The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 1, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Karim describes Ted and Jean as normal, unhappy alcoholics. They own a central heating business and call Dad Harry instead of Haroon. Dad calls them "Gin and Tonic" in retaliation. While Jean looks angry at what she sees in Carl and Marianne's living room, Ted just looks confused. He spots Karim, and Karim explains that he and Ted are good friends. Ted knows about things that Dad doesn't, like air rifles and fishing.
When Ted and Jean call Dad by an Anglicized name, they make it exceptionally clear that they don't value Dad's Indian heritage and would like to erase or ignore it altogether. This racist act shows that they believe success and propriety come from embodying whiteness and Englishness.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim tries to work out why Ted and Jean are here tonight. He reasons that when Mum heard that Dad was appearing again, she called her sister Jean. Jean would've been angry and flown into action to stop Dad from appearing, and she probably knows Carl and Marianne because Ted likely installed their radiators. Karim thinks that this is the only way they'd know people like Carl and Marianne, as Ted and Jean only think of people in terms of power and money and are certainly not interested in India. Eva snaps irritably at Ted and Jean to sit down and join the group. They slowly comply. Karim knows that he and Dad will be in trouble later, though Dad doesn't seem bothered to see his in-laws sitting with the group.
The novel positions Ted and Jean as culture police of sorts. For these first chapters, they punish Dad and Karim for embracing their Indian heritage and for moving away from what's considered acceptable, middle class, suburban activities. Karim also suggests the idea that power and money exist in direct opposition to Indian-ness, and valuing one means devaluing the other. This is reinforced by Dad's lack of interest in money and subsequent interest in performing his Indian identity for others.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim explains that Dad and Ted actually like each other. Ted often confides in Dad about Jean's drinking or her affairs with younger men, and while Dad wisely counsels Ted, he puts Ted to work fixing things around the house.
Karim suggests here that Ted isn't happy with his suburban lifestyle either, and seeks Dad's Indian identity to help him deal with it. This shows that Dad's guru business goes back a while, even if it wasn't paid or named.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Dad surveys the room in silence. Karim watches and wonders if Dad is just going to be silent the entire time, but he finally begins hissing and speaking. Ted is engrossed while Jean looks angrily on, and Karim smiles and wanders away. He wanders through the house, feeling as though his mind is empty, until he hears a male voice reciting poetry. Karim follows the voice until he finds a silver-haired boy sitting with a girl on a swing seat, reading to her from a small book. The girl seems bored to death. She notices Karim and Karim finally realizes the boy is Charlie.
Thus far, the novel hasn't offered any suburban married couples who are happy. This reinforces Karim's assessment that suburbanites are inherently unhappy people, though it also calls Dad and Eva's relationship into question. Both of them are inherently suburban yet not married to each other, which leaves it open for speculation whether their suburban roots will doom their non-suburban relationship.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
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Charlie notices Karim and greets him. Karim is fascinated as Charlie talks about his future success. Karim forces himself to return to the living room and watches the end of Dad's appearance. Jean greets Karim curtly, and together they watch Dad and Eva talk to attendees. Karim and Helen exchange phone numbers, and Karim watches Charlie try to pressure his date into going home with him. He wonders why Charlie is being so rude, and wonders if Dad and Eva are actually in love with each other. He remembers how Dad kissed Eva in front of Ted and Jean and wonders what's wrong with Dad.
Though Karim positions Charlie as an idol, it's important to remember that he's as young and naïve as Karim is; he just happens to be white and have a plan for his future as a musician. This shows that Karim considers having a plan to achieve success a marker of adulthood. Charlie's role as an idol comes into question when he pressures his date, though Karim already mentioned he cares more for charm than kindness. This sets him up to fall for Charlie's charm, despite the warning signs.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
When Karim and Dad get home, Mum is waiting for them in the hall. She's on the phone, presumably with Jean. Before Karim can escape to his room, Mum shoves the phone at him. Jean instructs Karim to come visit her the next day.
The fact that Jean wants to speak to Karim instead of Dad directly is an indicator of the dysfunctional extended family dynamics at play here.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
The next day, Karim rides his bike in the direction of Ted and Jean's house. He decides to stop and see Helen first, as she lives nearby. He rings the bell at Helen's house but hears no reply. Karim hears Helen anxiously calling him from an upstairs window and asks her why she isn't coming down. Suddenly, Helen jerks back into the house. Karim hears yelling from inside and the front door opens. Helen's father, a hairy, towering man whom Karim decides to call Hairy Back, lets a Great Dane go. He tells Karim that Helen doesn't date boys, especially boys of color. Hairy Back threatens to smash Karim's hands if he comes near Helen and slams the front door.
