The candy that Mr. Pirzada gives Lilia represents the possibility for human connection despite people’s differences, even across vast distances or stretches of time. Every time Mr. Pirzada comes to Lilia’s house for dinner, he presents her with an extravagant candy: “honey-filled lozenges,” “raspberry truffles,” “an especially spectacular peppermint lollipop.” These candies signal Mr. Pirzada’s almost fatherly fondness for Lilia, who is still young enough to see each new piece as precious “jewel.” Although Lilia is a 10-year-old girl whose family is from India, and Mr. Pirzada is a middle-aged man from East Pakistan, this simple gesture of kindness bridges the personal and cultural gaps between them and helps foster a close bond.
It’s also important that Lilia keeps the candy in the same sandalwood box that her Indian grandmother, whom she never met, used to store areca nuts (fruit seeds that are chewed like tobacco). The box is her “only memento” of her grandmother, and Lilia mimics her grandmother’s habit of storing treats in it. In this way, the candy, and the ritual Lilia creates around it, also symbolize a connection to her family history across space and time. She even refers to each piece as a “coin from a buried kingdom,” again emphasizing the candy’s ability to connect her to a different time and place.
Over time, every time Lilia eats a candy, she begins to say a prayer for Mr. Pirzada’s wife and daughters. His family is still in East Pakistan, which is embroiled in a violent revolution. As she eats the sweets, she pictures Mr. Pirzada’s daughters back in East Pakistan, and she begins to feel invested in both the people and the place. In this way, the candy represents her close connection to Mr. Pirzada and, by extension, her connection to his daughters—girls around her same age who live across the world and whose experiences are so different from her own. It is telling that when Mr. Pirzada leaves the U.S. to reunite with his family, Lilia throws all the candy away because there is “no need” for it anymore. To Lilia, the candy is meaningful not because it tastes good, but because it’s a symbolic link to Mr. Pirzada—and now that she knows she will never see him again, disposing of the candy is perhaps Lilia’s way of grieving and moving on from the loss of her friend.
Candy Quotes in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.