The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 2, Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On his flight to London, Karim develops a toothache. When he enters the dentist's office, the South African dentist asks the nurse if Karim speaks English. Later, Karim meets Terry for a drink. All Terry can talk about is the upcoming election, which he says will either bring about revolution or the rise of the right.
The dentist's question is ironic given that South Africa was also a British colony. This reinforces that the white Englishmen aren't the only ones who keep racism alive and well.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim's audition goes well, though he can tell that the producers and directors are trashy and the show will be boring and awful. Karim returns to the Fish's flat, where he's staying temporarily, and wonders if he should move to New York. His agent calls and says that he got the part. It takes Karim several days to think through the offer, but he decides to take it. He'll play the son of an Indian shopkeeper in a soap opera.
Like his other two roles, Karim's role in the soap is one that plays into English stereotypes of Indian people. For a final time, Karim must recognize that his Indian identity is marketable and will be the reason he makes money, even if accepting these roles is emotionally difficult to do.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim visits Dad and Eva to share his news. He dresses in a cashmere sweater and corduroy pants, and he hopes his clothing choices will hide his depression. At Eva and Dad's house, a man and a woman are unloading photography equipment. The man yells and asks Karim if he's Charlie's manager.
Karim's clothing choices also show how the times have changed and mirror the shift towards conservatism in politics (the Thatcher election is days away).
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Eva is confused when she finds Karim and the other two people on her doorstep at the same time. She ushers the other two into the living room and then comes to talk to Karim in the hallway. Their exchange is awkward and Karim recognizes that he feels different. Eva explains that the two people are here to interview her for a prestigious magazine piece.
Karim feels different because he is different: he came of age in New York and must now figure out how to fit himself back into English culture. Eva's interview shows that like Karim and Charlie, she's found success and fame through her work.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
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Eva and Karim enter the living room, and Dad gets up to embrace Karim. Dad is wearing a neck brace. Karim remembers how, when he was a kid, Dad would always win their races and wrestling matches, but now he can't move without pain. Karim feels as though he wants to fight Dad, but doesn't feel he can with Dad in this state. Eva, on the other hand, looks fresh and wholly non-suburban. She leads Karim with the other two on a tour of the flat.
Though Karim notes that Eva doesn't look suburban, he doesn't offer any clues to whether or not this is a surface thing or whether she's actually been able to shed her suburban roots. This leaves it up in the air as to whether or not a person can truly forget where they came from, or if that remains a part of their identity.
Themes
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The photographer moves furniture around and photographs Eva in unnatural poses. The woman asks Eva about her philosophy on life. Eva looks to Dad, sits next to him, and begins to explain that before she met Dad, she was lost. With Dad's help, she says, she learned to believe in self-help and individual initiative. The photographer looks uncomfortable, but Eva keeps going. She says that people who live in housing estates expect the government to do everything for them, and they must be enabled to grow. The photographer whispers to the woman to ask about Charlie, but Eva insists she won't comment on him.
Eva's sentiments are vaguely reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's policies, which overwhelmingly cut social and welfare programs. Essentially, Eva and Thatcher both believe that people need to help themselves and not rely so heavily on the government. This is ironic considering that Eva got to this place by learning from Dad, and Thatcher, a conservative candidate, represents the kind of policies that won't help people like Dad get by and thrive.
Themes
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Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Karim remembers how Dad used to be pompous all the time and thinks he likes listening to Eva dominate the conversation. The woman asks Dad if he'd like to respond to Eva's thoughts on his philosophy. Dad slowly says that he once thought Englishmen superior, but he now sees they're missing something. He insists they've neglected the soul, and both the photographer and the woman look uncomfortable. The woman begins packing up her tapes and as she and the photographer are about to leave, Ted bursts in.
Dad's thoughts on the matter show that even if Eva is twisting Dad's teachings, he still believes in seeking personal success, not climbing the social ladder like Eva did. Now that Dad has power thanks to his association with Eva, he can say things like this that make people uncomfortable without fear of retaliation. Essentially, despite his rejection of Eva's success, it still benefits him.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Ted insists he's not that late and admits that Jean fell down the stairs. He addresses the woman and insists that life goes downhill and he doesn't know why. He asks the photographer if he'd like to photograph himself and Eva, but the photographer and the woman leave quickly. Ted is glad to see Karim, and Karim notices that Ted no longer looks vaguely violent and like he'd fight anyone.
Ted appears to have completed his own coming of age process through embracing Dad's teachings, though, like Eva, his desire to be photographed and become famous through this article shows that he defines success very differently than his guru does.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Ted enthusiastically tells Karim that he loves his work and that Eva saved him. Karim reminds Ted that Dad saved him, but Ted continues and asks Karim if he's living an untrue life. Eva insists to Ted they need to go to work, and they leave Karim alone with Dad. Dad asks Karim to make him cheese on toast and begins ranting that Eva doesn't take care of him anymore. He admits that sometimes he hates her. Karim tries to leave, but Dad tells Karim excitedly that he's leaving his job so he can counsel people in how to live their lives. Karim is supportive, but quickly disentangles himself from the conversation.
