When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri was born in London and raised in a small town in Rhode Island; her parents emigrated from Calcutta, and they frequently brought Lahiri and her younger sister to visit relatives back in India. After moving to New York City to college, Lahiri returned to New England, completing three simultaneous master’s degrees—and a PhD—at Boston University. While in Boston, she began to write the short stories (including when “Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine”) that would be compiled as her first book, Interpreter of Maladies. Published in 1999 to critical acclaim, Interpreter won the Pulitzer Prize and was heralded for its intimate, precise depiction of South Asian lives. Lahiri went on to publish another short story collection (Unaccustomed Earth) and two more English-language novels (The Namesake and The Lowland). After marrying and having children, Lahiri intensified her lifelong study of Italian and now writes primarily in that language.
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Historical Context of When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The backdrop of “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” is the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence (also known as the Bangladesh Liberation War), which began in March of 1971. The story is set from September to early December of that year. Decades before this, in 1947, the Partition of India occurred: British India underwent a tumultuous, violent split along religious lines. The region was split into two Dominions (self-governing nations within the British Empire): the majority-Hindu India and the majority-Muslim Pakistan, which was split into East Pakistan and West Pakistan. However, many East Pakistanis were ethnically and linguistically Bengali, and they did not feel represented by the Urdu-speaking government in West Pakistan. In 1971, in an attempt to quash a growing Bengali independence movement, West Pakistan’s army invaded East Pakistan and committed genocide against the East Pakistani people, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. This genocidal invasion was led by General Yahya Khan, whom Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s father heatedly discuss in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.” On December 4th, 1971, after months of violence and destruction, the Bangladesh War of Independence was officially declared, and India joined the war on the side of East Pakistan. On December 16th, West Pakistan surrendered. West Pakistan became Pakistan, and East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Other Books Related to When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

Lahiri has said that her biggest literary influences are Alice Munro (famous for short stories like “Boys and Girls”) and William Trevor (who writes darkly comic contemporary novels such as Felicia’s Journey).  Both are realist writers, renowned for using simple language to articulate complex emotions and characters—qualities that critics have also attributed to Lahiri’s writings. As an Indian American, Lahiri is also part of a rich tradition of South Asian American writers, many of whom similarly focus on the theme of navigating a dual cultural identity. Examples of South Asian American literature include the play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, the novel Gold Diggers by Sanjena Anshu Sathian, and the comedic memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kahling.
Key Facts about When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
  • Full Title: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
  • When Written: 1990s
  • Where Written: Boston, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1999
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: A suburb of Boston, Massachusetts in 1971
  • Climax: When the Bangladesh Liberation War is officially declared, Mr. Pirzada fears that his wife and daughters will not survive.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

Food Writing. “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” depicts food as an important source of connection for Lilia and Mr. Pirzada, but Lahiri has also written nonfiction about the importance of food in her own life. In a 2004 essay for the New Yorker entitled “The Long Way Home,” Lahiri recalls the family bonding that occurred when she and her sister first started to cook Indian food for their parents.

Intrigued by Italy. Lahiri’s first language was Bengali, but for much of her adult life she could only read and write in English. Then, after decades of fascination with Italy, Lahiri and her family moved to Italy in 2012 so she could become fluent in Italian. Since then, she works exclusively in Italian—writing in Italian, she wrote in her book In altre parole (In Other Words), makes her a “tougher, freer writer.”