In 'When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine,' Lilia's parents befriend Mr. Pirzada, a Bengali academic, who has been awarded a grant by the Pakistani government to study New England foliage. Invariably, Mr. Pirzada comes to dinner every night; Lilia notices that the adults always seem to be preoccupied with the news whenever Mr. Pirzada comes to dinner.
The year is 1971, and civil war has broken out between Pakistan and the soon to be Bangladesh. Mr. Pirzada's wife and seven daughters are home in Dacca. He is a deeply caring family man who writes to his wife every week and sends comic books to his daughters. When the post proves unreliable because of the war, Mr. Pirzada has to rely on American media to piece together the events of the conflict.
Although Mr. Pirzada presents a stoic demeanor while watching the events of the civil war unfold on television, Lilia notes that he often does strange things. These seemingly strange idiosyncrasies betray a man who is desperately trying to maintain his objectivity and his sanity amidst deep uncertainty regarding the fate of his beloved wife and daughters.
For example, Lilia notes Mr. Pirzada's 'composed and alert' expression while digesting news images about the Pakistan/Bangladesh conflict; yet, his pocket watch is set to Dacca time, and he never fails to wind up the watch and to set it in front of him when he eats dinner with Lilia's family. When an Indian official announces on the news that India may go to war with Pakistan unless the world finds a way to accommodate Bangladeshi refugees (from the Bangladesh/Pakistan conflict), Mr. Pirzada's knife slips while carving the Halloween pumpkin for Lilia. It is obvious that Mr. Pirzada is a man of great depths of emotion despite seeming otherwise.
Mr. Pirzada's lavish courtesy and affection to Lilia (he brings her elaborate candies whenever he comes to dinner) highlights his love for children. Additionally, Mr. Pirzada's heartache and personal anguish regarding his own daughters' fates may well have motivated his watchful solicitude toward Lilia. When Lilia and her friend, Dora, go out trick-or-treating, Mr. Pirzada is worried about the girls' safety. Lilia's mother tries to reassure Mr. Pirzada, but it is obvious that his worries about his own daughters have colored his perceptions.
Upon his return to Dacca, Mr. Pirzada's considerate nature is exemplified by his courteous letter informing Lilia's parents of his family's safety. A man capable of flamboyant courtesy, Mr. Pirzada finds himself finally understanding the meaning of a simple 'thank you,' although he contends that the two words will never be enough to express his deep gratitude to Lilia's parents.