For Dad, the success of leaving Mum for his lover doesn't seem nearly as sweet as others' success does. By showing that Dad isn't all that happy even after he got what he wanted, the novel questions the very definition of success, and whether or not success is even possible for anyone. Arguably, many of the characters have become successful, which ultimately suggests that success simply isn't as straightforward as a person getting what they want.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
At Mum's house, Karim finds Mum out and Allie getting dressed. Allie is extremely impressed that Karim landed the soap opera. When Karim questions his enthusiasm, Allie insists that Pyke's play was too idealistic. Allie obviously enjoys this topic and continues to say that he hates people who insist on making a big deal out of being black and self-pitying, saying instead that they need to get on with their lives. Finally, Allie insists that Indian people have no reason to be bitter, and cuts off Karim when he tries to recount his experience with the racist dentist. Karim thinks he likes Allie, even though his ideas are strange.
Allie's sudden appearance as a reasonable, interesting figure shows that Karim's coming of age is allowing him to expand his horizons beyond his own selfishness and take more note of those around him. Allie's idealism suggests that he hasn't spent as much time as Karim running around in neighborhoods like Jamila's, where the racial violence against Indian people is undeniably real and dangerous.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Allie congratulates Karim again on the soap opera, and then tells him that Mum has a boyfriend. His name is Jimmy and Mum doesn't want him to know that she has adult sons. Karim says that Mum deserves it.
Mum too arises as an interesting individual in her own right, though denying the fact that she has two adult sons shows her forgoing family loyalty for the first time.
Themes
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Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Karim admits that everything went crazy after Mum and Dad broke up. Allie angrily says that he doesn't have time for people like Dad who abandon their wife and kids. He says it's horrible that now that Dad is quitting his job, they'll all become dependent on Eva. Karim tries to cut him off but Allie continues to rant about Dad. Karim finally tells Allie he's stupid and doesn't understand, and Allie deflates.
Allie seems to operate under the assumption that Dad is happy and satisfied with his life, when in reality, success hasn't been as sweet for him. This suggests that Allie hasn't yet come of age himself, as he still holds a very limited understanding of his parents' divorce and relationship.
Themes
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Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Mum arrives. She's reasonably pleased that Karim has a job and mentions she has a friend coming over soon. While she dresses, Allie and Karim vacuum and dust. When the doorbell rings, Mum shoos them out the back door so Jimmy won't see them. Karim and Allie look through Mum's window until she notices them, and then Allie takes Karim out to a bar. Karim notices that London has changed—the punks and hippies are gone, and everyone is well dressed. He decides to go see Changez and Jamila.
Even if her sons pester her, Mum's success seems far sweeter than anyone else's. She gets to live out her dream of performing suburbia while allowing her children and Dad to pursue the heights that never interested her. In this way, Mum becomes a study in what success means when it's not defined by moving up in the social hierarchy.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Karim steals a tablecloth from the Fish's apartment as a gift for Changez and Jamila. He picks up Indian takeout and passes Jeeta's shop in his taxi on the way to the commune. Changez answers the door with a baby in his arms and tells Karim that it's 1:30 in the morning. Karim is relieved to find that Changez seems the same, just as interested in food as he ever was. He even insists on throwing the tablecloth on top of the clutter on the table so he can eat sooner. He hands the baby to Karim and starts eating.
Karim's assertion that Changez is unchanged is questionable given that he's now a parent. Per the way the novel defines maturity, Changez should have undergone some change now that he has a baby to identify himself in. This suggests that Karim is unsettled and looking for something that's the same in order to make himself feel more comfortable with his own coming of age.
Themes
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Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Changez explains that Simon is away in America, and Jamila is still angry with Karim for not showing up at the demonstration. Karim boasts about his time in America, and finally asks Changez if he's made any progress in getting Jamila to go to bed with him. Changez says that everyone is progressing, and Jamila has a woman friend, Joanna. Karim can't believe that Changez is actually okay with this and questions Changez how he's coping with being married to a lesbian. Changez looks shocked at the suggestion.
Changez's shock betrays that he's still conservative and traditional at heart. Once again, this makes Karim responsible for bringing the loyalty between Changez and Jamila into question, which shows that their loyalty is still tenuous and contested.
Themes
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Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Jamila walks into the room with Joanna and dances for the baby. She takes the baby and as she talks to Changez, Karim realizes their marriage has become strangely respectful. Joanna insists she recognizes Karim, and Jamila explains that he's an actor. Joanna explains that she's a filmmaker, and asks Changez for grapefruit and toast for breakfast in the morning. Jamila hands the baby back to Changez and leads Joanna upstairs.
Karim was incorrect and Changez has changed: even if he's shocked that Jamila might be a lesbian, the respect between them shows that their marriage has matured and now allows for true happiness for both of them, even if it's not perfect.
Themes
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Changez won't meet Karim's eyes and accuses him of making him think too much. He tells Karim to go upstairs to sleep, but Karim lies down behind the couch instead. He meditates for a while but soon starts thinking about how content Changez and Jamila finally seem in their marriage. When Karim wakes later, he hears Jamila and Changez talking. He drifts in and out of sleep.
