This section discusses the key themes in Anita and Me by Meera Syal.
Different versions of friendship are shown throughout the novel mainly though exploring Meena’s relationships with Anita and Later Robert.
When Meena first gets to know Anita Rutter she believes that they share similar rebellious traits but overtime she sees that Anita will never treats her as an equal and that Anita’s friendships involve domination and exclusion. Anita’s relationships with her other friends Sherrie and Fat Sally highlight this as she often plays of one friend against the other. Meena comes to terms with the fact that she actually pities Anita as she is a victim of circumstances herself because her mother Deirdre is untrustworthy and ultimately abandons her.
After breaking her leg Meena meets a boy called Robert in hospital who is so ill he stays in his own isolation room. This relationship allows Meena to recognise for the first time what genuine friendship between two peers actually looks like. Meena and Robert become so attuned with each other that they can communicate wordlessly through a window. When Robert dies Meena’s sadness helps her accept that she would never have such strong emotions for Anita.
The contrast between Meena’s family the Kumars and Anita’s family the Rutters could not be more different. Meena grows up in a tight-knit, loving family. Anita and her sister are eventually abandoned by their mother.
Meena is often resentful of expectations that she behave like a typical Indian girl and enjoys spending time with Anita because the older girl’s family seemingly allows her more freedom. Over time, Meena becomes aware that her own family’s rules and discipline are an expression of love, providing her with the support she needs to become a successful adult, whereas Anita’s lack of family guidance leaves her on her own and with few prospects. By emphasising the two girls’ divergent paths, Meera Syal highlights the importance that family can have in a person’s future prospects.
Racism and immigration
Racism is a key theme in Anita and Me. We see this throughout the novel through the eyes of Meena and her family. Meena becomes aware that some villagers harbour resentment for their working-class lives. Frustrated by a system that keeps them from thriving economically, these people seek scapegoats—which they find in non-white people, including recent immigrants like Meena’s family. She discovers that some residents of Tollington including Sam Lowbridge don’t seem to be aware of the impact that their prejudice can have. The novel stresses that racism is often the result of frustration and ignorance as much as hatred and that such prejudice is no less harmful.
Through talking with her family, Meena discovers that the root causes for immigration lie in the actions of the British Empire. The British colonization of India caused India to experience a variety of social, economic, and political problems, which led people like Meena’s parents to leave India and search of better opportunities in Britain. Some British people’s ignorance of this aspect of history keeps them from understanding that their own nation is at least partially responsible for the immigration of non-whites to Britain. The character of Mr Topsy (Mr Turvey) served in the British army and speaks Punjabi, he calls British rule there “ugly” and “criminal” and is used by Meera Syal to show that an in-depth understanding of history has the potential to play an important role in fighting resentment and racism.
Culture and belonging
Although Meena grew up in Tollington in the west midlands she doesn’t feel fully English due to her Indian heritage. The introduction of Meena’s grandmother Nanima greatly influences her desire to know more about her Indian culture and history. Meera Syal’s exploration of the Character of Meena’s background and feeling of hybrid cultures between English and Indian are a key theme in the novel. The sense of belonging and identity is highlighted as the novel concludes by letting the reader understand a person’s identity is wherever they choose to call home.
“I now knew I was not a bad girl, a mixed-up girl, a girl with no name or no place. The place in which I belonged was wherever I stood and there was nothing stopping me simply moving forward and claiming each resting place as home.”