Leave invalidation of her claims by concluding
Leave the Present for your Past (At Your Own Will) : Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri Short Essay Assignment In this excerpt, Lahiri conveys that Boori Ma’s described experience with the invisible insects inside her quilt mirrors her visions of the past, which she constructs herself as an attempt to escape the present. Through her thought process with regards to recalling her sleepless nights spent behind the Dalal’s gate, it is revealed that Boori Ma fabricates her own memories.
In her conversations with Mrs. Dalal, she claims that her bed must have been infested with mites that bite her back every night, keeping her awake. When Mrs. Dalal checks Boori Ma’s bed and back but finds neither bugs nor bites, Boori Ma further justifies her claim. Furthermore, she jumps to specific conclusions and confirms details of an event that has had no proof of happening. The fact that Boori Ma constructs her own reality from these loosely connected and unevidenced recollections of her previous nights can hint to the fact that she constructs her own memories of the past in the same way.
Boori Ma, a poor, elderly woman, is unbothered by her current lifestyle, as she claims to have experienced all of the pleasures in life back in Calcutta. These claims however, similar to her claims of encountering the insects at night, are hardly believed by anyone who hears them. Moreover, the actions of the bugs she describes symbolizes the past events in India she describes. This is evidenced in the concluding statement of the excerpt, where Boori Ma fires back at Mrs. Dalal’s invalidation of her claims by concluding “I tell you, these mites are eating me alive” (74). This statement not only implies her literal belief of the bugs biting her in her back, but it is actually her own visions of the past that are doing so, as these claims she makes are to be used as a scapegoat for her mediocrity in the current world. In the same way that the insects are keeping her awake at night by biting her, Boori Ma’s visions of the past keep her away from the real world she lives in and into an alternative reality. Then escaping just in time to avoid being caught, tracing no evidence of their existence in her real life, the bugs symbolize Boori Ma’s lack of evidence of the lavish past she describes.
Our reality, as Boori Ma’s experiences have evidenced, can be shaped by what we want to believe rather than the true nature of our experiences. This way of shaping our reality however, could ultimately harm us in the end.The theme of avoiding one’s reality and then ultimately being harmed by doing so is evidenced in many other places in the book, among those being in “A Temporary Matter” where the way a husband and wife temporarily escape the dark reality of their failing marriage by turning off the lights parallels Boori Ma’s evasion of a life of poverty and desolation by constructing her own recollections of the past. In the nights of a blackout, Shoba and Shukumar play a game where they share something they didn’t know about each other, which eventually becomes intimate and builds a connection between the two. To Shukumar, for the first time in a long time, the connection between them feels real, as “something happened when the house was dark.
They were able to talk to each other again” (19). In this darkness, they could be the two high schoolers that they once were, still falling in love with each other, not the two grown ups who barely speak anymore despite the fact they are married. In fact, it is highlighted in the text that Shukumar sees Shoba differently in the dark, perhaps the way he did when they were at a different stage in the relationship. Despite the it being pitch black, Shukumar “pictured her face clearly in the dark, the wide tilting eyes, the full grape-toned lips, the fall at age two from her high chair still visible as a comma on her chin” (14). In contrast to seeing her in the light, where he can clearly see her defining features deteriorating, in this dark, without even seeing her, he is imagining her in the full detail she once had.
Essentially, Shukumar is blinded from the present nature of Shoba’s fading beauty, in the same way the darkness conceals their plummeting relationship.On the fifth night, Shukumar is plagued by news from his wife that she is moving out, ultimately realizing that all of the nights they had just spent together connecting in the dark was just her procrastinating to tell him the reality of their plummeting relationship. Ironically, this confession was done when the lights were turned on. Shukumar, angry and hurt, reveals the gender of their miscarried child, which Shoba did not want to know. Immediately after this heated sequence of events, “Shoba had turned the lights off. She came back to the table and sat down, and after a moment Shukumar joined her. They wept together for the things they now knew” (22).
The couple, who had been hiding from the withering state of their marriage, now knew everything that they were blinded from while they were in the dark. After all, the dark represented an alternative reality for each of them: a place where they could be how they once were, not affected by the harsh reality of all that was wrong with their lives. Shoba, knowing what she now knows, turns the lights off in an attempt to ease the cruel nature of the truth, and Shukumar follows, one last time before they go back into the light for good.
In both of these stories, the characters are not at the heights of their lives. As a form of circumventing reality, these characters, in one way or another, go back to a time where they were at their best. Indeed, while Boori Ma’s past is likely be interpreted as constructed and the couple’s likely true, they both hurt the character(s) in each story. In all, escaping one’s present for the past is not ideal, as reflected by the concluding circumstances the characters face in these two stories. Like Mr. Chatterjee said, Boori Ma is “the victim of changing times” (72). Perhaps she did not grasp onto the fact that unlike in India, one’s present life did not depend on their past.
In the same way, going back to their innocent ways of playing games did not address the fact that Shukumar and Shoba had been hiding things from each other. The notion of time is quite tricky, as there are certain stages to life, and things that used to work at a certain point in one’s life may not work anymore. That being said, as escaping reality is associated with a glorious past, these pasts hinder the characters’ lives in major ways. The mechanism of regression in times of trouble is only temporary escape, and so despite their efforts, the characters are left hopeless in the end. After all, just when those lights turn back on, the mites will be waiting to bite you in the back.