As Karim mulls over the new respectfulness between Changez and Jamila, he sees that respect and a willingness to work for one's family is one of the most important parts of family. Dad didn't do this when he cheated on Mum, which precipitated the end of their relationship.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Changez talks about how he's renovating Jeeta's store and asks Jamila for a kiss. Karim hears Jamila oblige unhappily and wonders if he should intervene. When Jamila asks if Changez has seen Shinko recently, Changez explains that Karim stirred him up by implying that Jamila is a lesbian. He says he told Karim that it was rubbish. Jamila sighs and explains that she's very passionate about Joanna. Changez shouts that he's the only normal person left in England and that something's wrong with Jamila if she's turning to "perversion" when her husband is right in front of her.
When Changez mentions working in Jeeta's store, it suggests that Anwar's insistence on making Changez fit a specific mold is what kept Changez from being a contributing member of his extended family. Now that he's not experiencing Anwar's oppression, he can renegotiate how he fits into the family and create his job. Again, Changez's inability to accept that Jamila likes women betrays that he's conservative and traditional, his living situation aside.
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Jamila pleads with Changez to stop, but he asks how Jamila and the others in the house can talk about the horrors of prejudice against every type of person but ugly people. Jamila insists that Anwar forced her into marriage and says that Changez isn't ugly on the inside. Changez yells that he's going to start a campaign to stop prejudice against ugly people. He pulls down his pants and Jamila sarcastically tells him to figure himself out. She threatens to vote him out of the house and says she doesn't want Joanna seeing his penis. Karim begins to become uncomfortable as Changez laments that he never sees Jamila alone.
Changez is trying to use Jamila's passion for politics to his advantage to try and demand her loyalty and fidelity. Karim's discomfort shows that he's learned to be more empathetic and truly feels for Changez, even if he questions both his motives and his methods. Jamila's comment about Joanna suggests that her loyalty lies with Joanna, not Changez. By making this clear, she tells Changez that her loyalty comes only on her terms. 
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Suddenly, Jamila hears Karim behind the sofa. Karim announces himself and insists he didn't hear anything, but Changez is incensed. Jamila stops Changez from hurting Karim and early in the morning, Karim sneaks out of the house.
Because it's continually denied to him, Changez desperately wants to perform traditional masculinity. Being humiliated in front of Karim denies him this once again and suggests that Changez will never be successful in this endeavor.
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When Karim goes to see Dad a few days later, Dad is in the middle of counseling a crying young man. Karim realizes that Dad will always have work as long as London continues to be full of lonely, sad people who need guidance. When Karim and Dad sit down together, Karim tries to wow him with the news of the soap opera and fails. Dad says that it's a good thing Karim is finally doing something visible, and Karim feels a flash of anger. He wonders if he'll always feel like a child in front of his parents.
Dad's future of financial success shows again that capitalizing on Western racism is profitable, and throws into relief the fact that Karim doesn't enjoy playing to these stereotypes. It suggests that Dad is ultimately more successful than Karim, indicating as well that Dad has come of age fully while Karim is still in process.
Themes
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Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Dad asks about Mum and seems shocked to hear that Mum is doing well and seeing a man. Dad asks question after question, and Karim notices Eva standing behind Dad and listening. Karim describes Jimmy, and confirms when Dad asks if Mum and Jimmy are kissing each other. Dad is distraught and moans that nothing will be the same again. He turns away, sees Eva, and suddenly looks afraid. Eva angrily tells Dad that it's too late to regret anything. Karim wonders if Dad finally understands that leaving Mum isn't something he can magically undo.
When Dad learns about Mum's relationship, it shatters the illusion Dad held that Mum was still pining after him. This in turn suggests that even in spite of all his Eastern philosophy, Dad is a cruel and self-centered man at heart, though he appears to be paying the price for his transgressions.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
That night, Karim takes Dad, Eva, Allie, and Allie's girlfriend out to dinner to celebrate his new job. He also invites Changez and Jamila. They go to an expensive restaurant, and Eva is thrilled to know several people there. Allie also knows people there, and soon there's a party at Karim's table. They talk about Karim's job and the new Prime Minister. Changez and Shinko arrive around midnight, and Changez talks at length about Jeeta's shop.
The new Prime Minister is Margaret Thatcher. She represents a major swing to the right, showing that Terry's revolution isn't going to happen. This casts the novel as being one that explores the end of an era, while showing too that Karim's future roles will have even more weight given the rise of conservatism and racism.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim finds he enjoys being able to be generous and please others with money. When everyone is drunk, Eva stands and asks for attention. Dad smiles at everyone, and Eva seems nervous to make her announcement. Finally, Dad announces for her that they're getting married in two months. Karim raises a toast to them and spends the rest of the night thinking about his past. He thinks that he's surrounded by people he loves, in the city he loves, and thinks that things won't always be a mess.
Dad and Eva's announcement shows that they've finally decided to accept a marker of adulthood and become legalized family to each other. This leaves everyone in the novel as relatively mature adults. However, Karim's optimism shows that he's still in the process of growing up: coming of age doesn't have a true end point and like Dad, Karim will develop for years to come. 
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