Meera Syal uses an incredibly common set of circumstances, a first generation child experiencing the series of trials and tribulations extant within their community, such as the racism directed towards them, whether aggressive or passive. We see Syal use the character of Meena to tell her tale, which is largely autobiographical. One can home in on the way in which racism is depicted itself.
It is shown in a great range of ways, from the seemingly harmless offhand comments or gossip to the stoking of flames with loaded language and vitriolic rhetoric. However, it is not only the decision to display a range that is important, but the choice to funnel our perception of these methods through the eyes of Meena.
To begin, she is very innocent and naive, just like any child, and these softer manifestations of prejudice seemingly go unnoticed by her and, if they are noticed, Meena does not understand them. This could quite simply be the writer choosing to stay true to Meena’s character and her age and thus her ability to process certain bits of information but it might also be a tool to display how racism and prejudice is often waved away and forgiven because it isn’t always violent or clearly aggressive.
Syal might be using the perspective of Meena and specifically her maturation, where she begins to notice these instances more often, to argue that, just because certain comments and so forth seem innocent and harmless, it does not mean they are not right. Meena’s character and her growth can be seen as any person’s journey to awareness.
No matter the age, an individual can be blind to certain aspects of life, whether willingly or not, and it is only when they are aware that they can then commence on their later journey of self improvement as seen from Meena when she realises that Anita and her group of friends/family are a bad influence upon her life and her future.
Meena is not just the literal child of immigrants subject to all the realities of such a life, she is a representation of almost every human on earth and her realisations and her developments can be seen in all who want to better themselves.
Furthermore, one must observe the supporting characters in the narrative and notice how their words and their actions are frequently mirrored with certain situations in reality. Sam Lowbridge’s words at the village fete are to be considered especially.
He seemingly rallies the townsfolk into a racism-fuelled energy though he also, at the same time, insists that Meena is different and that those words should not be taken to heart by her. It is this strange predicament where an individual can hold great hatred and disdain for a group in their mind whilst also choosing to ‘adopt’ a few from that group as exceptions.
Sam’s character is a biting reality for many. One would assume the knowledge that Meena is fine and respectable would convince Sam that her people are no different to his own and the division he seeks and supports is nonsensical.
Ultimately, we see Syal use her own experiences to fuel and bolster this account of Meena’s, a narrative that sees development and enlightenment take the throne of importance with Meena finding her own identity despite the efforts of others to box her into a stereotype. Her blossoming as a human can be transplanted onto anyone and shows that these difficulties many face can be overcome and can be used to better oneself.
Anita & Me
Like every nine-year-old girl, Meena can’t wait to grow up and break free from her parents, but as the daughter of the only Punjabi family in the mining village of Tollington, her daily struggle for independence is different from most. She wants fishfingers and chips, not just chapati and dhal; she wants an English Christmas, not the usual interminable Punjabi festivities – but more than anything, more than mini-skirts and the freedom to watch ‘Opportunity Knocks’, Meena wants to roam the backyards of working-class Tollington with feisty Anita Rutter and her gang.
Written with great warmth and fun and just a hint of wistfulness, ‘Anita and Me’ is a unique vision of a British childhood in the Sixties, a childhood caught between two cultures, each on the brink of change.