Plot summary: Meena is being brought to the shop by her father who believes she may have either stolen sweets from the shop or stolen money from her mother in order to buy the sweets. Outside the shop they meet Anita, who tells them that the picture of the sailor outside the shop is her father. Meena meets him later in the week and sees him being friendly to the ‘Ball bearings Committee’ – the name given to a group of women who work to support their family Meena dreads being brought into the shop because Mr Ormerod, the shop owner, is very chatty – once he starts a conversation it can become very difficult to leave the shop. In order to avoid this, Anita confesses that she stole money from her mother’s purse. Anita fears the disappointment of her mother. She knows her mother worries about her because she became extremely upset after Anita had been beaten in school for misbehaving. Quotes and analysis: There are many hints at the racism that was prevalent at the time of this novel. The reason that Meena was beaten in school was because she retaliated against a boy who referred to people of colour as ‘Darkies’. She also explains that Mr Ormerod viewed anyone who was not British as being the same. “You could see it in his face, he’d made the connection. Africa was abroad, we were from abroad, how could we refuse to come along and embrace Jesus for the sake of our cousins?”
Plot summary At the beginning of this chapter, Meena reminisces on a birthday trip during which she almost choked on a hotdog. She notices that her parents often argue, but she does not know the subject of the arguments. The arguments are usually precipitated by her mother’s bad moods and her father trying his best to soothe her temper. We learn that Meena’s mother is deeply concerned by her habit of lying. Meena tells the readers about her family friends. They have many Indian friends, who Meena refers to as her Aunties and Uncles. They often criticise Meena, but they also show her great affection. Meena enjoys tales of her parents’ early romance, and stories of Mama’s girlhood, especially the ‘Rickshaw Story’ – about a murder Quotes and analysis In this chapter, we see how Meena craves drama. She finds the experience of choking on a hot dog exhilarating, and is desperate to know more about the murder her mother witnesses. The Aunties and Uncles are of no blood relation to Meena, and all come from different backgrounds and areas. However, they have one thing in common – their beloved home, India. When they come together, they can shut out the strange and alienating English culture and the Kumar’s house transforms into a sanctuary where they are free to be themselves.
Plot summary Local girl Anita Rutter befriends Meena. We hear about the neighbours – Mrs Christmas (who has cancer), Uncle Alan, Hairy Neddy, Sandy, Sam Lowbridge and the Worralls. Anita and Meena ‘whoop’ down a passageway next to the Christmases’ house. Mr Christmas comes out of the house to scold them but Anita says she does not care if he tells her mother. Meena assumes that she will be invited into Anita’s house for dinner, but Anita’s mother, Deirdre, coldly turns her away, closing the door in her face. Quotes and analysis “But to be told off by a white person, especially a neighbour, that was not just misbehaviour that was letting down the whole Indian nation” There is a sharp contrast between the reaction of Meena and that of Anita to being told off by Mr Christmas. While Anita feels no shame and says she does not care if he tells her mother, Meena feels the weight of her whole nation on her shoulders. This says something important about their respective upbringings – Mama has successfully instilled in Meena a sense of right and wrong while Anita, who has a troubled relationship with her mother, thinks of no one but herself. Later in the book, Uncle Alan talks to Sam, who is also from a troubled home about “blame and responsibility” – this emphasises again how important it is for our parents to teach us about morality – we are not born with an innate sense of right or wrong.
Plot summary Meena’s parents are clearly worried by her stealing. However, they show concern rather than anger – they are worried that she steals because she feels deprived. Meena recounts her father’s musical evenings in which the Aunties and Uncles gather together to sing traditional songs. During one of these evenings, she overhears heart-breaking stories of the partition of India into the separate states of India and Pakistan. These memories come back to her when her father mentions the partition, after she asks if he was ever in a war. He tells Meena a story of unknowingly planting a bomb outside a wealthy Muslim merchant’s house in Lahore. That night Meena wakes up to see Mrs Christmas being taken away in an ambulance. The neighbours whisper that she has been dead for weeks, but Mr Christmas had not realised. Mr Christmas dies a few weeks later, after a short stay in the hospital Papa is clearly disturbed by their deaths, as it makes him think of the death of his own parents. Meena reflects on how good her mother is at comforting her father when he broods in this way. Meena is not happy to hear that her mother is expecting a baby. Quotes and analysis “I celebrated my seventeenth birthday in a refugee camp with only what I stood up in” Papa’s reflections on his childhood provide a harsh contrast with the childhood that the reader witnesses first hand in the book, that of Meena. While she may have her hardships, she lives in luxury compared to the conditions her father would have experienced in a refugee camp. “Maybe me and Anita Rutter were murderers” We see that Meena’s conscience is developing. However, her overactive imagination is also flourishing. What we see here is a combination of these two forces, causing Meena to feel guilt for many things, even those for which she clearly cannot be to blame. “Once I heard about Dada’s film ban, I became obsessed with what I had missed out on, being the daughter of a famous film hero” Meena seems to have an obsession with fame, glamour and wealth. It provides relief from the banality of her quotidian.
