On the steps outside her house, Meena sits and eats her candy, concluding that feeling sick will be adequate punishment for stealing her mother’s money. Meena then recalls an episode in which she almost choked to death. That day, on her birthday, instead of having a party at home, her parents chose to go to the movie theater, because Meena’s mother was feeling depressed, seemingly due to problems related to money and her own mother Nanima. Meena preferred going to the theater because she felt as though she had no one to invite to invite to a party except smaller children. After the movie, though, she felt disturbed to notice that her mother was still not feeling well and had tears in her eyes.
Throughout the novel, Meena’s parents show moments of sadness or depression due to being so far away from their own parents. This highlights the importance of family in Meena’s life, as she understands that worrying about others is an important aspect of love. It also underlines the emotional difficulty of being an immigrant on another continent. Meena’s insecurity about not having enough friends partly explains her desire to become friends with Anita and thus fill a social gap in her life.
On the way back, Meena was eating a hot dog in the car when she felt the sausage get stuck in her throat, and her parents were talking too animatedly in the front to notice what was happening. Instead of being terrified, Meena felt excited by this sudden life-or-death adventure. However, when her sausage finally fell out of her mouth, her mother saw it on her dress and got mad at her for ruining it. Meena did not justify herself, instead planning to use this episode against her mother in the future.
Meena’s excitement at having a near-death experience reveals how different she feels from the typical image of an obedient girl she is supposed to. Meena longs to find herself in exciting, potentially dangerous situations, at odds with her parents’ concerns—such as not getting her clothes dirty. This establishes her as an inherently rebellious, imaginative soul.
Meena describes her mother as someone who does not raise her voice often but who is terrifying when she is angry. She explains that her mother always gets angry when Meena tells lies, regardless of how big a lie it might be. Meena does not necessarily mind her mother’s outbursts of anger because they make her feel connected to her. To most people, though, Mrs. Kumar appears as a kind, graceful lady whom everyone admires. Meena recalls local villagers’ comments that her mother is “so lovely” that they do not think of her as “foreign.” Meena explains that her mother would smile at such words but later mock these people in front of her Indian friends. Meena only realized later in her life that her family never once invited English people to their home, even though their Indian acquaintances came to their house every weekend.
Meena’s enjoyment of her mother’s anger associates love with intensity and drama, emphasizing how much Meena appreciates exciting events, even if they are negative—and thus establishing the basis for Meena’s relationship with Anita. Despite their affectionate tone, the local villagers’ efforts at praising mama can be seen as a form of racism, since they consider not being foreign to be a compliment—thus suggesting that being foreign is bad. This inability for some people to understand cultural differences as a form of beauty and an opportunity to learn from each other makes Meena’s mother feel excluded and patronized, thus fueling her own exclusion of the English.
Meena calls the group of Indian friends who regularly come to her house “Aunties” and “Uncles,” respectful terms for older Asian people. Although they all have their own personality, this group functions as enforcers of good manners and discipline, often supporting mama’s criticism. Meena does not usually agree with their comments—criticism of how dirty Meena looks after spending hours outside or of the fact that she behaves like a boy—but they make her feel loved and safe. She also knows that her parents enjoy spending time with these people they call their family, because they can all share anecdotes from India together.
The solidarity that exists among Meena’s extended “family” contrasts with the tensions among certain Tollington residents. This family atmosphere allows Meena and her parents to feel safe and accepted, whatever problems might exist in the outside community. Meena’s understanding of the adults’ criticism as love reveals her maturity, as she understands that the adults mean well—even if she does not actually want to follow their recommendations. Meena’s capacity to disobey reveals her tendency toward rebellion, but also her capacity to think critically and independently.
Meena also describes learning about her parents’ love story through the Aunties. She discovered that her parents’ courtship was glamorous and exciting, even if her mother does not like to admit this openly. Meena wonders why there is only one picture of her parents’ wedding, and why her mother looks so happy on that occasion, whereas many Indian brides, whose marriages are arranged, look forlorn.
The fact that Meena’s parents probably acted in defiance of their own parents’ desires or of society’s norms serves as potential validation of Meena’s behavior, highlighting that disobeying authority does not necessarily equate wrongdoing.
Reflecting on her Aunties, Meena describes once complaining to them about the fact that her family does not have a typically English, well-decorated garden. This comment led to the Indian women’s long rant about the English’s customs. The women complained that the English treat their dogs better than their children, want their children to leave at sixteen, and barely wash. As they gossiped, Meena noticed that beneath the women’s laughter lay a desire for revenge.
Through her own family’s behavior, Meena begins to understand that intolerance and hostility often derive from a feeling of pain—in this case, the discrimination and condescension that these Indian relatives are so used to experiencing in British society. Pain, however, does not necessarily lead to empathy. In this case, it leads to stereotypical generalizations about the English.
As Meena eats her candy in front of her house, she hears her parents take part in a heated argument and wonders if they are fighting about their house, which her father is tired of, in part because it has an outdoor toilet and he has to take three buses to get to work. Her mother, by contrast, has never cared about the state of the house, focusing instead on the natural space of the countryside, which reminds her of home.
If Meena often wonders about the boundaries of her cultural identity, it appears that her parents do as well, as her mother shows a strong attachment to her Indian home, which she is currently severed from. This suggests that her parents might feel just as estranged as Meena does.
Meena describes her alternate fascination and boredom with her mother’s stories about home in India, though she does cherish a particular anecdote about her mother seeing someone get stabbed. According to her mother’s story, a man in a rickshaw asked the driver for a cigarette, also indicating that he needed a light. The driver then stabbed him with a knife he was hiding in his garment, for no apparent reason. Meena finds this story fascinating because of how such violence can emerge in ordinary, trivial circumstances. She compares this episode to the moment she almost died while eating the hot dog.
Meena’s attitude toward India is initially marked by the fact that she has never been there and therefore does not feel particularly attached to what happens there, unlike her parents. Although Meena’s fascination for violence seems potentially sadistic, Meena proves strongly non-violent in real life and hates seeing other people harmed or humiliated. This suggests that Meena is able to separate her imaginative curiosity for morbid topics from the reality of violence and injustice.