The Buddha of Suburbia | Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

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Hanif Kureishi | Biography


Early Life and Family Ties

Hanif Kureishi was born in Kent, England, on December 5, 1954, to an English mother, Audrey Buss, and an Indian father, Rafiushan Kureishi. Kureishi credits his openness and liberal attitudes to his permissive mother. When he was 15, for example, he was allowed to have girlfriends stay over. Just as depicted in The Buddha of Suburbia, however, family strife was common, particularly between Kureishi and his father.

Rafiushan Kureishi, the model for Haroon Amir in The Buddha of Suburbia, was from a privileged Indian family—a Muslim by birth but not in practice. When his family left Madras (now Chennai) and emigrated to Pakistan, Rafiushan moved to England in 1947. He married Audrey Buss, had two children, Hanif and Yasmin, and settled in Bromley.

Hanif Kureishi thinks of both of his parents as failed artists. His mother gave up painting when she married. His father, who spent his entire working life as a civil servant in Pakistan's embassy in London, left a backlog of unpublished autobiographical novels and plays. His writing occupied most of his time away from the office. According to Kureishi, his father, "inescapably Paki" to his neighbors, wanted his children to be English.

School Years

Kureishi, from very early on, found himself caught in his mixed heritage. His consciousness was awakened by a pervasive British racism, intensified by anti-immigrant politics of the 1970s. Kureishi was the only nonwhite boy in his secondary school. He was bullied by his fellow students and called "Pakistani Pete" by one of his teachers. Like Karim in the novel, Kureishi found solace in literature and rock music. He was especially attracted to English singer-songwriter David Bowie (1947–2016), who had lived in Bromley as a youth and had attended the same high school. He admired Bowie for his music but also because he "dressed like a woman"; that is, Kureishi learned from Bowie that identity could be altered by costume. He believed pop culture could liberate him from his condition, "a Paki on the streets of south London."

Writing Career

Kureishi wrote his first novel, Run Hard Black Man, when he was 14. Two novels followed, though none were accepted for publication. Jeremy Trafford, the editor who read the first novel, characterized it as autobiographical and "full of anger and quite a bit of bitterness." While studying at London's King's College, Kureishi became interested in drama and wrote a play, The King and Me, about a woman infatuated with Elvis Presley. After graduating with a degree in philosophy, Kureishi moved to London, where he found early success working with three theaters as a playwright: The Soho Poly Theatre, the Hampstead Theatre, and the Royal Court Theatre. His first success, Soaking the Heat, was produced by the Royal Court Theatre in 1976. The King and Me was produced in London, premiering at the Soho Poly Theater, in 1980. Kureishi became the resident playwright at the Royal Court Theatre in 1982.

His reputation exploded in 1985 with the film My Beautiful Launderette, for which he wrote the screenplay. It was nominated for an Oscar as the best foreign film of the year. That, and his second, less successful film, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, were both drawn from his experiences. But it was with the publication of the explicitly autobiographical The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), which won the Whitbread Award for a first novel in 1990, that his reputation was sealed. In 1993 Buddha was made into a four-part drama with music by David Bowie for the BBC.

In 2008 Kureishi was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and selected as one of the 50 most important British writers of the 20th century.

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