Plot summary Mama is insulted by Deirdre’s dog’s name, Nigger – she says she will no longer be one of the “beneficiaries of her impeccable manners and warm social chit-chat” On the day of Diwali, Meena ponders on the fact that her family celebrates Christmas, even though the Aunties and Uncles look down on it. Papa is not sure what he believes because of his father’s communist views and the sectarian hatred and violence he saw during Partition. He sends Meena to Sunday school in the local church because he thinks it keeps her out of trouble. When Meena and her mother are driving to the temple in Birmingham, on her mother’s maiden voyage as a fully licenced driver, the car begins to slip backwards in a line of traffic. Meena jumps out of the car and must ask all the drivers behind them to move backwards. One woman calls her a “Bloody stupid wog. Stupid woggy wog. Stupid”. Later on, Meena realises that her father has also been the victim of many racist slurs, but has opted not to tell her, in order to not upset Meena. She decides not to tell him about her experience that day either. Anita invites Meena to go with her to see the fair being set up. However, it soon becomes clear that Anita and her friends are clearly only there to see the boys who are setting the rides up. Meena returns home upset to find Mama trying to move the settee – Papa scolds her for trying to do too much, as he fears it may hurt her or the baby she is carrying. That evening, Meena unknowingly repeats a rude phrase she learnt from Anita in front of the Aunties and Uncles. When she has just about recovered from the embarrassment, she comes back to kitchen to hear her mother venting about her wrongdoings to the Aunties. Retreating from the house in shame, Meena runs to the fair, where she meets Anita and the Poet. The Poet sneaks off with Anita’s mother and Meena tries to distract her by bringing her on all the fairground rides. They sneak into the back of the Big House, Anita shows Meena a mysterious statue. She does not have long to investigate it as she soon releases she is being chased by a dog. When she finally gets home, bedraggled and injured after her encounter with the dog, she realises that her mother is being taken away in an ambulance. Quotes and analysis “It would be hard to imagine any of us having the courage to take sides against Anita, even the thought felt uncomfortably close to sacrilege” “It was only when I started walking away that I realised Anita had not even introduced me, they did not even know my name” “I stood open-mouthed in admiration, wondering what spell she had cast, to turn these boy-men, whom I would have crossed streets to avoid had I seen them hanging around any corner near my school, into grinning, pliant pets” Meena clearly worships Anita. To Meena, she appears mature, all-knowing and worldly. Meena looks up to her and wishes to be like her. Meena is in awe at the effect she has on the boys. She appears to control every situation she finds herself with poise and certainty. This admiration makes her forgiving of Anita – even though she realises that Anita is extremely rude in not introducing her to the boys, she still tries to protect her when she realises that Deirdre has sneaked off with the Poet. “I thought back on my lying and murderous thoughts and knew I would be booked in to reappear as a slug in my next reincarnation unless I did some serious damage repair” This serves as another reminder of Meena’s innocence. She takes everything that her Aunty tells her very seriously, comparing her childish misbehaviour to murder. “Don’t goo up there…Them’s grippos, them is. Tinkers. Yow’ll catch summat. Mum told me.” “Launching immediately into anyone who started name-calling was the only way to stop it becoming day-to-day bullying” “You ask any man on the street to tell the difference between us and a Jamaican fellow, he will still see us as the same colour” This chapter is rife with examples of the casual racism that pervaded English culture at the time. However, the racism is not only felt by the Indians, it is also directed towards members of the travelling community and all people of colour. “The songs made me realise that there was a corner of me that would be forever not England” Despite the racism that seems to be a constant in her life, Meena still seems to be proud of her Indian heritage. She feels great admiration for her Indian Aunties and Uncles in their unashamedly Indian lives and ways. She has the feeling that no matter how hard she tries to fit in with the English culture which surrounds her, she will never stop being Punjabi.
