England The Immigrant Experience And

England, The Immigrant Experience, And ‘The Buddha Of Suburbia’ And ‘The Black Album’ By Hanif Kure Essay, Research Paper This paper is an investigation of the way in which ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’

England, The Immigrant Experience, And ‘The Buddha Of Suburbia’ And ‘The Black Album’ By Hanif Kure Essay, Research Paper

This paper is an investigation of the way in which ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’

and ‘The black Album’, both by Hanif Kureishi deal with the 1980-90s

second-generation immigrant experience of South Asians in British society.

To do this, the assistance of three questions have been employed to guide the

answer: what are the consequences of embracing the borderlessness of hybridity

for the main characters? what is achieved for the main characters whether by

gain or loss, from creating borders in tradition of authenticity? And finally,

where can political agency be located if not in resistance to some border, be it

morality, religion or philosophy?

By examining these questions within their contexts and through exploration of

the language of both texts the (dis)location of resistance that develops out of

second-generation immigrants’ dual experiences of discrimination and upward

mobility have been compared; realising the basic stance of both novels is to

imply acceptance of the reality of people of colour by White Britain (both the

establishment and the working classes).

In this paper the subject of the second generation immigration experience of

the South Asians in British society is explored, in the context of ‘The Buddha

of Suburbia’ and ‘The Black Album’ by Hanif Kureishi, primarily in the decade

between 1980 and 1990.

This is a period after the surge of immigrants to Britain from the 1950s and

60s from the New Commonwealth countries: West Indies, India, Pakistan and

Bangladesh, who came in search of a better life in a thriving economy, for the

hope of finding employment and success through the superior education system.

Also purely for the prestige that is automatically attached onto them for living

in the United Kingdom, especially in London, Birmingham and Bradford.

” … Dad was sent to England by his family to be educated … Like Gandhi

and Jinnah before him, Dad would return to India a qualified and polished

English gentleman lawyer and an accomplished ballroom dancer.” – The Buddha of

Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1990, page 94

This extract from ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ illustrates Kureishi’s intentions

to establish the psychology and circumstance behind his character which provide

the background from which the proceeding actions are caused. This also allows

the reader to understand the stance of the character and his respective view

point, hence the reader can associate with the character and his subsequent

behaviour. The idea of going to Britain and being educated in the western style

and living among Westerners assumes a great deal about the future of this

action. From this quotation the assumption is clearly to do with upward-mobility

in society, both in England and the home country. Yet whether this is degrading

of the pursuers own culture is an argument to be considered. An extract from

‘The Black Album’, portrayed as an opinion of a character, opposes the ideas

presented in ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ directly.

” … he asserted that Papa’s generation, with their English accents, foreign

degrees and British snobbery, assumed their own people were inferior. They

should be forced to go into villages and live among the peasants, as Gandhi had

done.” – The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 91-92

It seems that this upward-mobility of the characters sacrifices their

cultural background, and in some respects, it leaves them vulnerable to such

attacks as above. However, to take Gandhi as an example, as he features in both

quotations, it is possible to move up in the ladder of life and social-literacy

without loosing the essential cultural background that is ones identity.

This form of description is carried out in both books and seems to be a

characteristic of Kureishi’s writing; his in-depth references to actual people,

events and literature (which has the same strength of interest in both Karim and

Shahid), brings greater ‘realism’ and background to the novels’ ideas as their

history coincides with the characters’ daily lives.

The immigrants who first came to Britain were ambitious, and also na?ve as to

the hardships and difficulties to be endured in city life. An example of such an

ambitious character is that of Shahid’s father in ‘The Black Album’:

“…Papa hated anything ‘old-fashioned’, unless it charmed tourists. He

wanted to tear down the old; he liked ‘progress’. ‘I only want the best,’ he

would say, meaning the newest, the latest, and, somehow, the most ostentatious.”

- The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 39

Chili (in the same book) is the eldest son of the ‘ostentatious’ father, who

has adapted with encouragement from his father to life in the city.

