Meena, a daughter of Indian immigrants living in the town of Tollington in England, is first seen in the novel being found out by her father for stealing some of her mother’s money to purchase sweets. Her father is angered and Meena ponders the relationship she has with her parents.
She loves them dearly but finds it increasingly difficult to obey and abide by their rules and ideas. Meena also then considers her life in Tollington. The community is genial and infinitely friendly but, because of her heritage, she can feel the eyes of expectation cast upon her. Whilst she wants to frolic and play about like the other children, she feels she must restrain herself and play a role.
However, Meena finds something of an idol in Anita Rutter, a thirteen year old that is confident and unafraid of letting her opinions be known. Meena finds herself as one of Anita’s disciples, along with Sherrie and Fat Sally. Meena feels thrilled to be going about and accepted by an older girl. Meena also finds a separate curiosity in Sam Lowbridge, a sixteen year old who is cordial to her.
However, as Meena grows up, she finds that she notices things she didn’t previously, such as comments made about her and her family, slurs and terms not entirely welcoming, such as someone calling her and her mother ‘bloody wogs’. She also begins to notice these things in school, when a boy shows clear relief after being paired up with Fat Sally instead of her.
At home, Meena shows the influence Anita is having upon her when she lashes out at her parents, adopting Anita’s unsavoury language. Despite the discouragement from her parents, Meena persists to spend copious amounts of time with Anita, eventually working together with her to start a more substantial gang.
It is, at first, all harmless fun to Meena but these thoughts are dashed when Tracey, Anita’s sister, is ganged up on by Anita and her gang, humiliating her. Meena comes to the conclusion that she cannot trust anyone as they will only use you for their own gain when it is fitting.
Meena also notices a key detail on Tracey’s thighs as she flees the humiliation: bruises suggestive of sexual abuse.
Anita and Meena find themselves at their first true argument when they both attend Fete, a party organised in the village by Mr. Pembridge. At this gathering, Sam Lowbridge announces his dislike towards ‘wogs’, as he puts it, and is met by agreement with the community.
Meena can’t fully comprehend it but learns that many people may hold these regressive beliefs within themselves, kind outside but a sourer interior and so forth. As she leaves, Meena is stopped by Anita who wants to talk about Sam and his attractive appearance but Meena calls Anita stupid and the two come to see their first rift.
After this event, Meena realises that she needs to do the healthier thing and avoid Anita, putting more effort and time towards her family instead. She also wants to focus on her studies, especially an exam coming up that will determine whether or not she will get into a grammar school and escape Tollington.
After studying all she can for the exam, Meena is shocked to find Tracey on her doorstep a night before the examination. She tells Meena to follow her and that she thinks someone is trying to kill Anita. However, after following Tracey to the Big House, Meena sees Sam and Anita having sex.
Tracey does not understand what is happening and instead views it as an attack. Tracey, after realising what is going off, goes for Anita and the two run off after each other. After the other two have gone off, Sam tells Meena that he has always had feelings for her. Meena explains that he hurt and offended her with what he said.
He explains that he only hates the others but is stopped when Tracey arrives on the scene again and attacks Sam instead. However, she trips in the pond instead and Meena wisely decides to stay out of it, realising they are likely to ruin her life.
Meena triumphs in her exam and she and her family move out of Tollington to a more diverse area, but she makes sure to at least make an effort to communicate to Anita about her situation. She never receives correspondence.
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.