TV represents the violent reality of revolution and war. The TV is almost always on in Lilia’s family home—as political conflict in East Pakistan intensifies, Lilia’s parents and their regular dinner guest Mr. Pirzada (whose family still lives in East Pakistan) are glued to the television news. The four of them even eat dinner at the coffee table each night instead of at the dining room table, so that they can watch the news while they eat. The TV thus becomes a kind of houseguest in its own right, its unceasing presence reflecting how immediate and personal the costs of independence are for Bangladeshis and their loved ones.
By contrast, when Lilia visits her friend Dora’s home, she realizes “that the television wasn’t on at Dora’s house at all”—Dora’s living room can be a place of relaxation precisely because she does not have loved ones in a conflict zone. (Indeed, none of Lilia’s classmates are aware of the situation in Bangladesh, and the only war the students ever learn about is the American Revolution.) In this way, the lack of TV news in Dora’s symbolizes Americans’ tendency to overlook conflicts in other parts of the world.
While Lilia’s father at first encourages her to watch the conflict unfold on TV so that she’s aware of what’s going on, he later prohibits her from watching when the Bangladeshi Liberation War officially begins and the violence ramps up. So, even as television is the means by which Lilia confronts difficult truths and gains more understanding of the world beyond her small town, the ability to turn it off is a reminder that she leads a sheltered life compared to the violence that Bangladeshis are experiencing. Lilia and her parents tune in by choice, whereas the people embroiled in the conflict (or those, like Mr. Pirzada, whose loved ones are at risk) have no means of escaping their suffering.
TV 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.
“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.