Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"

By Jhumpa Lahiri

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"

When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

  • The story begins with a little history lesson about what happened to Dacca during the splitting of Pakistan, told through the story of Mr. Pirzada's appearance at our narrator's home.
  • Here's what our narrator tells us: Mr. Pirzada came from Dacca, where he seemed like your classic husband and dad (to seven—yes, seven—daughters he can't tell apart). Employed as an academic botanist, he even had a 3-story house until the Pakistani civil war.
  • Anyway, Mr. Pirzada gets to escape the war because the Pakistani government sends him to America to study New England's fall leaves. He's a botanist after all. (Okay, we're fans of Lahiri, but even we have to admit that this plot point isn't exactly all that believable. Fall colors are nice and all but are they that interesting to the Pakistani government?)
  • That's how Mr. Pirzada ends up at our narrator's house during the autumn of 1971, watching the news about Pakistan and eating dinner with her family. Since he's more or less from the same region as the narrator's parents (who are Indian), he's invited over to bond over their shared homeland(s).
  • By the way, Lilia—our narrator—is telling us all of this as an adult remembering her 10-year-old self. Clearly, Mr. Pirzada made an impression on her back then.
  • Mr. Pirzada may be stressed over the separation of his family (whom he doesn't hear from for a long time due to the war), but he definitely doesn't show it to Lilia. In fact, Lilia bonds with Mr. P because he gives her candy every time he visits. Lilia keeps the candy in a special sandalwood box that once belonged to her grandmother in India.
  • Mr. P is so cool that he even carves pumpkins with her and her family to celebrate Halloween. Only thing is, his mind is definitely on the brewing war in Pakistan since the news distracts him and causes him to cut the pumpkin wrong (Lilia's dad fixes it).
  • It's also clear that Mr. P's a little anxious about Lilia going out trick-or-treating with her friend without any parental supervision (Lilia's own parents aren't worried at all). He even offers to go with the kids and make sure they're safe.
  • Lilia guesses that Mr. P's just worried because he doesn't know where his own daughters are. She and her friend go trick-or-treating alone and get quite the haul of Halloween candy.
  • Lilia remembers how, after that night, Mr. P and her parents are even more glued to the TV because the war is definitely going to happen. Things, clearly, aren't going well for Mr. P.
  • Eventually though, Mr. P returns to Pakistan and searches for his family. It's not until months later that Lilia's family hears from Mr. P, who's actually totally fine as is his family (they had escaped to some relative's mountain house during the war). Surprising, right? Didn't you think this would end badly?
  • Well, apparently, there's still a sad ending to be had because Lilia finally understands that Mr. P's happy ending with his family means that Mr. P's never coming back to be with Lilia and her family. In other words, no more candy.
  • Lilia's been praying for Mr. P's family up until this point, but once she finds out that Mr. P's okay, she tosses away her Halloween candy.

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