The Buddha of Suburbia | Study Guide

Hanif Kureishi

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The Buddha of Suburbia | Part 2, Chapter 11 : In the City | Summary

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Summary

Karim Amir's new job begins in Matthew Pyke's rehearsal study, stereotypically grand with its bare polished floors and good light. Happy beyond belief, Karim cycles in each day, marveling in the warm-up exercises, confidences, and body contact shared by the acting company. When Pyke suggests that each cast member choose a character from his or her own background, he advises Karim to choose someone "black." Not thinking of himself as "black," Karim is puzzled until Pyke clarifies: "What about your family?"

He returns to South London to visit Anwar and Jeeta and finds Paradise Stores in disrepair. Jeeta explains that she is tired of scrubbing off the racist graffiti that regularly appears. Her account includes notice of the changing population, ambitious Pakistanis and Bengalis who are taking over the neighborhood. While Anwar is depressed and exhausted by the discord, Jeeta, taking lessons from her feminist daughter, wants to modernize the store and its stock. She wants to sell liquor and newspapers.

At the same time, Karim has fallen for Eleanor, a member of the cast from an elegant and elitist background, who lives in the gentrifying London neighborhood of Ladbrooke Grove. She spends time with him but refuses to sleep with him. Karim begins to think about class difference and his lack of education compared to Eleanor and her crowd.

On the day that Karim presents his "authentic" character, his version of Anwar, he is accused of black self-hatred by the other actor of color in the group. She tells him that his presentation amounts to a white person's assessment of a person of color. When Karim appeals to Matthew, he is told to rethink his choice of character.

Analysis

In Matthew Pyke's studio Karim learns about the fluidity of racial categories when he is asked to choose a "black" character to develop. Karim begins to insist he doesn't know anyone black, though he recalls a Nigerian at his school. He quickly learns, of course, that Pyke is referring to Karim's Indian family and basically anyone who isn't "white." The distinction between black and brown means nothing to Pyke.

The racial themes and fluid categories persist. Ethnic rivalries among persons of color emerge when Karim visits Paradise Stores. He finds the once-prosperous shop dirty and dilapidated. The Asian population is shifting, and the rivalry among the newcomers and the more established Indians is part of the conflict. Paki-bashing, a term for gratuitous beating of those perceived as Pakistani by white working-class thugs, is another manifestation of racial clashes. Anwar, out in the streets, taunts the violent working-class boys who have turned against him.

Among Eleanor's aristocratic bohemian friends, Karim encounters yet another version of race and class. Eleanor, in an act of what only can be called condescension, has taken up with a Scotsman, a roadsweeper who is also her protégé. Heater, as he is called, is the darling of her set—in a sort of reverse classicism that seems to satisfy Eleanor's need for praise. Heater, in the meantime, has class ambitions, attempting to engage Eleanor's friends in intellectual conversations, that is, to speak as an educated white man (which despite his class, he is). They in turn want to engage with him at the level of working-class struggles. In the same sort of condescending classless behavior, the members of the acting group invite the mother of Tracey, the black cast member, to address the group about her work. She is a cleaning woman who, on her hands and knees, is greeted as she scrubs the front steps of a home adjacent to the theater workshop.

In the final complication of the chapter Karim presents Anwar, the character he has chosen, to the cast members. He is accused of portraying self-hatred. The accusation begins with the other black cast member, who believes Karim is revealing a white person's prejudice against people of color or revealing struggles that black people face as weakness. Karim believes he is honestly portraying Anwar's choices. It would seem no one, black or white, can agree on what racial difference means or how to behave with respect to differences in race and class.

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