The Buddha of Suburbia

by

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia: Part 2, Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Eva purchases a flat in West Kensington. It has three rooms and high ceilings, but it's filthy and sad. The walls are covered in paintings that mysteriously disappear, and Eva finally admits that Charlie is stealing them. Karim sleeps on the couch and Charlie sleeps on the floor when he visits. Dad is disgusted by his new home, but Eva is thrilled.
Already London isn't as fantastic as Karim thought it would be. This particular aspect shows that not all of London is rich, as this neighborhood isn't at all the wealthy, bustling metropolis Karim assumed all of London would be.
Themes
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Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim still feels directionless, but he begins to explore the city. He thinks of London as a house with thousands of rooms. West Kensington is an uninteresting neighborhood where people stay for a while before they move up to expensive Kensington proper. Eva finds West Kensington exciting and believes it's headed for greatness.
When Karim conceptualizes London as being a giant house, he continues to play into the metaphor of houses as representing mobility. By exploring London with this mindset, Karim can begin to decipher how exactly class mobility in the city works.
Themes
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Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
One night, Charlie invites Karim out to the bar with him. Charlie doesn't seem to really want to go, and Karim believes that Charlie knows he won't get anywhere in London. Charlie soon becomes drunk. As Karim prepares to tell Charlie how depressed he's been since the move to London, Charlie admits he's suicidal. A famous football player nearby overhears Charlie, and he and Charlie talk about the pressures of fame. Suddenly, Charlie leans forward and vomits in the player's lap. The player kicks Charlie a few times before Karim can get Charlie away.
Though Karim is mentally and emotionally extremely disloyal to Charlie on this outing, he's also very loyal in his actions. This continues to complicate Karim's idea of familial loyalty, as it begins to show that loyalty can take many different forms and attitudes. Karim's depression and loneliness suggests that he feels very individual in a negative way, which is a part of his coming of age.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Karim leans Charlie against a wall to steady him and looks around the room. Karim looks around and studies the crowd waiting for a band to go on, suddenly feeling provincial as he studies their strange dress. Their hair is spikey and their clothes are ripped and then safety pinned. Karim suddenly understands that London is an entirely different animal, and he feels small. Charlie dismissively scans the crowd and says it's making him feel sick because it's too weird.
Karim and Charlie are at an early punk show. In the UK especially, punk was a movement by and for young people that came about because of the high unemployment rates among young people. Charlie and Karim's dismissiveness betrays their middle-class suburban upbringings, as well as their age.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
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As Karim starts to move Charlie out of the bar, the band takes the stage. Karim watches as the crowd screams and spits at the band, and the band does the same back at the audience. Karim is transfixed and thinks that the singer is trying to be an anti-star. He and Charlie agree that the singer is an idiot and the band looks unprofessional. When the band starts to play, the music is harsh and angry, and the singer curses at the audience between songs. When Karim finally looks at Charlie as the band finishes, Charlie is surprisingly alert. Karim leads Charlie out of the bar, but Charlie stops and insists he needs to go talk to the band. Karim talks him out of this.
Again, Charlie and Karim seem almost stodgy as they badmouth the band. This shows that they're getting older and that though they're still only twenty, they're not young enough at this point to be truly entrenched in these youth movements. This develops the sense that the seventies are a time of constant and fast change, where young people come of age and then become obsolete with shocking rapidity.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Charlie is excited as he and Karim walk. He insists that the sixties are over now, and the band they saw is the future. Karim is casual and insists they can't follow those kids and wear safety pins, but Charlie is insistent. Karim tries to say that he and Charlie didn't grow up the same way those kids did and therefore they don't understand the kids’ hatred, but Charlie angrily turns on Karim. Charlie spits that Karim is going nowhere. Charlie rushes away into traffic and into a car filled with angry kids. Karim walks home alone.
Charlie's insistence that the band is the future is somewhat ironic given that one of the most famous punk slogans is The Sex Pistols' "no future." In this passage, Charlie shows that he's emotionally much younger than Karim. He's more than willing to go backwards in his coming of age in order to achieve musical success, while Karim understands that he must go forward and age.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Several days later, Eva announces that it's time to start work on the flat, but she needs to throw a flat-warming party first. Eva is secretive about the guest list and only allows Dad to invite two people from his meditation group. She invites Shadwell and all of his contacts, and the whole thing bothers Karim. At the party, Dad and Karim don't know anyone. Karim realizes that Eva is treating this party like her launch into London judging by her guest list, and he sees that she's trying to rid herself of her suburban roots. Karim thinks that suburbia is in the blood, and there's nothing more suburban than suburbanites trying to escape the identity.
