When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

by

Jhumpa Lahiri

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TV Symbol Icon

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

The When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine quotes below all refer to the symbol of TV. 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:

“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:
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TV Symbol Timeline in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

The timeline below shows where the symbol TV 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
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
...grant does not provide Mr. Pirzada with enough money to eat well or buy a TV, so he comes over to Lilia’s house to eat dinner and watch the news. (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
...behind a wall.” Then, Mr. Pirzada follows Lilia’s father into the living room, where the TV is playing local news. Lilia’s mother offers Mr. Pirzada a kebab, and as Mr. Pirzada... (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
...eats with the family—as usual—in 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... (full context)
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
...Lilia reads during the evening news, but tonight her father makes her watch it. On TV, she sees military tanks, burning buildings, and people fleeing. Lilia watches Mr. Pirzada watch the... (full context)
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the screen. She also imagines his relief at seeing his wife and daughters safe on TV, but that never happens. (full context)
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
...has trouble reconciling Mr. Pirzada with the “unruly, sweltering world” she has just seen on TV. Lilia begins to picture Mr. Pirzada’s wife and daughters in the violence, and she panics.... (full context)
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Food, Culture, and Connection Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
As time goes on, Dacca is less and less discussed on the TV news, even though the violence continues to escalate. Still, Mr. Pirzada “enjoy[s] long, leisurely meals”... (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
...it. For the first time, everybody gathers around the dining table instead of watching the TV. Lilia shows Mr. Pirzada how he should carve the pumpkin, and he begins to cut... (full context)
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
...and she reminds Lilia to call home. When Lilia calls her mother, she hears the TV on in the background. When she hangs up, she realizes that the TV is not... (full context)
Family, Ritual, and Shared Time Theme Icon
Diaspora, Alienation, and Loss Theme Icon
Independence, Revolution, and Violence Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence vs. Maturity and Responsibility Theme Icon
...when she enters the house, the three adults are sitting on the sofa, with the TV turned off. Mr. Pirzada has his head in his hands, but he is not concerned... (full context)