Plot summary Meena takes an instant disliking to her brother. She yearns for the weeks before his birth when she could spend time with her father and have all the freedom she wanted. Anita and Meena start to spend more and more time together, and decide they must form a gang. Meena’s parents notice that Meena is becoming distant, they suspect that she is jealous of her new brother. Pinky and Baby visit. Anita insists that they all accompany her to the shop. Pinky and Baby are shocked when Anita steals sweets in front of them. Mr Ormerod comes back into the shop before Meena has a chance to steal any sweets. Instead, she pretends to be buying shoe polish so that he is forced to go into the back of the shop again. While he is gone, she manages to take money out of the charity collection box to pay for the shoe polish and several sweets. Pinky and Baby are shocked at their actions, but Meena makes them promise not to tell anyone what they witnessed. She threatens to claim that they were implicit in the crime. Anita promotes Meena to joint leader of the gang because she is so impressed with her devilry. Mr Ormerod calls to the house when he notices the collection tin is missing. Meena considers denying any knowledge of the event, but instead decides to claim that Baby took the tin. Quotes and analysis “I never had to force my admiration, it flowed from every pore because Anita made me laugh like no one else; she gave voice to all the wicked things I had often thought but kept zipped up inside my good girl’s winter coat. Her irreverence was high summer for me” Anita is mischievous, just like Meena. Meena finds great relief in finding someone who shares this trait with her. To add to this, Anita seems older and wiser. These two things combined mean that Anita can do no wrong in Meena’s eyes. “I had never wanted to be anyone else except myself only older and famous. But for now, for some reason, I wanted to shed my body like a snake slithering out of its skin and emerge reborn, pink and unrecognisable. I began avoiding mirrors, I refused to put on the Indian suits my mother laid out for me on the bed….” “Had I ever talked to him, the way I constantly talked to Anita” “I knew I was a freak of some kind, too mouthy, clumsy and scabby to be a real Indian girl, too Indian to be a real Tollington wench, but living in a grey area in between all categories felt increasingly like home” Meena has clearly reached a turning point in her growth from child to adolescent. She is beginning to confide in her friends more than her family. She turns away from her Indian culture, wanting to fit in with her English peers. Meanwhile she becomes conscious and embarrassed of her appearance for the first time.
Plot summary One evening Meena suggests they send Sunil for a trial period at the orphanage, thinking she is being perfectly reasonable. She feels no attachment to her brother, and is jealous of the strong bond he shares with their brother. It is announced that the proceeds of the Tollington Spring Fete will go towards building a new chapel roof. Sam Lowbridge thinks this is a waste of money, but also expresses his disapproval of giving the money away “to some darkies we’ve never met” . Anita says she admires his bravery. Meena scolds her for defending him. Papa and Meena return home from the fair to find Mama upset. She seems overwhelmed and fed up with trying to keep the house going by herself. Anita passes the house with Fat Sally, shouting loudly that she is bringing her “best mate” with her to see Trixie’s horse. Papa tells Meena her Nanima (her mother’s mother) is going to visit. This scares Meena as the woman who read her palm at the fete, and foresaw many bad things in her future, also predicted that she would receive “Help from overseas”. Quotes and analysis “Sometimes I wondered if the very act of shutting out front door transported us onto another planet” Meena is acutely aware of the differences between her home and the homes of her peers. She feels that the Indians that she sees on television do not represent the India that she knows in her home – it is clearly misunderstood by those on the outside. “’Oh, you’re so English, Mrs K!’ Like it is a buggering compliment!” This shows a difference in understanding of culture between the Indians and the English. Even the English who think themselves open-minded and friendly to foreigners, do not understand the Indians’ pride in their differences. The English think that the only natural wish would be to be as English as possible. “And whilst his peculiar band of fiery caution often irritated me, it was only because I had not yet realised how he, and everyone else of his generation, had taken enough risks to last a lifetime.” This is another moment of realisation for Meena. She sees that her father has been through hard times before he came to England and that he risked everything so that his family could have a better life.
Plot summary Nanima comes to their home and receives a hero’s welcome. During the party, Meena sees Anita’s mother Deirdre get out of a car. Whatever she says to the waiting Anita deeply upsets her, as she runs crying into the house. Meena begins to feel more at home with her brother and at ease with her identity after Nanima arrives. Deirdre comes into their house and confronts Mama – she accuses her of stopping Meena from seeing Anita. Meena stands up for her grandmother when she thinks that Mr Ormerod has given her the wrong change. However, she is embarrassed to realise that the reason she is short of money is because her mother bought an additional chocolate bar. On the way home from the shop they encounter Uncle Alan, who is speaking to Sam Lowbridge about blame and responsibility. Meena feels a deep hatred towards Sam because of what he said at the fete. Quotes and analysis “It felt so strange to hear Punjabi under the stars. It was an indoor language to me, an almost guilty secret which the Elders would only share away from prying English eyes and ears” Nanima’s visit has inspired all the Elders with a surge of pride. Even though she is not their relative, she represents home and her presence makes them feel like they belong again. “Before Nanima arrived, this urge to reinvent myself, I could now see was driven purely by shame” Nanima helps Meena to embrace her differences. Before Nanima saw them as something to be ashamed of. However, Nanima represents something exotic and exciting and Meena realises that her Indian roots are also something exotic, something to be proud of. “But now those two words took on an ominous significance; this was no longer a mere exam. If I failed, my parents’ five thousand mile journey would have been for nothing” Suddenly Meena feels the burden of the sacrifice that her parents have made on her behalf.
