decision to make no attempt to persuade or convince the residents of her stories
- Creating a distance between herself and peers
- Repetition of “ashes” and other refrains
Students can also learn from pop cultural references such as the Armenian Diaspora crisis taking place. This crisis includes many celebrities in pop culture such as Kim Kardashian-West, Cher, and Andre Agassi.
According to The Guardian, the Armenian diaspora, which is estimated at ten million, is three times the population of Armenia itself, with migrants and their descendants sprinkled across the continents from Russia to the United States, UK, Lebanon and Australia. Students can complete a comparative analysis of the Armenian and Indian diasporas, which will increase their critical thinking skills as well as their research skills.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. “The Real Durwan.” Interpreter of Maladies, Houghton Mifflin., Inc., 1999, pp. 70-82.