When Karim makes this observation that a person cannot truly escape their roots, it foreshadows his own later realization that he can't escape his Indian heritage. It also suggests that Karim will be unable to truly throw off his own suburban roots. Eva demonstrates her power again by being so controlling about the guest list, which creates a power imbalance between her and Dad. In turn, this enables her to demand loyalty without offering Dad much in return.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Karim is relieved to see Jamila, Changez, and Shinko getting out of a cab. He explains to the reader that he's spoken to Jamila often on the phone, and after Changez caught him with Jamila, Changez had gone crazy. He'd accused Jamila of all manner of things, and Jamila, true to form, informed Changez that she can do what she wants with her body. Changez had tried to hit her, but she'd hit him instead.
As Jamila persists in shaping her marriage to serve her and her desires, Changez must decide whether his loyalties lie with Jamila herself or the institution of marriage as he'd like it to be. This mirrors the novel's overarching interrogation of the relationship between tradition and the new ideas of the future.
Themes
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Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Changez and Karim shake hands. Karim insists that Jamila is her own person, not his or Changez's. Changez just looks sad. Karim and Changez open beers and sit down. Changez explains that Jamila and Shinko have become friends, and the two embarrass Changez by talking about sex in front of him. Changez says that Anwar is also going mad. When Karim seems surprised, Changez wisely says that Karim doesn't visit Anwar because it makes him sad, but he counsels Karim to not forget his people.
Even if Karim hasn't entirely accepted it yet, Changez thinks of him as being Indian before he thinks of him as being English. This shows that the novel is building up to the point at which Karim will truly realize this himself and subsequently develop a more nuanced view of himself and where he sits in the world.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Eva butts into Karim's conversation, yanks him off the sofa, and steers him towards Shadwell. Karim tries to resist, but he can't escape. Shadwell drones on about theatre as Karim watches Changez watch Jamila and Shinko dance. When Shadwell finally accepts that Karim wants to get away, he asks Karim to come audition for him. Karim agrees. The next day, Karim tries to discuss how boring Shadwell is with Eva, but she brushes him off and offers to help him prepare for his audition.
Interestingly, Eva recognizes that Karim will need help breaking into the theatre scene and then offers him that help—which, in theory, signals recognition that people do need help to get ahead in the world. This suggests that Eva's sense of responsibility to other people extends only as far as to those she considers family.
Themes
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Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Karim prepares a monologue over the next few weeks with Eva's help. On the day of his audition, he performs brilliantly, but Shadwell doesn't seem particularly impressed. Shadwell asks Karim to perform it again, but to act as though a wasp is chasing him. Karim has no choice but to agree, though he feels stupid waving at nothing.
As a new actor, this experience makes Karim feel like a child all over again, particularly in the sense that Karim has no power to object. Though it's humiliating, it also shows Karim that he has to try new things and open himself up to feeling silly to get ahead.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
After the audition, Shadwell takes Karim for coffee and offers him "the part." It comes to light that Eva never told Karim to read The Jungle Book, which Shadwell had asked her to do. Shadwell begins talking to Karim in Punjabi or Urdu, and seems shocked when Karim doesn't respond in the same language. Shadwell is even more shocked to learn that Karim has never been to India and he insists that Karim must go sometime. Shadwell laughs at the strangeness of Karim being an "exotic" Indian boy from Orpington.
Shadwell has all the power in this interaction and because of that, he's able to get away with behaving in a very racist way. He shows Karim that he has a very specific idea of what it means to be Indian or half-Indian, and reveals as well that he doesn't acknowledge Karim's desire to construct his identity more around his English heritage than his Indian side.
Themes
Hierarchy and Class Theme Icon
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon
Social and Political Discontent Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Shadwell asks Karim if being "a half-caste in England" is difficult. Karim is beyond embarrassed and can barely listen as Shadwell asks Karim how Eva and Dad's relationship is going. Karim tries to steer the conversation back to The Jungle Book. Shadwell studies Karim and says that he's just right to play Mowgli. Karim is amazed he got a job.
When Shadwell casts Karim, Karim learns that being Indian has its perks despite the uncomfortable racism. He experiences success because he is able to play these very specific parts, which in turn reminds Karim that his Indian part of his identity isn't something he can ignore.
Themes
Racism, Success, and Identity Theme Icon