Saturday, April 14, 2018

When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri Analysis

The short story When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri represents a recollection of Lilia, for that time - a ten-year-old girl, about the relationships in a small community of Indian immigrants who lived in a small university town in the USA. The story took place in the year of 1971 when Bangladesh became independent.

In search of compatriots, Lilia's father observed the columns of the university press, seeking surnames familiar to their part of the world. Eventually, he discovered Mr. Pirzada, and phoned him, and invited him for dinner.

Lilia remembered Mr. Pirzada as a man "bearing confections in his pocket and hopes of ascertaining the life or death of his family." Every week Mr. Pirzada came to Lilia's family and they had dinner together. As a botanic, he was granted by the Pakistani government for one year studying in the university in the USA. We lived in Dacca, which at that time was part of Pakistan. In Dacca he left his wife and seven daughters.

Lilia remembered an episode when she wanted to bring the Indian man a glass of water, and her father said that "Mr. Pirzada is no longer considered Indian ... Not since Partition. Our country was divided. 1947.” It wasn't clear to Lilia. 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 offense 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 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 events in Dacca, Lilia described some current events which took place in the university town where she lived. Nobody in the school knew about the war in Southeast Asia. They studied American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, and so on.

Before the Halloween, the children prepared pumpkins to make a Jack-o'-Lantern. Mr. Pirzada participated in that. He began carving when the national news began. It was reported that India had to make war on Pakistan. What Lilia remembered was "the knife slipped from Mr. Pirzada's hand and made a gash dipping toward the base of the pumpkin. “Please forgive me.” He raised a hand to one side of his face, as if someone had slapped him there. “I am—it is terrible. I will buy another. We will try again.” Everyone said that it was ok, they asked Mr. Pirzada don't worry. Lilia took to heart all troubles which family of Mr. Pirzada had.

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."

After a while, Mr. Pirzada flew back to Dacca. He sent a letter from Dacca. He wrote that his wife and seven daughters survived, they were in an estate belonging to his wife's grandparents in the mountains. 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 story wasn’t expressed directly. The events which happened many years ago in a remote country, shown in the News, were described by a young girl. The essential part of the story was dedicated to the description of a daily routine in a small American town. Jhumpa Lahiri communicated the idea of friendship between people, respect to the culture and traditions of other nationalities.

Here is a link to the text of the story: