When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine (Lahiri)

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When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: During the Pakistani civil war, a man from Dacca befriends a young girl and her Indian parents while studying the foliage of New England on a government grant, constantly worrying for his family back home.

In the autumn of 1971, a man from Dacca, Pakistan, named Mr. Pirzada, would regularly visit a family's house, bringing sweets and wishing for news of his family caught in the civil war in his home country.

Mr. Pirzada — visiting scholar from Dacca; worried about his family still in war-torn Bangladesh; gentle, generous, dignified.

While working on a government grant studying New England's foliage, he struggled with his worries about his wife and seven daughters back home.

Their mother's idea, he explained one day, producing from his wallet a black-and-white picture of seven girls at a picnic, their braids tied with ribbons, sitting cross-legged in a row, eating chicken curry off banana leaves.

Every week, Mr. Pirzada would write letters and send comic books to his family, but due to the collapse of the postal system in Dacca, he had not received any word from them in over six months. Despite the ongoing war and uncertainty about his family's safety, Mr. Pirzada would continue his weekly visits to the family's house for dinners and to watch the evening news.

During his visits, the family learned about the political turmoil in Mr. Pirzada's home country and observed his deep concern for his own family.

Lilia — narrator; elementary-school-aged daughter of Indian immigrants; perceptive, empathetic.
Lilia's father — Indian immigrant; university lecturer; teaching his daughter the complexities of Indian history.
Lilia's mother — Indian immigrant; part-time bank teller; concerned about her daughter's safety.

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.

When the tension escalated into a declared war between East and West Pakistan, the family worked together to keep an eye on the news. But as time went on, they heard less and less about Dacca.

After the war ended, Mr. Pirzada left for Dacca to search for his family. A few months later, the family received a letter from Mr. Pirzada saying he was reunited with his family, who had survived the war by staying at an estate in the mountains of Shillong. After his departure, the family felt his absence intensely. Despite no longer having a reason to return, his memory lived on in the family's heart.