Hairy Back's racism begins to show that in England, the variety of casual racism exhibited by Carl and Marianne isn't the only kind of racism individuals like Karim experience—men like Hairy Back are vocal and dangerous about their ideas. In this situation, Karim's identity as a half-Indian man will possibly ruin his chances of success with Helen, which again suggests that the identity of a person in question will have a direct effect on their success in the world.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim turns away and decides to urinate on Hairy Back's car tires. He notices the Great Dane and hopes that Helen will call the dog back inside. As he tries to tiptoe away Karim murmurs Helen's name, which seems to affect the dog—it comes up behind Karim, jumps up so its paws are on Karim's shoulders, and thrusts at Karim's back. Karim runs and feels the dog shudder before he manages to escape over the fence. He throws a few stones at the dog and realizes the dog ejaculated on his jacket.
As a symbol, the Great Dane represents the greater white cultural forces that put Karim in an inferior place because of his racial identity through humiliation and exploitation. Further, these experiences with Great Dane-esque figures leave visible marks on Karim: he now has to face Jean with dog ejaculate on his jacket, a reminder that humiliation like this can happen at any time.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
When Karim finally arrives at Ted and Jean's house, he's in a horrible mood. Jean leads Karim into the living room and pushes him down onto the sofa. Karim gets up to look out the window at the yard, where Ted and Jean used to host lavish parties during the summer. Karim and Allie always loved the parties, while Mum and Dad always looked out of place. This was partially because of their low status, but also because Dad often tried to discuss Eastern philosophy with other guests. Jean had been invincible in those days, but that ended after she had an affair with a much younger politician. The parties stopped and Jean never stopped mourning the loss of her lover.
Mentioning Jean's lover begins to create the sense that even though she's a generally unlikeable character, she is human and suffered the consequences for attempting to pursue happiness outside of the prescribed suburban formula. This in turn suggests that she has more at stake emotionally in Dad's affair with Eva than previously thought, since she's still reeling from her own failed affair. Further, its failure does affect her entire family, as the parties that Karim's family attended no longer happen.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Jean walks Ted into the room. As Jean begins to try to start the conversation, Karim cuts in and asks Ted about football. It takes a moment, but Ted finally sits down. Karim knows that Ted is on his side now and explains why: once, Ted took Karim to a football match in London. On the train to London, Ted had pointed out the slums where poor black Londoners lived. On the way home, Ted and Karim had been chanting the team name with the other passengers when all of a sudden, Karim turned around and saw a knife in Ted's hand. Ted smashed light bulbs in the train car, stabbed at the seats, and handed Karim an unbroken bulb to throw out an open window. Karim did as he was told, and the bulb hit a wall next to where an old Indian man was sitting.
By revealing that Ted harbors closeted racist sentiments, the novel continues to expose the suburbs as dangerous for people of color. However, the fact that Karim can blackmail Ted with this shows that it's not socially acceptable to be outwardly racist, even in front of someone like Jean who ignores that Karim and Dad are Indian. When Ted roped Karim into the event on the bus, he asked Karim to identify as English and as a perpetrator of racialized violence. This continues to complicate Karim's identification with either being English or Indian.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Jean fixes her stare on Karim and begins to say that she and Ted never had a problem with Mum marrying a "colored" man. She goes on and mentions how disfigured and crazy Eva is, and says that she assumes that "this madness" is going to stop. Karim tries to tell Jean that Dad can do what he wants, but Jean insists that her livelihood will be affected if Dad continues with this nonsense. Karim stands to leave and Jean asks what's on the back of his coat. Karim hears nothing from Ted or Jean for weeks. One night, Mum answers the phone and hangs up immediately. When Dad asks who it was, she defiantly says it was nobody.
Jean's insistence that she'll suffer as a result of Dad's transgressions refers to the existence of the gossip and rumor mill, and the suburban desire to keep up appearances. However, there's no indication that Mum and Dad suffered at all when Jean's affair failed, suggesting that Jean is grasping for power more than actually possessing it. When Mum hangs up on Eva, it shows her trying to focus her attention on preserving her marriage and remaining loyal to Dad.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon