1. Meena's obsession with fame and drama “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. Her overactive imagination and her innocence add humour to her narration, as everything is expressed in absolute and hyperbolic terms. 2. Meena's growth “Maybe me and Anita Rutter were murders” 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”. 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. 3. Meena's connection to her culture “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. 4. Meena's caring side 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.
Anita Rutter is an abused and neglected child. She lives in an unstable 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” Anita, for instance, encourages Meena to integrate into British society. That is why Meena claims that Anita is her “passport of acceptance”. By becoming acquainted with Anita, Meena will be accepted by the white majority. “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 is in complete awe at Anita's confidence and apparent maturity. In this scene, Anita also comes to symbolise how young children, especially girls, are sexualised at an extremely young age in modern society. 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 selfish, vain and malicious Anita is. 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. “had no further use for them, it seemed natural to give them to [Anita]” 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.
“She was into one of her Capital Letters speeches, the subtext of which was listen, learn and don’t you dare do any of this when you grow up, missy” Mama is determined to educate and discipline Meena. Her parents are protective because they don’t understand their surroundings themselves. “I celebrated my seventeenth birthday in a refugee camp with only what I stood up in” Meena’s parents survived the turmoil of partition, wheras their daughter experiences it indirectly through their memories. As Meena grows, she begins to feel a responsibility to make the most of the privileges she has received as a result of their sacrifice. Papa is typical of his generation – highly educated but having to take on a menial job in order to survive in the new country. He has chosen to avoid the big city where most Asians have set up home, so that he is regarded as odd by both Indians and English. When Mr Ormerod calls to the house to say that his collection tin is missing, Papa accuses Meena of stealing it. When she denies it was her and instead blames Baby, he is extremely apologetic for having falsely accused her. However, he pleads with a raging Auntie Shaila not to be too harsh on Pinky and Baby for their alleged crimes. This shows Papa’s innate kindness and sympathy for children. Although he thinks stealing is wrong, he does not blame the children. Indeed, when he is confronting Meena for stealing money, what we see is not anger towards Meena’s, but concern that Anita steals because she feels deprived. “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. “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.
“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. “Nanima had not taken to my best friend” Nanima is clearly a good judge of character. Meena’s parents try their best to please Anita when she comes to visit the house but Nanima does not. She perceives that Anita is bad for Meena. Because Nanima does not speak English and Meena speaks very little Punjabi, our impression of Nanima is formed largely by her actions. For example, when she ties the thread around Sunil’s wrist, it shows both her protectiveness and her superstition.