1. What Meena aspires to be when she grows up “Only the big girls laughed in this way, malicious cackles which hinted at exclusivity and the forbidden” At fourteen, blonde, aloof and outrageous, Anita is everything Meena thinks she wants to be. 2. Literary device of wring novel from child's point of view Humour is generated by Meena’s innocence of the situations she is in. Observing her life through the eyes of a child allows her to comment on very serious situations in a comic way. The blissful naivety of her existence is reflected in her questions. For example, she wonders if Mrs Christmas’ cancer is infectious. 3. Meena's growth throught the novel As the novel progresses, we can witness Meena growing up and maturing. At first, she thinks growing up means being like Sam and his friends “I always had to watch Sam’s gang and their girls. They looked so complete, in on a secret I might never discover”. She wishes that her mother would stand up for her and be rude to the other parents “But mama wasn’t a Yard mama, so I learned early on there were some things I would have to do for myself”. However, she realises that, in fact, being grown up means enduring hardship with courage and stoicism and remaining calm and composed through even the most difficult of times. “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”. 4. Meena's developing sense of morality We also see Meena’s sense of morality developing throughout the book. At the beginning, the reader gets a sense that Meena knows what she should or shouldn’t do, but doesn’t truly understand why. For example, she cites phrases she has heard at Christian Sunday School as reasons for confessing her wrongdoing to her father, “I knew I should tell Papa everything now, Confess said the Lord, and Ye Shall Be Saved”, even though she is Hindu, not Christian. On the other hand, in the final chapter, Meena goes with Tracey to help Anita, risking both her exam results and her parents’ good favour for a girl who has done nothing except insult her family and her culture. She does this because she knows deep down it is the right thing to do. “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. 5. The childhood of Meena's parents “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 when he was growing up.
Meena yearns to belong; she wants to be part of a group. Some group she belongs to by default, because of her birth, her location etc. Some group she belongs to are as a result of her own choice. Whereas Anita is comfortable in her own skin and her own environment, Meena belongs neither to her Indian side nor her English culture. She wishes they had gnomes rather than herbs in their garden, like all their neighbours did. “I did not want things growing in our garden that reminded me of yesterday’s dinner” Meena’s mother’s lectures about how not to copy the British, “… made me feel special, as if our destiny, our legacy, was a much more interesting journey than the apparent dead ends facing our neighbours”. But the child’s desire to unite often outweighs her sense of cultural belonging. She prefers fish fingers and chips to the traditional dishes her mother spends hours over the stove preparing, even as she is aware of the huge importance of those Indian dishes. “This food was not just something to fill a hole, it was soul food, it was the food their far-away mothers made and came seasoned with memory and longing, this was the nearest they would get for many years, to home” “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. Nanima helps Meena to find positive value in her diasporic consciousness and realises that belonging is more about acquiring self-acceptance than gaining the acceptance of others. She realises that incompletion can be an enriching status.