Plot summary Meena and Tracey go to see Anita, Sherrie and Fat Sally who are riding Sherrie’s new horse. Meena and Tracey get a lift to the field from Sherrie’s father, who tells them about his family’s plans to move to the Lake District. Sherrie makes a passing comment about how good it will be when Deirdre buys Anita the horse she has promised her – they will be able to groom their horses are ride together all day. Meena realises that Sherrie’s father has never told her about their plans to move away and that Deirdre has no intention of buying Anita a horse Anita insults the Catholic school that Sally will attend. In her rage, Sally physically attacks Anita and the two get into a fight. Tracey’s dog is hit by a car while the girls are riding Sherrie’s horse. Hairy Neddy’s car pulls up to investigate what has happened. Anita gets a rock and tells Neddy to kill the dog. Neddy refuses, so Anita tries herself but is stopped by Neddy and Sherrie. Meena returns home in a state of utter shock at the day’s events. She mourns the loss of the dog, even though she never liked it while it was alive. Quotes and analysis “She needed me more than I needed her. There is a fine line between love and pity and I had just stepped over it” Meena suddenly sees just how toxic Anita’s home environment is. She realises that Anita’s aggressive confidence is simply a front to hide her vulnerability and unhappiness. “I had blamed him for what he was called, not what he was, had made him the focus of my resentment and hatred, knowing he was in no position to accept it. Sam Lowbridge and I had that in common” Meena compares her hatred of the dog to Lowbridge’s hatred of foreigners. She realises that people are racist because they feel aggrieved and in their search for someone to blame, find that foreigners are an easy scapegoat.
Plot summary Anita’s mother leaves her family to be with a butcher from Cannock. When Mama hears this, she is very concerned for the wellbeing of Anita and Tracey. Papa is hesitant to get involved with other people’s business but Mama insists that they must offer help to the broken family. Anita comes over for dinner and is shocked by their Indian food and mannerisms, such as eating without cutlery. Meena is keen to please Anita – for example, when Anita turns her nose up at Mama’s freshly prepared Indian cuisine and opts instead for fish fingers, Meena also asks for the English alternative. Despite this, she stands up for her family when she notices Anita looking disdainfully at her parents eating with their fingers. After dinner, the girls go to Meena’s room, where Anita marvels at her collection of Indian dress. Anita convinces Meena that there are some of the suits that she should never wear again and as Meena “had no further use for them, it seemed natural to give them to [Anita]” However, when leaving the house, the suits spill out of Anita’s coat, along with several other of Meena’s items which she had not given Anita permission to take. Mama notices these and forces her to return everything except the magazines, which she says Anita may borrow. Quotes and analysis “I would not have Anita play the same game with my parents that had made me dizzy and confused” This contrasts from Meena’s attitude to Anita at the beginning of the book. Meena has realised that Anita can be manipulative and controlling and refuses to stand by while Anita treats her parents with disrespect. Anita’s attempts to steal Meena’s belongings highlight the ruthless, self-centred side of her personality. Even the items that Meena gave her permission to take were obtained through twisting Meena’s view of the clothes. However, the reader cannot help but think that her actions are as a result of her tumultuous family circumstances, an attempt to retaliate against the cards that fate has dealt her.
Plot summary For a brief spell, everything seems to be going very well in the house. Papa is promoted and he promises them all a trip to India at Christmas. Sunil learns to speak. Mama and Nanima frequently go on outings together. Meena observes that Deirdre’s daughters have reacted to her departure in different ways. Anita tries to spend as much time out of the house as possible while Tracey retreats into their home, trying to spend as much time as possible with their father when he is at home. Mama realises that her diamond necklace has gone missing and wonders if Anita might have stolen it. Construction machinery arrives to demolish the school. There is a television crew at the school to report on its destruction. While the reporter is being filmed, Sam drives up to him on his moped and shouts a racist slur directly into the camera. The next day, they find an article in the paper about a man who was attacked and hospitalised in Tollington. Later, Meena is at the stables with Sherrie, Sally, Anita and Tracey. Tracey slaps Sherrie’s hand away when she tries to touch Anita, and makes reference to seeing a man touch Anita. Anita stops her before she can say anything else. When Meena returns from checking on Tracey, she overhears Anita telling the other girls how she went “Paki bashing” and then kissed Sam Lowbridge. Meena flies into such a rage than she gets Sherrie’s horse and tries to go riding, seriously injuring herself in the process. Quotes and analysis “I am being unfair. She is a naughty girl, but not a wicked one” This shows Mama’s innate kindness and goodness. Despite all the things that Anita has done, she still tries to see the best in her. “My best friend was sharing me with someone else and I knew whatever she had been giving me was only what was left over from him, the scraps, the tokens, the lies” Meena is filled with intense jealousy at the thought of sharing her best friend with a boy. She feels that there is not space for two people in Anita’s life. This is clearly the first time she has encountered this problem in her life. She views friendship in black and white terms – she must be Anita’s best and only friend, or else she is nothing to her.
