The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rehearsals for Pyke's play begin in the spring. Karim is one of three men and three women in the cast. The other two men are solid, cynical actors; there's one black woman, Tracey; and a beautiful redheaded actress named Eleanor. Louise, the writer, also attends rehearsals. Karim notes that he's never been more enthusiastic about anything in his life. Pyke begins every morning with breakfast and shockingly cruel gossip. After lunch, the cast plays games where they touch each other, and Karim feels that Eleanor stays in his embrace longer than necessary.
The tenor of Pyke's gossip suggests he's not a figure that Karim should trust, though in this setting the cruelty is an overt demonstration of Pyke's power. Within this dynamic, Pyke sets Karim to come of age during this production with very little kind or vaguely parental guidance. However, these types of theatre games foster a sense of closeness and trust, which lulls Karim into believing that he can trust everyone.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
On the fourth day, Pyke plays a game that Karim finds disturbing. Pyke tells the group he's going to make predictions about who will sleep with whom, and then read his predictions on the last night of the show. The following week, Pyke has the actors sit and tell the rest of the cast their life story. When Karim hears that Eleanor worked with a performance artist who stored poems in her vagina, he decides to pursue her. He calls Jamila every few days to talk about rehearsals, but she isn't impressed. She suggests that bad things are happening at Anwar's store, but insists that Karim is too self-absorbed to care.
The performance artist that Eleanor worked with is likely Carolee Schneemann, and the piece in question is called Interior Scroll. This situates Eleanor as being a part of the second wave feminist movement of the seventies, which focused a great deal of attention on the female body—though in an attempt to subvert and question male attention like Karim is now paying Eleanor.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
After a few weeks, Pyke sends the actors out to begin researching characters, which Louise will then need to somehow write into a play. Pyke dissuades Karim from choosing to portray Charlie, insisting that the play needs somebody black. Karim decides to portray Anwar and bikes to the shop to see him. The store looks grubby and sad, and Jeeta no longer bothers to wash off the racist graffiti. When Karim arrives, Jeeta hugs him and tells him that if he's going to spend time with Anwar, he has to stop Anwar from going out with his walking stick. She explains that some thugs threw a pig's head through the shop window, the police won't do anything, and now Anwar roams the streets taunting white boys to beat him.
Just as Eva's suburbanites at the beginning of the novel weren't particularly interested in thinking about an Asia that encompasses many different identities, Pyke shows here that he's interested in portraying "blackness" without any recognition that people of color around the world all have very different experiences. This also ignores the fact, yet again, that Karim identifies as English before he identifies as Indian. Jeeta's decision to stop washing off the graffiti shows that tensions are rising and the flood of racism is unstoppable.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim goes up to Anwar in the flat and finds him in pajamas watching TV. Anwar looks emaciated. Over the next few weeks, Karim occasionally attends mosque with Anwar and listens to him complain that Allah has abandoned him. He also complains that Jeeta won't return to India with him. Karim watches Jeeta and sees that she appears to have taken Jamila's example to heart: she wants to sell liquor and newspapers, and certainly doesn't want to return to India. When Karim asks Anwar why he doesn't take Jeeta's suggestions, Anwar fatalistically says that everything is already perfect and nothing will ever get better.
Anwar's deterioration since his hunger strike suggests that staking one's life on old, conservative, or traditional ideas is not just ineffective but altogether harmful, especially since the hunger strike seems to be almost literally killing him years later. In contrast, Jeeta's empowerment comes because she's willing to embrace the culture shifts and make them work for her. In this way, Jeeta also comes of age, just like Jamila and Karim do.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The Buddha of Suburbia PDF
Karim is cheered by his progress with Eleanor. She invites him over after rehearsal nearly daily. Karim recognizes that something in her needs comfort, and is thrilled to be going out with someone so mature and beautiful. However, Karim soon realizes that Eleanor only pretends she's not upper-middle class: her parents are wealthy and well known, her mother is friends with the Queen Mother, and she has no idea that she has more than most other people. Karim recognizes that Eleanor's friends possess a particular combination of class, culture, and money. He realizes that Eva wants to achieve this kind of class, but he believes she'll never get there.
What Karim learns from Eleanor is that what really differentiates upper class people from other social classes is that they are oblivious to their wealth and privilege, something that Eva will never be able to achieve because she'll know what the lower-class alternative is from firsthand experience. This suggests that while Eva's climb isn't a bad thing, it's also not going to give her exactly what she wants.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Eleanor cries every few hours and holds Karim, but she refuses to have sex with him. Karim realizes that his rival is a man named Heater, a Scot whose purpose in life appears to be to try to ensure Eleanor's happiness. It's a difficult job, as Karim learns quickly that Eleanor hates herself and requires a great deal of praise. Karim consults Jamila about it, but Jamila insists that Eleanor is vain and self-obsessed. However, Eleanor also cares deeply for others: she feeds Heater and buys Karim gifts, and refuses to prioritize herself when Karim suggests she should.
As Karim enters into his own sexless but loving relationship, he shows that he views sex as a facet of loyalty. Eleanor's other displays of loyalty also don't seem to mean much in the absence of sex, which reinforces how important sex is to Karim. Consulting Jamila on the matter is particularly ironic given that she herself is in a sexless but loyal relationship, the loyalty in which suggests that sex isn't actually necessary for loyalty.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
One night when Heater is out, Karim and Eleanor watch TV and gossip. Karim is distracted and not listening, and Eleanor asks Karim for a kiss. Karim notes that it was supposed to be the kiss of a lifetime, but he paid little attention to it because he was soon overwhelmed by angry thoughts. His proximity to Eleanor and her crowd has made Karim aware that he knew nothing about anything. He thinks that in the suburbs, boys aspire to go to work young, not go to college. Seeing Eleanor, he realizes that Eleanor's education and class is valuable beyond belief. He realizes that he was an idiot for walking out of college and thinks that while Eleanor has been breathing sophistication from birth, for Karim it will only be a second language.
Here, the way the kiss comes about suggests that Eleanor is playing with Karim, as she rewards his inattention. This keeps him off balance and invested in her, though she likely didn't bargain for his angry thoughts. Karim learns here that class differences are very much akin to differences in locale, with different pathways, priorities, and environments. This suggests that Karim and Eva will both be experiencing culture shock as they move up the social ladder, even though they only physically move a matter of miles.
Themes
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Karim also realizes that when he talks with Eleanor, her stories are far more important. He thinks about telling her about the Great Dane, but somehow feels his past isn't important enough. Eleanor once commented on Karim's "cute" accent, and Karim vowed then and there to lose his accent. After his kiss with Eleanor, Karim almost falls to the floor and tries to convince Eleanor to let him stay the night. Eleanor softly insists they can't sleep together, but won't tell Karim why.
Eleanor's comment about Karim's accent shows that she's idealizing Karim's suburban upbringing, which means she (possibly unknowingly) is also idealizing the racist systems that enabled the Great Dane event to happen in the first place.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Not long after, Pyke has the cast present their characters for the rest of the group. After Karim performs his Anwar character, he feels for the first time as though he's on par with the rest of the group. When they discuss the characters, Pyke asks Tracey for her opinion on Karim's character. Tracey declares that Karim is doing "black people" a disservice by playing into stereotypes that they're all fanatical, have weird habits, and no culture. She says she can't believe Anwar would wave his stick at white boys, and doesn't care to listen to Karim's insistence that this is the portrayal of one specific old Indian man. Karim insists that this is censorship, and Tracey insists they must protect their culture. Pyke tells Karim he must start again.
The fact that Karim in no way thinks of himself as black makes Tracy's criticism even more difficult to stomach, as it reinforces the fact that others will police Karim's identity whenever they can, regardless of the race of those doing the policing. When nobody stands up for Karim, it hearkens back to when nobody supported Karim in regards to the exaggerated Indian accent in The Jungle Book and makes it clear that though this problem is something Karim has experienced lots of places, it's particularly insidious in the entertainment industry.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon