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Anita and Me - Extract 2

This is the second of two GCSE English Literature extract questions for Meera Syal's Anita and Me. It takes place in chapter four, when Meena’s parents are concerned about her recent lies. This passage presents Meena receiving an unexpected gift from her father, from whom she is only expecting a story with a lesson on good behaviour.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

The first thing to do, as you begin to prepare an answer to an extract question, is to read the passage through more than once. This is a good habit to develop because it is re-reading which allows you to notice the details and aspects of the passage you might have missed the first time. On your first reading, you should aim to understand the passage, thinking about the ways in which it relates to the question you have been asked.

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On your second reading, you could begin to make detailed notes and annotations. After such detailed preparation, you will be ready to plan your answer.

Ask yourself why this particular extract might have been chosen. Can you describe precisely how it relates to the text as a whole? What is its significance? Which themes are evident? Do different characters experience the depicted events in the same way? Describe how the extract relates to following events, mentioning, for example, whether there is any evidence of foreshadowing, or perhaps a turning point. Think about the place where the extract ends. Is its final line significant? How does the ending relate to the text’s themes and events?

Take a moment to consider the exact requirements of the question you will be answering. Try to clarify specifically what you are expected to write about. Extract questions can address any aspect of the writing; you could be asked to write about your own personal response, or you might be expected to discuss mood and atmosphere, character, dialogue, or themes evident in the passage. You should begin by explaining the passage’s immediate context: show how the passage is related to any events which have happened before, remembering to explain the relevance. Make sure you discuss the passage in detail, rather than writing more generally about the text. Planning out your answer before you begin will save time and help you to group related ideas together. Also be sure to cover the entire passage, rather than focussing only on one or two interesting parts.

Read the extract below carefully before answering the questions.

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"Beti, if you want something, in future, you must ask us. Don't we give you enough? Do you feel deprived?" I shook my head sorrowfully. I desperately wanted to eat my jam tarts.

"You have heard the story of the boy and the tiger?" I shook my head again and snuggled into the crook of his arm. I loved his stories, I loved the timbre of his voice and the places it took me, effortlessly. "Once a young boy was gathering wood in the forest and he decided to get some attention for himself. So he shouted to the village that he had seen a tiger. All the villagers came running with axes and torches and lathis and when they got to the forest, there was no tiger. 'I did see a tiger,' said the boy. 'It must have run away...' The next day..."

I felt cheated. This was The Boy Who Cried Wolf! I had read it hundreds of times in my Golden Anthology of Fables and Tales. Did he think I would swallow an old story dressed up in Indian clothes? I closed my eyes, pretending to listen, and imagined myself in lime hot pants and blonde hair singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite" whilst Hughie Green sobbed unashamedly into a large white hanky and the clapometer needle shot off the scale and flew out of the television, shattering the glass..." And the tiger had eaten the boy. All that was left was one chappal. So you see, if you tell lies too often, no one will believe you when you are telling the truth."

"I'm sorry, papa," I said, almost meaning it. I left a suitable pause and then asked, "Papa? Were you in the war? Like Mr Worrall?"

"No, beti," he laughed. "I was only nine when the war started. Besides, it was not really our war. We were fighting different battles..."

"What battles? Did you have a gun? Did you..." I was going to say "ever kill anyone", but I remembered mama's expression when I asked for a rendition of the rickshaw murder story and thought better of it. "...Did you do anything dangerous?"

Papa hesitated a moment, looking at me protectively. I could see he was rifling through possibilities, wondering how much he could give away. There was something leonine in his expression, that long noble nose and steady eyes, that tiny teardrop shape above his lips, replicated exactly in my face. I stroked my finger into the well beneath my nose. I liked looking like him. "Well, there was one occasion..." He checked the kitchen quickly, making sure mama was still occupied, "when we lived in Lahore, just before Partition..."

I knew something about Partition, about the English dividing up India into India and Pakistan, and of some people not knowing until the day the borders were announced, whether they would have to move hundreds of miles away, leaving everything behind them. However, I had fallen upon this information inadvertently, during one of papa's musical evenings.

Papa's mehfils were legendary, evenings when our usual crowd plus a few dozen extra families would squeeze themselves into our house to hear papa and selected Uncles sing their favourite Urdu ghazals and Punjabi folk songs. Once the mammoth task of feeding everyone in shifts was over (kids first, men second, then the women who by then were usually sick of the sight of food), the youngsters would be banished to the TV room. A white sheet was spread in the lounge upon which the elders sat cross-legged, playing cards, chatting, until someone would say, "Acha Kumar saab, let's go!" Then papa would take down his harmonium from the top of the wardrobe, unwrap it from its psychedelic bedspread and run his fingers over the keys whilst the other hand pumped the back, and it coughed into life like a rudely-awakened grumpy old man.

Meera Syal, Anita and Me (Fourth Estate, 2012)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    Papa shares this story of his past on the day of Meena's disgrace when she has been caught lying about stealing. She spends some time with Mrs Worrall before returning to find her parents anxiously discussing her behaviour
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    The novel interweaves recollections from different periods of time in Meena's life, so the narrator first recalls some especially hair-raising memories she accidentally overheard from the Aunties and Uncles when she was younger before returning to her father's current recollection
  3. What is the purpose of the flashback to one of papa's musical evenings?
    Meena has overheard some of the traumatic events experienced by her Aunties and Uncles. The flashback conveys the way in which her eavesdropping after being awakened by shouting one night led to her being exposed to terrible knowledge from which she is usually protected
  4. Which of the following phrases hints that papa could tell any number of stories?
    The metaphor depicts papa rifling through the various possible stories he could tell as if they were a collection of physical objects
  5. What does Meena do when she realises that she already knows the first story her father is telling her?
    When she realises her father is just telling her The Boy Who Cried Wolf, "dressed up in Indian clothes", she tunes out and entertains herself with daydreams about her future fame
  6. Which of the following suggests that Meena thinks of experiences of war as exciting?
    Rather than hearing yet another story which aims to teach better behaviour, Meena is hungry to hear something exciting, specifically proof that her own father did brave and dangerous things, like British war veterans such as Mr Worrall. She is almost too young to understand the emotional horror involved in witnessing or participating in violent events
  7. "'Beti, if you want something, in future, you must ask us. Don't we give you enough? Do you feel deprived?' I shook my head sorrowfully. I desperately wanted to eat my jam tarts." Which of the following is NOT correct of these lines?
    Meena is often good at demonstrating the emotions that adults wish to see, even when she does not necessarily feel them
  8. Which of the following is correct?
    Meena "almost" means it when she apologises for her lie
  9. Why didn't papa fight in the Second World War?
    When papa refers to having "different battles" to fight, he refers to India's struggle for Independence from the British Empire. These struggles do not form part of Meena's history education at school, whereas she is surrounded by stories of the heroism of Britain's fight in WWII
  10. Papa thinks Meena lies for what purpose?
    Papa's story of the boy and the tiger is meant to teach the folly of telling lies for the purpose of gaining attention, but Meena's reasons for lying are not so straightforward. Sometimes she lies out of a desire for excitement or to compensate for a sense of a missing past

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