When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine Essay
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine,” she explores the theme of being a strange in a foreign land, even showing that those who call a land home can feel disconnected at times as well. For Mr. Pirzada, America is a great big mystery to him. Many of the cultural practices described throughout the story are understandably foreign to him, such as saying “thank you” for everything and carving pumpkins on Halloween. He is a lonely man who is lost and confused in this new country. Rather than driving, he prefers to walk to Lilia’s house, and his straight posture and clothing are very strange to Lilia.
As an Indian family residing in America, Lilia and her family share very different cultures and values from individuals in America. Though they have lived in America longer than Mr. Pirzada has, Lilia’s parents still clearly long for many of the aspects they’d grown accustomed to in their mother land. They complain about various different American practices that do not match values of their own like how “the supermarket did not carry mustard seed oil, doctors did not make house calls, neighbors never dropped by without invitation,” which are all things that are commonplace in their homeland (1).
This cultural divide is really why her parents go out of their way to welcome Mr. Pirzada into their home. They like having someone they can socialize with and relate to. Her parents are proud of the country they live in too. This is best displayed when Lilia’s father criticizes the American education system for not teaching her about India or Pakistan, to which Lilia’s mother responds, “Lilia has plenty to learn at school…We live here now, she was born here” (2).
Lilia’s mother is obviously proud of the fact that they now reside in America and that she has an American child who has all the opportunities she never did. That question that her father asks is probably symbolic of the main problem faced by the family though: balancing out their Indian culture with the values they are expected to have in America. Throughout out the story, Lilia is caught in a cultural conundrum as she shifts between her Indian and American identities.
In school she is only taught American history and while trying to get in touch with her own culture, she is scolded by her teacher because it is unrelated to the subject being studied at the moment. While she is at home, the situation in Dacca is of dire importance, but “no one at school talked about the war followed so faithfully in my living room” (4). This lack of interest by others around her once again displays the cultural differences that only Lilia can see.
Another great example of the cultural clash prevalent in this short story is when Mr. Pirzada is carving the jack-o-lantern. When they first begin, Mr. Pirzada starts “carving, without the least bit of intimidation, as if he had been carving jack-o’-lanterns his whole life,” but as soon as the news story starts airing and a connection to the other side of the globe is made, Mr. Pirzada drops the knife and ruins the pumpkin. Though the sequence begins with the four individuals trying to assimilate into an American past time, ultimately their foreignness comes back to bite them and remind them where they are from.