Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mr. Pirzada, the Refugee

When I read When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine the cultural differences among the characters is what strikes me. We can talk about this story in terms of Indians and Pakistanis and their lives among Americans, but I am going to talk about the differences between the Indians and Pakistanis themselves and the war that occurs throughout the story.

Although we may believe that Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s family gather together in concern for the events going on back home, I notice how Lilia’s father is quick to point out the differences between Mr. Pirzada and his family. Maybe it is because Lilia’s upbringing in the US, but she does not see the difference between her family and Mr. Pirzada. She calls him an Indian and her father points out that it is important that she know he is no longer considered Indian. Lilia does not see the difference because Mr. Pirzada acts so much like them. He speaks the same language, laughs at the same jokes, has some of the same manners as them, and he even looks about the same as them.

Lilia’s father even tells her that Mr. Pirzada is Muslim and during Partition Hindus and Muslims set fire to each other’s houses. Even though he acknowledges this difference in religion and race, he still seeks out Mr. Pirzada to come dine with them. “In search of compatriots, they used to trail their fingers, at the start of each new semester, through the columns of the university directory, circling surnames familiar to their part of the world” (Lahiri 24). The word compatriot is important here, because a compatriot is someone whom one can identify with, but how can they identify with someone they see so differently for themselves? Lilia’s father points out that the idea of Muslims and Hindus eating in each other’s company is unthinkable, yet they keep inviting him back to dine with them. So the question I ask is why did they invite Mr. Pirzada to come and dine if there is such an important and even tense history of differences between Muslims and Hindus?
The most obvious reason is because Lilia’s parents were just being hospitable to a fellow colleague at the university and he just happens to be Muslim. After all they had done it many times before. But, I would like to say that in keeping with the theme of refugees back in India and Pakistan, Lahiri makes Mr. Pirzada a “refugee” among Lilia’s family, the Indians. The family keeps welcoming Mr. Pirzada back to dine because he is like a refugee to them and they wish to help him (by feeding him). When Mr. Pirzada goes back to dine for the second time his first words are “Another refugee, I am afraid, on Indian territory” (Lahiri 28). But, he is not talking about the refugees on television, but he is referring to himself as a refugee. He is constantly living in Dacca time and he is very concerned with the situation back home because is family is there. Lilia’s family has taken Mr. Pirzada in because they feel bad about the situation back home and that Mr. Pirzada has family in the turmoil. Her father is constantly telling Lilia how lucky she is to not have to worry about certain things and he tells her “see, children your age, what they do to survive” (Lahiri 31). This shows me that they sympathize with Mr. Pirzada’s situation and is why they have put aside their differences to keep welcoming him back to eat.

At the end there is no consistent communication with Mr. Pirzada, except a note from him to say thank you. The reader expects there to be some kind of everlasting connection between him and the family, but Mr. Pirzada was no longer a refugee in their care and had no need to return to them since he was able to go back home. Her parents had predicted correctly that they would never see him again. Although this ending is a bit disappointing to me as a reader, I see how it works well with this theme of refugees.


Katherine Bell said...

I asked myself the same question once I read your blog. Why does this family keep inviting Mr. Pirzada to eat dinner with them? If he is so different, why are they making an effort to welcome him in their home? As I kept reading your answer to your own question, I thought to myself, "Maybe they are inviting him over to dine because that is what Americans do." A part of the American dream is to be kind, respectable, and to invite other races into your home. This family seemed to live various styles of the "American family" and believed that this was another way to become more like the ones who were born in the U.S. I also believe that they just wanted to help Mr. Pirzada due to his situation at home. The family can relate to Mr. Pirzada this way. They are bascially from the same part of the world and very close in race, therefore they must do all they can to help him out. They also could feel obligated in a way to invite him to dine because both their races are figthing where they are not present.

Deborah Arroyo said...

Thanks for pointing that out. That's a really good explanation to that question too. I guess I got so caught up in writing about their heritages from India and Pakistan, I didn't stop to think this could be about them becoming more American. That's a good perspective. This story was my favorite cause it can be interpreted from different view points-the American one, or the Indian and Pakistani one.