This section explains the key characters in Anita and Me by Meera Syal.
Meena Kumar is the narrator of the novel. At the start of the book she is nine years old. Meena is a daughter of Indian immigrants and has grown up in the fictional English village of Tollington, Meena struggles to define her cultural identity. Her desire to rebel against traditional cultural norms finds an outlet in her friendship with thirteen year old Anita, which also puts many of Meena’s values to the test. Influenced by Anita, Meena takes part in some reckless behaviour, defying her parents’ authority by lying and stealing. She also accuses others of her misdeeds. At other times in the novel she proves deeply thoughtful and family oriented. She often uses her imaginative powers, including lying to protect her family members and demonstrate empathy for others, for example showing concern for Anita even when the older girl acts cruelly toward her. Meena also proves courageous in her efforts to fight the racism and discrimination she and members of her community face. Ultimately, Meena demonstrates her ambition by working hard at school to pass the eleven plus exam and leave Tollington.
Anita Rutter is a self-centred thirteen year old girl who enjoys manipulating and bullying the people around her including her own friends. Meena initially befriends Anita and the two girls seem to share certain personality traits, such as a desire to rebel and a love of the outdoors. Anita ultimately proves much more cruel and dishonest than Meena. Anita does not hesitate to humiliate the people closest to her, including her own sister Tracey, to maintain her superiority over her group of friends. This disregard for other people’s feelings expresses itself through intolerance, racism, and a predilection for violence. Anita is proud to take part in a hate crime against an innocent Indian bank manager, whom Sam Lowbridge’s gang attacks for the simple fact of being a foreigner.
Anita suffers from an abusive home environment, though it is unknown whether she suffers from the same sexual abuse as Tracey. Anita’s future looks bleak, and her obsession with sex suggests that she is likely to follow a similar path as her mother Deirdre, who ultimately abandons her children to run off with another man. In the absence of a supportive home environment and strong personal ambition, it seems likely that Anita will marry and have children at an early age.
Mrs Kumar is Meena’s mother. She is known in the Tollington community as a warm and kind person. She is known to be friendly with everyone, although she makes an exception for racist people such as Anita’s mum Deirdre, with whom she treats coldly. She is traditional when it comes to moral matters, and her daughter’s lying makes her furious and sad. Mrs Kumar is deeply committed to her family. She spends hours cooking meals to please her husband Mr Kumar. She has great faith in her daughter’s intellectual capacities and believes Meena to be a good girl at heart, despite Meena’s occasional bad behaviour. Meena’s mother values family so much that she finds the lack of commitment between English children and parents unnatural and disturbing.
Mr Kumar is Meena’s father. Like his wife he is devoted to his family and wishes he were physically closer to his Indian parents, to be able to take care of them. He has a fiery temperament, as he tends to express rage at Meena’s bad behaviour even when it relates to aspects of life that Meena can’t control. He occasionally proves conservative, as he feels strongly about protecting his daughter from bad influences, especially in coarse conversations about sex. Meena also notes that he has difficulty expressing his emotions, as he tends to become emotionally withdrawn when he is upset, instead of openly letting his emotions flow.
Nanima is Meena’s maternal grandmother. Like her daughter Mrs Kumar she is a caring person who takes an immediate liking to Meena. She recognizes her granddaughter as a wild soul. She is very talkative in Punjabi (she doesn’t speak English). Nanima enjoys telling stories about India and plays an important role in making Meena proud of her Indian heritage. Meena believes that Nanima has the special powers of a sorceress, because she is extremely perceptive about the people she meets, she instinctively hates Anita and she gathers that Meena is involved with the disappearance of mama’s necklace.
Sam Lowbridge is Anita’ boyfriend and is considered Tollington’s rebel. He has a criminal record at the age of sixteen. He and his gang drive around the town on mopeds and intimidate the younger children. Initially he shows a sincere interest in Meena and often behaves kindly and protectively toward her. However, he soon proves racist and violent, as he publicly uses racist language and takes part in the beating of an innocent Indian bank manager. These racist acts seem moved by ignorance and frustration more than any clear ideology, as Sam does not always realise the consequences of his words. For example, he does not grasp that his words and actions might hurt Meena, who tries to explain to him that racism hurts everyone. Meena also notices that Sam is weak in another respect, as he seems trapped by his girlfriend Anita’s manipulation.
Tracey Rutter is Anita’s younger sister. She is shy and the complete opposite of Anita. Tracey apparently suffers from sexual abuse, likely perpetrated by her father Roberto. Perhaps because of this, Tracey, unlike her sister, feels disgusted by sex and often tries to protect her sister from being touched by other people. Tracey’s concern for her sister’s wellbeing leads her to hate Anita’s boyfriend Sam Lowbridge. Her anger toward him leads her to attack him and almost drown in the pond, though she ultimately survives. Later Tracy shows her vengeful side by accusing Sam and Anita of pushing her into the pond, even though it was an accident.
Robert is a patient Meena meets in the hospital after breaking her leg, Robert is confined to an isolation room and separated from Meena by a window. Robert is a boy who suffers from a severe disease from which he ultimately dies. He is kind and funny, and he and Meena immediately become close friends. They share written notes across the window and invent a secret language so that people cannot understand them. When Meena goes to visit him in the isolation room, it becomes obvious that they have feelings for each other, and Robert calls Meena his girlfriend. Meena remains deeply affected by Robert’s death, as she realises that she has never felt such intense sadness before.
Deirdre is the mother of Anita and Tracey. She is an unstable influence in her daughter’s lives. She seems obsessed with sex and sleeps with Anita’s ex-boyfriend Dave. She abandons her daughters to go and live with her lover a butcher.
Uncle Alan is the youth leader at the local Methodist church Meena goes to. He is a progressive and out spoken member of the Tollington community.
Mr Ormerod is the local shop keeper. He is known for his closed minded views, he tries to convert everyone to Christianity.
Fat Sally is one of Anita’s friends. Later in the novel she stands up to Anita by pulling chunks of her hair. It is believed Fat Sally has a supportive family environment, with her mother trying to keep her away from Anita.
Mrs Worrall lives next door to Meena. She is always kind to Meena and her family.
Rajesh Bhatra (The Indian Bank Manager)
Rajesh is the Indian man who Meena thinks is a bank manager. He in fact works for the men building the motorway which will pass through Tollington. Anita and Sam beat him up and rob him in a racially motivated attack. It is this attack which persuades Meena’s parents to think about leaving Tollington.