When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Lilia is the story’s narrator; she is 10 years old during the main events of the story. Though Lilia’s mother and father emigrated from Calcutta, Lilia was born and raised in a small suburb of Boston. Lilia spends much of her childhood eagerly taking in the American history she has been taught at school, but she becomes more interested in her family’s South Asian roots when she meets Mr. Pirzada, a family friend from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As the Bangladesh Liberation War breaks out in East Pakistan, threatening Mr. Pirzada’s family—and then when Mr. Pirzada goes back home, never to return again—Lilia is forced to grapple with both the joys and challenges of living in diaspora. For instance, her dual cultural identity means that she has more knowledge of the world (and a more adventurous diet) than her classmates do, but living in the U.S. also means being separated from her family, her cultural heritage, and ultimately Mr. Pirzada. The story marks a kind of coming of age for Lilia, as her exposure to the horrors of war and her new feelings of empathy and responsibility toward Mr. Pirzada leave her with a more mature worldview. This tension between youth and adulthood is evident throughout her narration, as Lilia’s carefree projects (making collages for school, carving jack-o’-lanterns) are often altered or interrupted by news of the violence abroad. Moreover, grown-up Lillia will sometimes interject with an explanation or a qualification of something her younger counterpart does not yet understand. Importantly, Lilia’s particular attachment to Mr. Pirzada is also a product of her young age. Her initial delight at the candies he gives her—and the prayers she says for his family as she eats them—reflect her optimism and innocence. His departure at the end of the story, which marks the first great loss of Lilia’s life, leaves her with both newfound knowledge and a kind of newfound cynicism.

Lilia Quotes in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine quotes below are all either spoken by Lilia or refer to Lilia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine published in 1999.
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine Quotes

In the autumn of 1971 a man used to come to our house, bearing confections in his pocket and hopes of ascertaining the life or death of his family.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Candy, TV
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

It was a small campus, with narrow brick walkways and white pillared buildings, located on the fringes of what seemed to be an even smaller town. The supermarket did not carry mustard oil, doctors did not make house calls, neighbors never dropped by without an invitation, and of these things, every so often, my parents complained. In search of compatriots, they used to trail their fingers, at the start of each new semester, through the columns of the university directory, circling surnames familiar to their part of the world.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Lilia’s Mother, Lilia’s Father
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

[My father] led me to a map of the world taped to the wall over his desk […] his finger trailed across the Atlantic, through Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and finally to the sprawling orange diamond that my mother once told me resembled a woman wearing a sari with her left arm extended. Various cities had been circled with lines drawn between them to indicate my parents’ travels, and the place of their birth, Calcutta, was signified by a small silver star. I had been there only once and had no memory of the trip.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Lilia’s Father (speaker), Lilia’s Mother, Mr. Pirzada
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

We learned American history, of course, and American geography. That year, and every year, it seemed, we began by studying the Revolutionary War. We were taken in school buses on field trips to visit Plymouth Rock, and to walk the Freedom Trail, and to climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument. We made dioramas out of colored construction paper depicting George Washington crossing the choppy waters of the Delaware River, and we made puppets of King George wearing white tights and a black bow in his hair. During tests we were given blank maps of the thirteen colonies, and asked to fill in names, dates, capitals. I could do it with my eyes closed.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Lilia’s Father
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

It was an awkward moment for me, one which I awaited in part with dread, in part with delight. I was charmed by the presence of Mr. Pirzada’s rotund elegance, and flattered by the faint theatricality of his attentions, yet unsettled by the superb ease of his gestures, which made me feel, for an instant, like a stranger in my own home. It had become our ritual, and for several weeks, before we grew more comfortable with one another, it was the only time he spoke to me directly.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Candy
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

I coveted each evening’s treasure as I would a jewel, or a coin from a buried kingdom, and I would place it in a small keepsake box made of carved sandalwood beside my bed, in which, long ago in India, my father’s mother used to store the ground areca nuts she ate after her morning bath. It was my only memento of a grandmother I had never known, and until Mr. Pirzada came to our lives I could find nothing to put inside it.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada, Lilia’s Father
Related Symbols: Candy
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

Unlike the watch on his wrist, the pocket watch, he had explained to me, was set to the local time in Dacca, 11 hours ahead. For the duration of the meal the watch rested on his folded paper napkin on the coffee table […] Life, I realized, was being lived in Dacca first. I imagined Mr. Pirzada’s daughters rising from sleep, tying ribbons in their hair, anticipating breakfast, preparing for school. Our meals, our actions, were only a shadow of what had already happened there, a lagging ghost of where Mr. Pirzada really belonged.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Watches
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

“See, children your age, what they do to survive,” my father said as he served me another piece of fish. But I could no longer eat. I could only steal glances at Mr. Pirzada, sitting beside me in his olive green jacket, calmly creating a well in his rice to make room for a second helping of lentils. He was not my notion of a man burdened by such grave concerns.

Related Characters: Lilia’s Father (speaker), Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: TV
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Eventually I took a square of white chocolate out of the box, and unwrapped it, and then I did something I had never done before. I put the chocolate in my mouth, letting it soften until the last possible moment, and then as I chewed it slowly, I prayed that Mr. Pirzada’s family was safe and sound. I had never prayed for anything before, had never been taught or told to, but I decided, given the circumstances, that it was something I should do. That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for I feared that I would somehow rinse the prayer out as well. I wet the brush and rearranged the tube of paste to prevent my parents from asking any questions, and fell asleep with sugar on my tongue.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Candy
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

“Don’t worry,” I said. It was the first time I had uttered those words to Mr. Pirzada, two simple words I had tried but failed to tell him for weeks, had said only in my prayers. It shamed me now that I had said them for my own sake.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Candy
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

It was only then that I felt Mr. Pirzada’s absence. It was only then, raising my water glass in his name, that I knew what it meant to miss someone who was so many miles and hours away, just as he had missed his wife and daughters for so many months.

