The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Karim cycles madly through London, thinking he's ready to retire. He thinks about school and how the teachers believe the students can't deal with books. Karim regularly comes home covered in spit or with another boy's urine on his shoes, and he feels fed up with everything. Karim thinks of what Jamila might do. He thinks that Eva is the only objective person he could talk to about this, but he reasons that he's supposed to hate her for ruining his family.
What Karim says about his school brings questions of class into the picture: everything he says about his school suggests that there's a general uninterest in education in general, which he'll later learn is indicative of being lower-middle class. His discomfort sets him up to break out of the class he's currently in and try to better himself.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Karim wonders why Anwar is literally staking his life on Muslim beliefs, when he's never seemed very Muslim. Karim wonders if Dad's move towards Buddhism is at all similar, and he thinks that both men seem to be returning internally to India. Suddenly, Karim thinks he sees Dad trying to make a phone call from a public phone. When Dad hangs up, he notices Karim approaching. Karim asks after Eva, and Dad affirms he was talking to her. Karim asks if Dad is in love with Eva. Dad tries to sidestep the question, but looks distraught when Karim asks if he's going to leave his family for Eva. Dad only says that he's feeling things he's never felt before, and feels as though he misses Eva whenever they're not together.
When Dad confides in Karim, he does so in a way that treats Karim more like an adult than like a child. This shows that Dad is ready for Karim to begin growing up, while Karim's questions in return situate him firmly in his role as Dad's child. This shows that within the realm of his family, Karim is not at all ready to take the step towards seeing his parents as people with their own thoughts and desires, which within the logic of the novel is an indicator of adulthood and maturity.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Dad confides that Eva is seeing other men, specifically Shadwell, whom she believes is going to be a wildly successful theatre director. Karim insists that Eva is blackmailing Dad by telling him she's seeing other men, but asks if Dad has told Mum everything. Dad admits that he can't tell Mum because she'll suffer, and he'd rather suffer himself than make Mum, Allie, and Karim suffer. Suddenly, Dad grabs Karim and starts to kiss his face. Karim pulls away and starts to run as Dad, bewildered, asks if he's at the right bus stop.
Though Dad's self-sacrificing logic is very adult and mature at first glance, it also ignores the fact that Mum is already suffering. Dad gives her the silent treatment and continues to make her unhappy by speaking about Eastern philosophy—actions that, within Karim's logic and beliefs about family, are extremely selfish and immature.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim and Jamila talk daily and eventually call a meeting to decide what to do about her situation. On the day of the meeting, Karim leaves school to find Helen waiting for him. She kisses him. Charlie is hanging around, and he and Helen somehow know each other. Karim interrupts their flirtations by asking about Charlie's dad, but Charlie says that there will be space at his house for Haroon. Karim is floored and thinks that he and Charlie will have committed incest.
Charlie shows here that he's not particularly loyal to his nuclear family like Karim is to his. This continues to develop Charlie as a callous and somewhat cruel person, and offers more evidence for the reader that Charlie isn't worth Karim's time or loyalty.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
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Suddenly, a car turns onto the street blasting music extremely loudly. The Fish, Charlie's band manager, is driving. Charlie offers Helen a ride, but she refuses. After Charlie leaves, Helen apologizes to Karim for the Great Dane, but he cuts her off and rudely asks why she's at his school. He's surprised to hear that she came to see him, and they walk off together. Helen talks about wanting to join the youth liberation movements in California, and Karim feels as though everyone has plans but him.
Karim's sense of being adrift comes from his belief that his trajectory is at the mercy of outside forces, not something he can control. This is, again, indicative of his lack of maturity. While Helen's apology is nice, it's also worth noting that she didn't stand up for Karim in the moment. This sets a precedent for people "supporting" Karim in theory, but not in practice when it counts.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim looks up and sees Jamila hurrying towards them. Karim fills Helen in on what's going on with Anwar. Jamila adds that nothing is getting better. The three sit in a bus stop and brainstorm what Jamila should do, and Helen suggests that they talk to Haroon. Jamila agrees, though when they arrive at Karim's house, she stares off as though she doesn't care about her father. Helen attempts to engage Mum in conversation about Buddhism, and Karim finds the whole conversation absurd.
When Helen tries to engage Mum, it shows that she believes that Mum is surely on board with Dad's Buddhism. This implies that Helen shares similarities with Karim in how she thinks about familial loyalty. Helen's suggestion to consult Dad in the first place provides more evidence that Dad is the real thing, and not just faking.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Dad is lying on his bed listening to the radio when Karim, Jamila, and Helen enter the bedroom. Dad confirms Karim's theory that old Indian men return to "an imagined India" and sends the teenagers away for 95 minutes so he can meditate on the matter. They walk around the neighborhood before finally stopping in at a bar. Jamila drinks silently, but Helen rambles on about Charlie and his new record deal. Karim wonders if Charlie's life is as perplexing as his own.
Dad alludes to the idea that Anwar is idealizing India and Muslim customs with his insistence that Jamila marry. This links Anwar’s "return" to the overt and violent racism that Anwar experiences every day here in England, as it's far more terrifying in the moment than the memory of his chanting Hindu neighbors from when he was a young man.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Later, when Karim, Jamila, and Helen knock on Dad's door again, they can hear Dad snoring. Helen suggests Dad's still meditating, but Jamila bangs on the door until Dad opens it. Dad tells Jamila that she must follow her true feelings, and that she should try to be aware of what's happening. Karim and Helen walk Jamila home, and Jamila is subdued as she says goodbye. Helen thinks that Jamila will marry the boy, but Karim disagrees. They have sex in a nearby park, and Karim wonders if they're both thinking of Charlie.
The fact that Dad slept instead of meditating starts to poke holes in his guru role and suggests that parts of it are just an act. This also calls into question who exactly Dad is performing his role as guru for—Karim and Jamila aren't convinced, though Helen is. This breakdown shows that Dad's act is intended for white people, not Indian people.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon