Support poco.lit. with Steady!

book cover of Meera Syal's Anita and Me

Anita and Me

Meena Writes the World

I apologize if this comment kicks up a firestorm of angry comments, but arguing over whether the book or movie is better is pointless. Our natural storytelling instincts respond differently to each medium and you can’t blame the movie for not matching the picture in your head. When it comes to Netflix series, I’m similarly evenhanded. So, with zero evidence to back me up, I believe there will someday be an Anita and Me miniseries adaptation. Then more people will want to read the book and watch the movie (in no particular order of course).

In Meera Syal’s semi-autobiographical novel, Meena Kumar is the only Indian girl in the former British mining village of Tollington. While her parents wait in vain for their daughter’s sudden and definitive metamorphosis into the model Indian girl, all Meena wants is to be a Tollington wench alongside fourteen year old Anita Rutter, the blonde goddess for whom Meena nearly sells her soul in order to gain Anita’s permission to do her dirty work, i.e. friendship.

Far from India, the Kumar home is where her parents and their extended community can shed their model immigrant facades like the blankets Shalia Aunty wraps herself in to guard against the miserable English weather. The additional cast of loud-mouthed, lovable aunties and uncles who cast judgement with one hand whilst force-feeding with the other never feels one-dimensional or hackneyed. Partition is a strong undercurrent through this story and it only takes a few whiskeys to get them comparing their brutal experiences.

Parallellly, Meena is witnessing the kind of racism which foments in rural (i.e. abandoned) areas now under threat from encroaching development. In less than a decade it will explode into the horrific periods of ‘Paki-bashing’ and the rise of the National Front. Beneath such a weight, scenes where the aunties are bewildered and horrified by English bathing and dish-washing practices feels refreshing.

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Shaila Aunty mocks Meena’s thickly Birmingham-accented Punjabi. When Meena’s mother insists she must ‘learn her own songs,’ Meena launches into her rendition of ‘Gimme Dat Thing’ accompanied by her dad on the harmonium. (She quickly blows her success by innocently confessing she could ‘shag the arse off’ that song.)

I have a soft spot for movieverse Meena and I adore Syal’s original Meena. As a budding writer who dreams of being published in Jackie magazine, it’s natural for her to feel that the British part of her identity will offer the kind of freedom she wants. But her real struggle is trying to embrace her duality when she isn’t ‘enough’ for either world.

Syal doesn’t patronize Meena. In fact, she celebrates her for being a snarky little shit who makes dumb decisions with a whole lot of conviction. She is more than just the clash of two cultures residing within one changing body. Despite looming adolescence, Meena retains that child’s ability to see much of what is both beautiful and horrifying in the world even when her rambling imagination tries to help her make sense of it all. Anita and Me is the book I reach for when the world feels as unstable as it does now.

Order the book here and support us! The work behind poco.lit. is done by us – Anna und Lucy. If you’d like to order this book and want to support us at the same time, you can do so from here and we will get a small commission – but the price you pay will be unaffected.

Support poco.lit. by becoming a Steady member.

You can support our work with a monthly or yearly subscription.