When Meena enters her home, she sees her parents sitting on a fake leather chair, which they all find funny because it makes leathery farting sounds. Her mother stands up to go to the kitchen and her father tells her to sit down. He asks Meena to tell them in the future if she wants something. He then tells her a story that he calls the boy and the tiger, but that Meena recognizes as The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
Meena’s parents demonstrate solidarity in trying to help Meena make the right decisions and become an honest person. Their relationship emphasizes the respect and equality with which they arrive at decisions together, thus building a cohesive family unit.
After the story, Meena apologizes for lying and asks her father if he, too, fought in the war and did dangerous things. Papa tries to explain that Indians were involved in another battle and mentions that he did do something dangerous right before Partition, the historical moment when the English divided up India into India and Pakistan, leaving scores of people to flee their homes. Meena learned about this event during one of her father’s mehfils, or evenings of poetry and music, for which her father, an excellent singer, is legendary.
Meena’s apology reveals that, although she is stubborn, she is capable of admitting when she does something wrong—an important quality that represents the first step in making moral decisions. Papa’s response highlights the opposition between English history and Indian history, as the English focus on fighting the Axis powers in the Second World War, whereas Indians were focused on what would happen to their own country under British colonial rule.
Meena describes the magical atmosphere that her father creates during such evenings. She recalls being woken up once by a fierce discussion between guests one evening, as people discussed the horrors of Partition, with its massacres and forced evacuations. Meena was horrified to hear some of these stories and heard many guests weeping. Her father then took part in the conversation, describing being in a carriage where Hindus entered and cut off a Muslim man’s head. He also described spending time in a refugee camp. That night, after these stories, Meena had terrible nightmares.
The division of British colonial India into separate, ethnic-based entities led to people’s forced migration from one territory to another. The events of that time led scores of people to be killed because of their ethnic and religious identity. Meena’s father highlights the horrific consequences of decisions made by colonial powers, suggesting that Britain is heavily responsible for India’s current political, economic, and social situation, which is sometimes dire enough to lead people to immigrate to England.
Now, Meena is excited to hear what her father might have to say about Partition. Papa then describes being paid to deliver a package to a house, only to realize, after dropping it off, that it was a bomb, meant to kill a Muslim merchant. Meena asks him if there was anyone in the house. Her father begins to say that he doesn’t know but catches himself, insisting that there was no one there. Papa then tells Meena that she should eat, revealing that her mother has made her something special. At that moment, mama comes in, bearing a plate of fish fingers and French fries.
Meena discovers that her father involuntarily took part in actions motivated by religious and ethnic hatred. This reveals how powerful racism can be, as it turns into violence—mirroring, on a larger scale, the gratuitous violence Sam Lowbridge later takes part in. Meena’s mother’s decision to make fish fingers reveals her effort to make her daughter feel connected to England, instead of forcing her to focus only on her Indian identity.
That night, Meena is woken up by the sound of an ambulance siren. She looks outside and sees a gathering by the Christmases’ house, where two men are carrying Mrs. Christmas’s body out of her house. Mama enters Meena’s room, asking her what she is doing. Both of them hear then Deirdre’s loud voice explain that she went to talk to Mr. Christmas, who had said something to Anita, when she saw Mrs. Christmas in front of the television, the state of her face suggesting that she had been dead for weeks. Mr. Ormerod comments that Mr. Christmas was probably too confused to know what he was doing.
The morbid details about Mrs. Christmas’s death and decomposed state make the Tollington community seem less safe and peaceful than it might appear. It introduces an atmosphere of unease, suggesting that people’s private lives might be stranger or more horrifying than they suggest—serving as a prelude to other events, such as Meena’s later discovery that Tracey is probably sexually abused in her home.
Overwhelmed by the sight of a dead body and the idea that, if Anita hadn’t disturbed Mr. Christmas, no one might have known about Mrs. Christmas’s death, Meena feels sick and has to lie down. She worries that Anita’s and her screaming might have killed Mrs. Christmas. After her mother puts her to bed, she gets up one last time and sees Anita in the street. The girl looks up and winks at her (or so Meena is convinced).
Meena doesn’t realize that her yelling earlier in the day has nothing to do with Mrs. Christmas’s death. Her worrying reveals her concern for other people, though, as she never meant to harm anyone through her actions—unlike Anita, who seems to enjoy such death and drama.
Mr. Christmas dies three weeks later in his sleep. While mama gets ready to go to the funeral, Meena notices that her father is in one of his bad moods. She argues that he should cry from time to time, to release his sadness. Meena hears her parents talk while she watches the television and understands that they are talking about her grandparents. Her mother tells her father not to worry about them, but her father gloomily replies that they will die in the absence of their children, far away from them.
Meena realizes that her parents care very much about their family: both their daughter and their own parents. She understands the emotional toll that being away from their parents must have on her father, as he feels responsible for leaving his parents alone in their old age. These visions of family influence Meena greatly.
Meena then describes what she knows about her grandparents, noting that her paternal grandfather Dadaji was a staunch communist who kept his son from having an acting career because he believed people should be involved in politics, not entertainment. This anecdote has led Meena to feel sad about not having a famous actor as a father. Mostly, though, she knows that her father’s job does not fit with his personality, and that he must feel sad not to be able to express who he truly is.
Meena’s capacity for compassion shows itself in her attitude toward her father. Although she initially acts self-centered in caring only about having a famous father, she later demonstrates a capacity to empathize with her father’s difficult circumstances. This underlines Meena’s perceptiveness and her understanding of the sacrifices that her parents have made in coming to England.
After Meena’s parents talk about their own parents, she sees them holding hands and realizes that her parents are much more affectionate toward each other than any other adult couple she knows. She recalls seeing Sam Lowbridge and his group of friends hold hands with girls in the same way that her parents do, though they seem to change girls every week. She also notes that she never sees their English neighbors behave affectionately. Rather, she describes the loud noises at the local nightclub, where many women get drunk and then loudly discuss their marriages in the street. Although Meena admires her parents’ close relationship, she feels fascinated by the English people’s bold, provocative behavior, free of deep emotions.
Meena feels proud of her parents’ attitude when she compares it to that of most other couples. This reveals her faith in the validity of her family’s values and behaviors. Meena’s simultaneous interest in the English way of life suggests that she founds their attitudes exotic and foreign. This fascination does not translate into a desire to emulate them, however, as Anita so often strives to do by trying to seduce young English men like Sam Lowbridge.
As Meena reflects on these issues, realizing that her father always gets depressed whenever he hears news about death, her father suddenly announces that her mother is pregnant and that Meena will soon have a baby brother or sister. He asks her if she is happy about this, but Meena keeps her eyes locked on the TV and utters a clear-cut “no.”
Meena’s unhappiness at hearing that she will no longer be the only child in her family suggests that she enjoys receiving so much love and care from her parents. This reaction of jealousy will ultimately subside as she becomes affectionately attached to her little brother.