Interpreter of Maladies

detail of boori ma's character

detail of boori ma's character from the real durwan

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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.” Her tales of the lost luxuries of her life before Partition entertain the residents, though they suspect that the tales hold on a few elements of truth. Boori Ma is accused of alerting robbers when a recently-installed basin is stolen from the stairwell. She is dependent on the power of her memories (or delusions) and on the kindness of her neighbors. When she loses the latter, she cannot maintain the former.