When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri
The short story “When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine” by Jhumpa Lahiri is a ten-year-old girl’s reminiscence of the interactions in a small community of Indian immigrants who lived in a small university town in the United States. The storey takes place in 1971 when Bangladesh gained independence.
Jhumpa Lahiri in her short stories addresses the sensitive dilemmas in the lives of Indian immigrants concerning their issues of identity, matrimony and disconnection with the foreign world as well as their homeland. Her short stories try to anthologise the difficulties posited in a diaspora culture on the central characters who find it difficult to flow effortlessly between their home and the world.
Mr Pirzada was a Bengali-Muslim who was in the United States on a grant from the Pakistani government. Lilia’s family, like Mr Pirzada’s, had immigrated to the United States of America in the hopes of leading a better and more secure life away from the political and religious strife in the Indian subcontinent. Lilia is worried by her father’s insistence on Pirzada being an ‘other’ in a country that is not hers. Every night after dinner, the family watches the news about the political unrest in the east. Lilia becomes concerned about Mr Pirzada’s wife and children’s safety as she gains a better understanding of the events taking place in the east.
Lilia does not realise when Mr Pirzada returns back to Dacca. Her father dropped him off at the airport while she was at school, and they haven’t heard from him in over six months. Mr Pirzada shared Lilia’s sense of loss and longing for Mr Pirzada once he returned to Dacca, as did Mr Pirzada for his wife and family when he was living in America.Summary
In quest of compatriots, Lilia’s father scoured the columns of the university press for surnames familiar to their region of the world. He eventually discovered Mr Pirzada, called him, and invited him to dinner.
Lilia remembers Mr Pirzada as a guy “carrying confections in his pocket and hopes of ascertaining the life or death of his family.” Mr Pirzada visited Lilia’s family once a week for dinner. The Pakistani government offered him a one-year scholarship to study botany in a university in the United States as a botanic. We lived in Dacca, which was then part of Pakistan. He abandoned his wife and seven daughters in Dacca.
Lilia recalled an incident in which she wished to bring the Indian man a bottle of water and her father told her that “Mr Pirzada is no longer considered Indian… Not since Partition, in fact. Our country was shattered. 1947.” Lilia couldn’t figure it out. She wrote:
“It made no sense to me. Mr Pirzada and my parents spoke the same language, laughed at the same jokes, looked more or less the same. … Nevertheless my father insisted that I understand the difference, and he led me to a map of the world taped to the wall over his desk. He seemed concerned that Mr Pirzada might take offence if I accidentally referred to him as an Indian”.
One day when the family had dinner with Mr Pirzada, the father turned up the volume on the TV and they “saw tanks rolling through dusty streets, and fallen buildings, and forests of unfamiliar trees into which East Pakistani refugees had fled, seeking safety over the Indian border,… a barricaded university, newspaper offices burnt to the ground” Lilia sympathized with Mr Pirzada, she imagined his family in blazing Dacca. She prayed for the safety of his family. What else could the child do? She ate a piece of candy, wishing all the best to his family.
In contrast to what happened in Dacca, Lilia recalled some recent occurrences that occurred in the university town where she lived. Nobody in the school was aware of the Southeast Asian war. They studied the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and other topics.
Before Halloween, the children prepared pumpkins to make Jack-o’-Lanterns. Mr Pirzada took part in it. When the national news started, he started carving. According to reports, India was forced to declare war on Pakistan. “The knife fell from Mr Pirzada’s grasp and formed a gash descending toward the base of the pumpkin,” Lilia remembered. “Please forgive me.” He raised a hand to one side of his face as if he’d been smacked. “I am—it is terrible. I’ll buy another. “We will try again.” Everyone said it was fine, and they told Mr Pirzada not to worry. Lilia took on board all of Mr Pirzada’s family’s problems.
The author wrote:
“I remember some nights helping my mother spread a sheet and blankets on the couch so that Mr Pirzada could sleep there, and high-pitched voices hollering in the middle of the night when my parents called our relatives in Calcutta to learn more details about the situation.”
Mr Pirzada eventually returned to Dacca. From Dacca, he sent a letter. He wrote that his wife and seven daughters had survived and that they were in the mountains on an estate owned by his wife’s grandparents. The author finished the story by this line:
“Since January, each night before bed, I had continued to eat, for the sake of Mr Pirzada’s family, a piece of candy I had saved from Halloween. That night there was no need to. Eventually, I threw them away.”
The moral of the narrative was not stated explicitly. A young girl described incidents that occurred many years ago in a remote place that were shown in the news. The most important part of the story was devoted to describing a typical day in a tiny American town. Jhumpa Lahiri conveyed the concept of human friendship, as well as respect for the culture and traditions of various nationalities.