1. The friendship between Anita and Meena Anita Rutter is an abused and neglected child. She lives in an abused family, without much care or love “You put that down now before I give yow a bloody hiding”. As a result, she needs love and affection and will stop at nothing to be admired by anyone who will take any notice of her. Meena’s strong Indian background and her parent’s need to embrace their identity means that she makes the perfect candidate for Anita’s attention – she is confused, different, lonely and rebellious. “I did not want a party as I would not have had anyone to invite” Moreover, Meena is caring and finds it difficult to be mean to the only person who she has ever acknowledged as a friend. “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. “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. It takes Meena a long time to realise that her relationship with Anita is not what friendship should be. Even though they quarrel, and Anita frequently insults Meena, it is not until Meena hears Anita talking about going “Paki bashing” with Sam that Meena truly realises how toxic her friendship with Anita is. 2. Parental Love There is a sharp contrast between the home environments of Anita and Meena. Mama’s eyes are described as being “Endless mud brown pools of sticky, endless love” while Deirdre speaks roughly to her children and threatens to beat them. Meena is better educated, her parents are confident she will pass the 11+ exam, while Anita does not even entertain the thought that she might attend any school other than the local comprehensive. Mama has instilled discipline and a sense of respect for her elders in Meena, while Anita rudely informs Mr Christmas that she does not care if he tells her mother about her misbehaviour “Goo on then, I dare you. Soft old sod”
Anita and Me is a novel of development which bears witness to the broader unfolding of immigration and nationhood in Britain. We see the protagonist grow and change, paralleled by the changing fabric of her small village and society. 1.Anita's growth As the novel progresses, we can witness Meena growing up and maturing. At first, she thinks growing up means being like Sam and his friends “I always had to watch Sam’s gang and their girls. They looked so complete, in on a secret I might never discover”. She wishes that her mother would stand up for her and be rude to the other parents “But mama wasn’t a Yard mama, so I learned early on there were some things I would have to do for myself”. However, she realises that, in fact, being grown up means enduring hardship with courage and stoicism and remaining calm and composed through even the most difficult of times. “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”. 2. Anita's changing sense of morality We also see Meena’s sense of morality developing throughout the book. At the beginning, the reader gets a sense that Meena knows what she should or shouldn’t do, but doesn’t truly understand why. For example, she cites phrases she has heard at Christian Sunday School as reasons for confessing her wrongdoing to her father, “I knew I should tell Papa everything now, Confess said the Lord, and Ye Shall Be Saved”, even though she is a Sikh, not a Christian. On the other hand, in the final chapter, Meena goes with Tracey to help Anita, risking both her exam results and her parents’ good favour for a girl who has done nothing except insult her family and her culture. She does this because she knows deep down it is the right thing to do. “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. We see that she truly has grown as a result of her experiences. 3. Crucial events which cause Meena's change Throughout the novel, young Meena looks for her place in the complex web of cultural codes and signs that surround her. Three events in Meena’s tenth year are central in her ultimate transformation and change. The first is her grandmother’s visit from India. The relationship the child and her Nanima generate makes her long for their country or origin, makes her wish she spoke Punjabi, and makes her understand the deepest aspects of her cultural possibilities. The second event is her eight-week stay at the hospital with a broken leg, when she meets Robert, her first “boyfriend”, who gives her the confidence she needs to just be herself. The final contributing event is the criticism of her friendship with Anita, when the latter chooses to take sides with a gang that threatens Indians. Meena realizes that she can and must reject Anita’s way of life, and, more importantly, realizes that she no longer needs Anita’s approval, as she is able to see beyond the English girl’s confident face to the helpless child who, in her turn, longs for acceptance and status but is too glad to admit it.
This novel provides a reflection on matters of migration, diaspora, cultural hybridity and identity. Throughout, we see both complimentary and clashing relationships between the Britons and the Indian diaspora. 1. The British perception of race and cultural identity “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?” “You’re so lovely. You know, I would never think of you as, you know, foreign. You’re just like one of us” “’Oh, you’re so English, Mrs K!’ Like it is a buggering compliment!” The English show a complete lack of comprehension of what race and identity means to the Indians. They do not understand that Meena and her family are proud to be Indian, and happy to embrace their differences. They think that everyone who is not English is the same. 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. 2. How racism influences the behaviour of Meena and her family “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” Meena’s family are acutely aware that they are likely to be judged on their actions because of their differences. They are keen not to bow to any stereotypes that the Britons have of people who are foreign. Meena has had to learn to stand up for herself at a very young age. She gets beaten on school for retaliating against a boy who makes reference to “Darkies”. When the woman in the car calls Meena a “Bloody stupid wog. Stupid woggy wog. Stupid”, Meena realises that surely her father has also been the victim of many similar racial slurs, but has managed to turn the other cheek and get on with his life without complaining. 3. Meena's growing pride in her cultural identity “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 ancestry. 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. “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. 4. Meena's realisation as to why people are racist “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.