The Buddha of Suburbia | Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia | Part 1, Chapter 3 : In the Suburbs | Summary



Karim Amir observes the entrance of his aunt and uncle and wonders how they found their way to this particular party. He knows that they do not belong, as evidenced by their inappropriate clothing; they arrive "dressed for a wedding." Karim's sarcasm intensifies as he recalls that the couple calls his father Harry, avoiding his Indian name. "Harry," not to be outdone, reciprocates by calling the couple "Gin and Tonic." Although Karim acknowledges his uncle as a sort of surrogate for a true English father who taught him what most boys expect from their fathers, he is not happy to see the couple at Carl and Marianne's.

Haroon Amir does not seem surprised to find Uncle Ted, whom he likes, and Auntie Jean, whom he tolerates, seated on the floor with the other guests. Also present are a young man with spiked, white hair and his date, a girl in hippie garb. Later, Karim recognizes the young man as Charlie Kay, the object of his desire. At the end of the inspirational session, Haroon and Eva Kay are openly affectionate in front of the guests, including Ted and Jean. When Haroon and Karim return home, they find Margaret Amir on the phone with her sister. Through her sister Jean sends a message to Karim instructing him to visit with her.

On his way to Jean and Ted's, Karim stops at Helen's house. Her father chases him away and calls him racist names, forbidding him to date his daughter. In return, Karim creates a name for his shirtless critic: "Hairy Back." Helen's father sets their large Great Dane on the startled visitor. The dog, rather than attacking, attempts to mount Karim and spills his "dog spunk" over Karim's jacket. Waiting for Jean, Karim recalls earlier experiences of racism on a post–soccer game outing with Ted. He remembers Ted's violent behavior and his encouragement for Karim to participate.

Jean calls upon her nephew to stop his father's wild behavior. In the process she expresses her acceptance of her sister's "colored" husband while condemning his Buddhist impersonation. Karim, who reminds her that his father is a Buddhist, never follows up on his Auntie Jean's demands.


The opening themes are amplified in this section and abetted by Karim's ability to maintain a jokey equilibrium in response to seriously complicated matters: Jean and Ted's self-satisfied false values based in their commercial success and its emblems, sexual infidelity, lack of culture, gross materialism, tendencies to alcoholism, and racism. This chapter builds with Karim's sexual confusion and develops the sort of adolescent wit that is the engine of the plot. Karim "futilely" desires Charlie (who is barely recognizable with his silver hair); Charlie "futilely" desires the girl in the hippy smock whom he brings to the party; the girl "futilely" desires another guy. The contrast is Haroon's genuine attraction to Eva and their openness in displaying their relationship.

Making light of serious matters, this episode begins in Karim's outrage at Helen's father's racism. Karim, for whom attraction and revulsion are very close together, characterizes Helen's father according to the distinctive feature of his appearance. Karim calls him "Hairy Back" while acknowledging his own penchant for liking actors, such as Sean Connery, because of their hairy backs. The vulgar ambivalence of the episode peaks in Karim's encounter with Helen's Great Dane. An extended sexual joke referencing both sides' views of the impropriety of sexual mixing, carried out outrageously here in the dog's attraction to Karim, raises the ante on transgressive sexual liaisons when the dog's sexual passion soils Karim's jacket. Different sorts of racial prejudice are reflected specifically in white-on-black violence and in cross-race prejudice among the brown and black people of London and its suburbs.

Karim, soiled by the mix of racial discrimination and potentially transgressive sexual practice, and menace that includes attraction, heads for Auntie Jean, herself a social climber, adulteress, and racist who attempts to enlist her nephew's help in curbing his father's transgressive (to Jean's mind) impulses. Karim's response is a fart, bringing the issues down to a childishly embodied commentary—a failure of manners usually viewed as transgression but here a childish objection to Jean's racism. Jean, blind to her rudeness, her racist objections to sexual mixing when it comes to family, kisses her nephew goodbye—another example of a strange mix of menace and love. The chapter ends with Karim at home and a phone call for Haroon from Eva. It is, however, Margaret who answers the phone. Exercising her legal rights as Haroon's wife, she hangs up on the caller, whom she identifies to Haroon as "no one."

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