Plot summary Meena finds herself in hospital due to her broken leg. The nurse informs her that it will not be healed until Christmas and she is filled with despair as she thinks of all the plans that she had had for the coming months that will now have to wait. Meena decides that she will better herself – be more studious, friendlier to Pinky and Baby, learn to knit and be more polite to her relatives. She also becomes friends with the patient in the isolation room next to her, Robert. Mama tells Meena that Nanima must return to India. Meena is heartbroken, but she chooses to be mature and respond calmly to this devastating news. When Meena returns to the hospital for physiotherapy, Robert is not there. A few days later, she receives a letter from his parents, informing her that Robert has passed away, and thanking him for “making Robert’s time in hospital so happy” Quotes and analysis “I was a grown up now, I had seen my parents swallow down anger and grief a million times, for our sakes, for the sake of others watching, for the sake of their own sanity”
Plot summary Meena notices that Tollington has changed a lot during her stay in the hospital. The demolishment of the school means that the children must commute to a school further away, and as a result have neither the time nor energy to play on the street. The motorway has disturbed the usual peaceful atmosphere and the sprawling suburbs have brought “townies” into the once isolated village. Meena’s parents worry about her new serious attitude to life. However, she admits to herself that is content and has acquired a new sense of belonging. During the fortnight leading up to her eleven-plus exam, Meena is catcalled, has stones thrown in through her window, and a mixture of complimentary and insulting messages left for her. The night before her exams, Papa and Mama must leave her on her own in the house when they hear that Uncle Amman has had a heart attack. Someone knocks on the door and she answers it to find Tracey exclaiming that a man is going to kill Anita. Meena presumes that Tracey is referring to their father. She follows Tracey who brings her to the pond outside the Big House where they find Sam with Anita. It seems that Sam is raping Anita, but when Tracey reacts and shouts out her name, Anita changes – it was clearly a pretence to see if Tracey was following them. Anita angrily chases Tracey into the forest. While they are gone, Sam admits that he has always liked Meena and he kisses her. Anita comes back to see them kissing and flies into a rage. Sam tries to retaliate but Tracey tries to defend her sister, but Sam dodges out of the wat just in time, leaving Tracey flying into the big pond. Meena runs to the Big House to get help for Tracey who cannot swim. She finds the inhabitants of the house are a small French woman and a Punjabi man, Mr Singh. The man goes to the pond to help Tracey. Meena falls asleep in their library, to be awaken by her panicked mother. Tracey manages to escape death, thanks to the help of the medical team who successfully resuscitate her. The police come to their house to speak to Meena about the night’s events – she was the only witness and both Sam and Anita are accusing each other. She briefly considers lying, painting a picture of both Sam and Anita as being guilty of the crime. However, at the last moment, she finds herself telling the police an undecorated truth. Meena is allowed to sit the exam the following day. She comes home to find her father has decided to sell the house. He presents Mama with her diamond necklace, saying Mr Singh found it. Before they move house, Meena gleefully leaves Anita a letter to announce their departure. She tells her that she will be attending the grammar school but that Anita will not be able to tease her for her uniform because she will no longer be around. Quotes and analysis “Ah, my darling parents, how much they had tried to cushion me from anything unpleasant or unusual, never guessing that this would only make me seek out the thrill of the dark and dramatic, afraid of what I might be missing, defiant that I would know and experience much more than them” “But I hated Sam and Anita even more then, for making me believe that the power they had exercised over me was important, everlasting” “Every little fabrication that went before, every extra twist in the tale and gilt in the lily, had merely been a rehearsal for the show that was about to begin” Initially the reader feels disappointed because despite all of Meena’s promises to herself, she has not left her lying habits behind. The leads to a feeling of pride in Meena when she tells the police the unadulterated truth.