Related Characters: Lilia (speaker), Mr. Pirzada
Related Symbols: Watches
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
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Lilia Character Timeline in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The timeline below shows where the character Lilia appears in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
The narrator (whose name is later revealed to be Lilia) recalls the fall of 1971, when she was 10 years old. For a few months,... (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
...with “A.” Now, he carries a picture of his daughters in his wallet to show Lilia. He writes to his wife and sends comic books to his daughters, but the conflict... (full context)
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Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
Mr. Pirzada is here—in the suburb of Boston where Lilia’s family lives—for work: the Pakistani government has given him a grant to study trees and... (full context)
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Initially, Lilia doesn’t know why Mr. Pirzada spends so much more time at her house than the... (full context)
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Though Lilia cannot recall when Mr. Pirzada started coming over, by the end of September, she’s so... (full context)
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When Lilia is confused by this new information, her father explains Partition. In 1947, soon after India... (full context)
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Lilia does not understand this division, because Mr. Pirzada and her parents speak the same language,... (full context)
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Lilia’s father assumes she is aware of the conflict in East Pakistan; Lilia is not, but... (full context)
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Lilia’s mother reflects on her own childhood, which was filled with violence, food rations, and educational... (full context)
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Lilia learns exclusively U.S. history and geography, with a special emphasis on the American Revolution. She... (full context)
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...at six, having walked over from the dormitory where he lives. He shakes hands with Lilia’s father and, as always, Lilia takes his coat. Mr. Pirzada is always well-dressed, and he... (full context)
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
When Mr. Pirzada arrives, he jokes that he is “‘another refugee […] on Indian territory.’” Lilia’s father responds that there are currently nine million refugees from Dacca in India. Lilia notes... (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
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...shoes, which are muddy—he likes to stop and study the trees on his walk to Lilia’s family’s house. Once he has taken off his coat and shoes, he grazes Lilia’s throat,... (full context)
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As is his tradition, Mr. Pirzada presents Lilia with a candy: this time, it is a plastic egg filled with cinnamon hearts. Lilia... (full context)
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Lilia recalls that she could never eat the candy Mr. Pirzada gave her right away, because... (full context)
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...the living room, to have an unobstructed view of the TV news. As they watch, Lilia’s mother brings out a variety of traditional Indian dishes. Lilia helps with water, lemon wedges,... (full context)
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Lilia studies Mr. Pirzada to figure out “what makes him different”—“not an Indian.” She notes that... (full context)
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Usually, Lilia reads during the evening news, but tonight her father makes her watch it. On TV,... (full context)
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At the commercial break, Lilia’s mother goes to get more rice, and her father and Mr. Pirzada discuss politics. As... (full context)
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Later that night, Lilia struggles to feel the “ceremonial satisfaction” she normally does when she puts Mr. Pirzada’s candies... (full context)
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Lilia begins to suspect that Mr. Pirzada’s family is dead. To ward off this feeling, she... (full context)
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Nobody at Lilia’s school discusses what is happening in East Pakistan. Everyone just keeps focusing on the long-ago... (full context)
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While at the library, Lilia stumbles into the “Asia” section of books. She eventually finds a book about Pakistan, and... (full context)
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...even though the violence continues to escalate. Still, Mr. Pirzada “enjoy[s] long, leisurely meals” with Lilia’s parents. He stays late into the night, and when the adults can no longer discuss... (full context)
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On these nights, Lilia’s parents eventually send her to bed—but from her bedroom, Lilia still hears the adults listening... (full context)
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In October, Mr. Pirzada asks about the pumpkins he sees on people’s doorsteps, so Lilia explains the concept of a Halloween jack-o’-lantern. The next evening, Lilia’s mother brings a pumpkin... (full context)
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Lilia and Mr. Pirzada debate whether they want the jack-o’-lantern’s mouth to be a smile or... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada offers to buy another pumpkin, but Lilia’s father carves around the gash, turning the pumpkin’s mouth into a gaping hole. The pumpkin,... (full context)
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Both Lilia and Dora dress up as green-faced witches for Halloween. Lilia’s mother gives them old basmati... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada brings Lilia candy, as he always does, but he jokes that she does not need it tonight,... (full context)
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Lilia's father and Mr. Pirzada linger in the living room, listening to the sounds of other... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada volunteers to accompany Lilia and Dora—he begins to fret about rain or that the girls will get lost, and... (full context)
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As Dora and Lilia leave, Mr. Pirzada stands in Lilia’s family’s driveway and waves to them. Dora asks Lilia... (full context)
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Lilia admires all the Halloween decorations in her neighborhood. As she and Dora go house to... (full context)
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Dora’s mother gives the girls popcorn and cider, and she reminds Lilia to call home. When Lilia calls her mother, she hears the TV on in the... (full context)
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After Lilia and Dora have gone through all of their candy, Lilia returns home to see that... (full context)
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Lilia explains that that night, the adults had learned that Dacca would not accept anything less... (full context)
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During those 12 days of war, Lilla’s father no longer asks her to watch the news, Mr. Pirzada stops bringing candy, and... (full context)
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...Pirzada returns home to Dacca to see what remains of his life there. In retrospect, Lilia does not remember what their last meal together was like, but she knows that her... (full context)
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During the Muslim New Year, Mr. Pirzada sends a card to Lilia’s family—this is the first time they have heard from him since he left. He explains... (full context)
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Lilia’s mother suggests a toasts for Mr. Pirzada, but Lilia does not feel like celebrating. Instead,... (full context)