The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Karim backs up and explains how Dad came to be in England. Dad grew up in Bombay next door to his best friend, Anwar. They played cricket and had servants, and their Hindu neighbors chanted obscenities outside their houses. Dad speaks as though he and Anwar had an idyllic childhood, and Karim wonders why Dad decided to come to a dreary London suburb.
The fact that Dad considers his childhood idyllic in spite of the overt religious animosity shows that the religious threats of violence are normalized in his mind. This begins to create the sense that even in India where Dad isn't considered an "other," violence and threats are normal and expected.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Dad didn't realize how complicated life is: he'd never cooked or cleaned before coming to England. Mum was both irritated by Dad's lack of skills and proud of him, as his family was so well off. Dad came to England for school with the intention to return to India, but he never did. Once in England, Dad was amazed to see poor Englishmen who couldn't read.
Mum's pride shows how important class is to her—the fact that Dad has no practical skills pales when put beside his family's wealth. This shows that success can be tied to wealth alone, not necessarily to anything else, and begins to suggest that it's somewhat arbitrary because of that.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Related Quotes
While Anwar studied aeronautical engineering, Dad purchased bowties and waistcoats and spent his time in the pub instead of studying law. Anwar and Dad went to dances on Saturdays, where Dad met Mum. Though Anwar kissed women, he was already married to Jeeta, a princess. Not long after Jeeta arrived in England Anwar won money betting. He tried to open a toy shop, but turned it into a grocery at Jeeta's suggestion. They were successful after that.
Because Anwar never actually got a job in what he studied, it suggests that those fields were closed to him, presumably because of his race. When the grocery becomes successful because of Jeeta, it shows early on that she has business sense and an idea of how to create success with what she's given.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Dad's monthly allowance from India was cut off after his family realized he was drinking instead of studying. He took a job with the Civil Service and ended up in the misery of the south London suburbs. When Karim was about ten, Dad discovered Eastern philosophy and fell in love with it. When Karim's family visited Jeeta and Anwar on Sundays, Anwar teased Dad mercilessly about it. Both Anwar and Mum treated Dad as though he was making a great mistake in caring more for Eastern philosophy than for making money.
In general, Eastern philosophy defines success very differently than Anwar, Mum, and western society as a whole do, particularly in terms of money. This suggests that, though Dad does spend his time trying to be un-Indian and more English in order to make money, he doesn't find either identity particularly fulfilling. By embracing Eastern philosophy, he can escape some of the racism he experiences in his very English job.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
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Anwar would tell Dad to get a promotion, but Dad insisted that the white Londoners would never promote an Indian man while white men still exist. Anwar insisted that Dad was just lazy. Karim explains that Dad was very lonely and needed to talk about his "China-things," so he'd accompany Dad to the bus in the morning. Karim thinks that Eva was the first person that Dad was able to truly share his love of Eastern philosophy with.
Anwar implies that hard work will always be rewarded, while Dad appears to be more aware that there are larger systems of prejudice and racism at work that will inhibit his success regardless of how hard he works. This shows that though Karim thinks of Dad as naïve and childish in a lot of ways, Dad has a very firm grasp of how he fits into English class and race system.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the present, Karim leads Dad off the bus and around a wealthy neighborhood called Chiselhurst. Finally, Dad snaps that he's cold and they're lost, but Karim insists it's Dad's fault he's cold: Dad is wearing sandals, a long silk shirt, and an ugly, hairy jacket. As they walk through the neighborhood, Karim thinks of a time when Mum looked at Dad as if to ask why he couldn't give her a house like one of these with sprinklers in the lawn.
Karim's recollection suggests that Mum adheres more fully to Anwar's line of thinking regarding success. However, the fact that Mum hasn't left Dad for someone more successful recalls Karim's assertion that the suburbs and the suburban mindset encompass an inherently miserable attitude that promotes settling over happiness.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Finally, Karim and Dad reach their destination. Dad explains that the house belongs to Carl and Marianne, who have recently been trekking in India. They bow to Dad at the door, and Karim finds this absurd given that they work at a TV rental firm. Eva descends upon Dad and Karim and presses books into Karim's hands. As Dad begins to walk through the room, Eva confides to Karim that she wants to introduce Haroon to "more responsive people" in London and then move there herself.
Because Carl and Marianne are white and presumably not Muslim or Hindu, they can escape or ignore India's religious violence and choose to see and think about the parts of India that they find particularly interesting. Eva begins to hint at her power, and particularly that it comes from exploiting Dad to attract the attention and, presumably, the money of people like Carl and Marianne.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim settles on a sofa and admires the books and objects d'art in the living room. He hears Carl talk about India offensively and moves away. He joins Marianne's daughter and another girl, Helen, behind the bar. Helen moves into Karim's space and mentions that Dad looks like a magician. Karim feels aroused by Helen's presence and ponders whether Dad is actually a magician or not. He watches Eva touch Dad and feels confused. Karim turns back to Helen and thinks that she must desire him, because he feels wholly uninterested in her.
For Karim, these appearances seem to be the first time that Dad's Indian heritage is thought of as anything other than a simple fact of life. Because of this, Karim is faced with a number of new and different ideas that challenge the way he's always seen the world: Dad is violating the suburban code by cheating on Mum, and being Indian is suddenly a positive thing.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim remembers once when he asked Dad to tell him "the facts of life." Rather than say anything important, Dad had said that women's ears get hot when they're ready for sex. Karim reaches out and pinches one of Helen's ears (which is warmish), but thinks of Charlie instead. Karim realizes he came tonight hoping to see Charlie, even though Charlie hasn't shown any interest since the last time they saw each other. Eva begins to organize the room, and Karim thinks Dad looks confident. Unexpectedly, Uncle Ted and Auntie Jean walk in.
The strangeness and ineffectiveness of Dad's sex talk mirrors his incompetence at other practical tasks—he simply doesn't have the skills to move through the world unassisted, despite the fact that he's an adult. This reinforces the idea that this is a coming of age novel for Dad, as well as for Karim.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon