When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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Mr. Pirzada Character Analysis

The titular Mr. Pirzada is a professor of botany from the city of Dacca in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). When the story takes place, he is spending a year in New England to study a certain kind of tree, while his wife and seven daughters remain in East Pakistan. While he is living in a suburb outside Boston, the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War breaks out, endangering his beloved family and making it impossible for him to get home. For the duration of the war, he eats dinner and watches TV news almost every night with Lilia and her mother and father. And though he and Lilia form a special bond, he is overjoyed when he learns that his family is safe and he can return home. Lilia is often struck by Mr. Pirzada’s elegance and generosity. He is always well-dressed, as if “in preparation to attend a funeral at a moment’s notice.” He is also extremely polite and charming, as evidenced by the candies he gives Lilia with “superb ease.” At the same time, however, Mr. Pirzada is caught between two worlds, longing to be with his own daughters even as he creates new rituals with Lilia. He even keeps a watch set to Dacca’s time zone to feel more connected to his family. Though Lilia will not fully grasp the fully difficulty of Mr. Pirzada’s position until the end of the story, she instinctively describes him as someone “balancing in either hand two suitcases of equal weight.” In other words, even as Mr. Pirzada is being pulled in opposite directions, he handles himself with supreme grace.

Mr. Pirzada Quotes in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Pirzada or refer to Mr. Pirzada. 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:

[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:

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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Mr. Pirzada Character Timeline in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Pirzada 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
...of 1971, when she was 10 years old. For a few months, a man named Mr. Pirzada would routinely come to her childhood home for dinner, “bearing confections in his pocket and... (full context)
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
Mr. Pirzada is from Dacca, the capital city of Bangladesh. In the fall of 1971, however, Bangladesh... (full context)
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Before this conflict, Mr. Pirzada lived a cozy life in Dacca: he had a nice house, a good job as... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada is here—in the suburb of Boston where Lilia’s family lives—for work: the Pakistani government has... (full context)
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Initially, Lilia doesn’t know why Mr. Pirzada spends so much more time at her house than the rest of her family friends... (full context)
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Though Lilia cannot recall when Mr. Pirzada started coming over, by the end of September, she’s so used to his presence that... (full context)
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...Partition was a time of great violence between Hindus (like her family) and Muslims (like Mr. Pirzada ). Given this conflict, to many people who survived Partition, “the idea of eating in... (full context)
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Lilia does not understand this division, because Mr. Pirzada and her parents speak the same language, look similar, and eat the same foods. But... (full context)
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The next evening, Mr. Pirzada arrives at six, having walked over from the dormitory where he lives. He shakes hands... (full context)
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When Mr. Pirzada arrives, he jokes that he is “‘another refugee […] on Indian territory.’” Lilia’s father responds... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada takes off his shoes, which are muddy—he likes to stop and study the trees on... (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... (full context)
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Lilia recalls that she could never eat the candy Mr. Pirzada gave her right away, because it seemed too special. Rather, Lilia stores these treats like... (full context)
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Tonight, Mr. Pirzada eats with the family—as usual—in the living room, to have an unobstructed view of the... (full context)
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Lilia studies Mr. Pirzada to figure out “what makes him different”—“not an Indian.” She notes that Mr. Pirzada always... (full context)
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...watch it. On TV, she sees military tanks, burning buildings, and people fleeing. Lilia watches Mr. Pirzada watch the TV, but he betrays little emotion. (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 Lilia’s father gives her more fish, he tells her to watch what... (full context)
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Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that night, Lilia struggles to feel the “ceremonial satisfaction” she normally does when she puts Mr. Pirzada ’s candies away. She has trouble reconciling Mr. Pirzada with the “unruly, sweltering world” she... (full context)
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Lilia begins to suspect that Mr. Pirzada ’s family is dead. To ward off this feeling, she eats a candy Mr. Pirzada... (full context)
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
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Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
...finds a book about Pakistan, and she becomes engrossed in a chapter about Dacca, where Mr. Pirzada is from. Dora interrupts Lilia’s reading to tell her that Mrs. Kenyon is coming to... (full context)
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...and less discussed on the TV news, 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... (full context)
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...on the other side of the world.” As Lilia falls asleep, she wants “to console Mr. Pirzada somehow,” but there is nothing she can do besides eat his candy and pray for... (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... (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 a frown. Mr.... (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... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada brings Lilia candy, as he always does, but he jokes that she does not need... (full context)
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Lilia's father and Mr. Pirzada linger in the living room, listening to the sounds of other trick-or-treaters. Lilia’s father warns... (full context)
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Mr. Pirzada volunteers to accompany Lilia and Dora—he begins to fret about rain or that the girls... (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 why Mr. Pirzada... (full context)
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...in the driveway. Lilia starts to tear up, and she expects that her family and Mr. Pirzada will be similarly distressed. But when she enters the house, the three adults are sitting... (full context)
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...those 12 days of war, Lilla’s father no longer asks her to watch the news, Mr. Pirzada stops bringing candy, and her mother only cooks rice and eggs. Some nights, Mr. Pirzada... (full context)
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In January, Mr. Pirzada returns home to Dacca to see what remains of his life there. In retrospect, Lilia... (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... (full context)
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Lilia’s mother suggests a toasts for Mr. Pirzada , but Lilia does not feel like celebrating. Instead, though Mr. Pirzada has been gone... (full context)