In both stories, there is a young child (Lilia in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” and Eliot in “Mrs. Sen’s”) who witnesses the displacement that migration (whether short- or long-term) can have on an individual. What role does food play in Lilia’s interactions with Mr. Pirzada and Eliot’s with Mrs. Sen? What kind of knowledge (cultural, historical, or otherwise) does each child take away from their observations?
Discussion posting, focus on either “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” or “Mrs. Sen’s.” First, use the close reading handout to practice analyzing passages (where food is mentioned) and organize your analysis. Then, write up a response that incorporates your close readings and puts forth your interpretation of the link between a child’s perspective, food, and migration.
In both “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” and “Mrs. Sen’s,” Lahiri explores the personal and political impact that migration away from one’s home country can have on an individual. In both stories, food helps the characters to stay connected to their past–their homeland, their cultural heritage, and their loved ones.
As you read, continue to pay special attention to how food is being depicted in each text and what purpose it might serve. To prepare for your midterm exam, it might also be a good idea to begin reflecting upon the links between all four of Lahiri’s short stories.
Please respond to the above discussion prompt in approximately 12-15 sentences.
Close Reading: Lahiri’s “Mrs. Sen’s”
One way to begin close reading a text (in this case, Lahiri’s “Mrs. Sen’s”) is to start from the very beginning. Close reading the title and the first paragraph of this short story (or any literary piece for that matter) can often offer valuable insights into the text as a whole. Below are a few observations and questions to keep in mind as you close read and analyze “Mrs. Sen’s.”
Title: “Mrs. Sen’s”
* The title of Lahiri’s short story is interesting because of the different interpretive possibilities.
* Eliot’s caregiver obviously plays an important role in this story as the title is named after her character, Mrs. Sen, but her identity is often overshadowed by her husband’s name and profession. Twice in the story, once in the beginning and again at the end, Mrs. Sen introduces herself–to Eliot’s mother in her home (112) and the policeman at the scene of the car accident (134)–by way of her husband’s job as a math professor at a nearby university.
* It is also interesting to note the possessive form of the title (with the apostrophe ‘s’), which implies a type of ownership or possession that is left unnamed. Does it refer to Mrs. Sen’s relationship with Eliot? Mrs. Sen’s daily food preferences and practices? Mrs. Sen’s memories of her family and home in India? Why does Lahiri leave it open to interpretation?
* Even though the short story is named after Eliot’s caregiver, Mrs. Sen, the first sentence of the first paragraph and the last sentence of the last paragraph in the text, focuses on the circumstances and mindset of Eliot. The narrative is also told from the perspective of this eleven year-old child, as one of his previous caregivers, Abby, is described as a girl “who read books without pictures on the covers” (111). This is an observation that a child, not an adult, would make. Although this story is in part about Mrs. Sen’s attempt to assimilate into American culture and society, there is no doubt that she has made an impression on Eliot. How do you think Mrs. Sen’s interactions with the young boy have made an impact on him?
* In this opening paragraph, readers are also introduced to two of Eliot’s former caregivers. Both caregivers are described via their culinary predilections. There is Abby who refused to prepare food with any meat in it for Eliot. There is also Mrs. Linden whose thermos contained more whiskey than coffee. How does Mrs. Sen and her culinary practices compare with Abby’s and Mrs. Linden’s? How does it compare to Eliot’s own mother?
Text as a Whole
* Similar to Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter,” “Mrs. Sen’s” also contains several lists of produce and catalogs of ingredients. These lists and catalogs pertain to the food Mrs. Sen chops with her blade from India to prepare daily meals for her and her husband. In addition, there are references to food in terms of objects, like the “pear-colored carpet” (112) in Mr. and Mrs. Sen’s apartment and their “toffee-colored sedan” (119), Mrs. Sen’s smell of mothballs and cumin (117), and Mrs. Sen’s love for fresh fish (123).
* As you continue to close read and analyze the title and the opening paragraph for yourself, think about how the rest of the short story is linking together food to topics such as immigration, assimilation, and one’s homeland and cultural heritage. What point(s) do you think Lahiri is trying to make?