” … In Chili’s hand were his car keys, Ray-Bans and Marlboros … Chili

drank only black coffee and neat Jack Daniel’s; his suits were Boss, his

underwear Calvin Klein, his actor Pacino. His barber shook his hand, his

accountant took him to dinner, his drug dealer would come to him at all hours

… Now Chili claimed that the family business had to expand – to London.” – The

Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 38

Here, as well as describing the physical appearance of the character,

Kureishi also appoints a life-style to him which reflects the second generation

immigrant’s conformity to, and acceptance of the western materialistic society

that dominates around them, rejecting their own traditions of home and family -

where Chili is reluctant to live with his wife Zulma, and prefers the company of

more promiscuous women. Despite these traits Chili is “rarely disrespectable,

and he never hit her’, so showing the reader he is not wholly without morals,

and also that the second generation immigrant is not a ‘bad’ person but a

disillusioned one. Riaz refers to him as ‘a dissipater’ because of his

promiscuous nature, money-hungry attitude and dealings with drugs; Kureishi

chooses this word to form the idea of a rebel who does not conform to his own

kind, but indulges merely in pleasure, possibly without necessary cause or

greater understanding. Coming from moderately well-off families (such as

Karim Hassan’s father in ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’) these immigrants expected

life in Britain to be as good if not better. However, politicians such as Enoch

Powell spoke out against immigration, making life very challenging if not

difficult for them. To provide a context for the events of the decade between

the 1980s/90s and so clarify the situation around which both of the novels and

based, some social history is referred to:

During the 1980s/90s four thousand miners were made redundant, and British

shipbuilding hit an all-time low. The overall mood of Britain was a mixture of

bitter-hatred and longing for better times. The job-losses were made harder to

bear as the areas affected were already ones of high unemployment. In addition

to this, in keeping with past political philosophy, the Conservative Party

announced a programme of privatisation, selling public assets to private

shareholders. Mrs. Thatcher’s popularity fell, and people became more interested

in materialistic, technological products. The British Nationality Act was put

into operation to keep immigration under control in 1983, most of whom were

channelled into manual employment and racial discrimination was evidently

abundant in housing, education and public life. It was during this period that

the commission for Racial Equality was set up to bring harmony to race

relations. Still, social unrest pursued in the form of serious race rioting

mainly in Birmingham, Bradford, London, Leeds and Wolverhampton. In both of

his works, Kureishi refers to the unrest of racial conflict, enhancing the

’cause’ through religious belief and political stances – in ‘The Black Album’

Shahid, Riaz, Hat, Chad and other boys and girls from the college go to ‘guard’

a Bangali family from the deep-racial harassment they faced from twelve and

thirteen year olds: ” … The husband had been smashed over the head with a

bottle and taken to hospital. The wife had been punched. Lighted matches had

been pushed through the letter-box. At all hours the bell had been rung and the

culprits said they would slaughter the children.” – The Black Album, Hanif

Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 90

And in ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’, Karim is restricted from seeing his friend

Helen by her father:

” … ‘We don’t like it,’ Hairy Back said. ‘However many niggers there are,

we don’t like it. We’re with Enoch. If you put one of your black ‘ands near my

daughter I’ll smash it with a ‘ammer! With a ‘ammer!’ ” – The Buddha of

Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1990, page 40

Kureishi moves on to question whether violence can be attributed to ‘living

in ugliness’. In the estate where the Bangali family is being guarded, there is

a high level of racism; could this be due to unemployment, powerlessness, lack

of food and under-education? Dr. Brownlow, Deedee Osgood’s ex-husband and the

students’ lecturer, defends this as the problem. He is contended against by

Riaz, the fundamentalist and leader of the student revolutionaries, who argues

how privilaged they are living in Britain; to be able to vote, ‘have housing,

electricity, heating, TV, fridges, hospitals nearby’, while “‘ … our brothers

in the Third World, as you like to call most people other than you, have a

fraction of this …’” yet they are neither “‘ … racist skinheads, car

thieves, rapists … No they are humble, good, hard-working people who love

Allah!’”- The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 95

Kureishi developes the idea of religion as an integral part of politics and

as a requirement for liberation, equality, and racial unity. He underlines the

importance of faith in the second generation immigrant as a ‘tag’ that makes

them human, and shows how far it goes to unite ‘brothers and sisters’ together

in harmonised respect and trust towards Allah, and a sense of belonging.

” The religious enthusiasm of the younger generation, and its links to strong

political feeling, had surprised him.” – The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber

and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 91

The second generation’s faith in ‘The Black Album’ is much stronger than of

the first, this is apparent as neither Shahid nor Chili had been taught about

religion (is this also a reason for Chili to be labelled a dissipator?) by their

parents. Kureishi portrays these ideas through the eyes of Shahid, who’s

ignorance towards religion provides an unbiased insight as to its ‘workings’.

“Observing the mosque, in which all he saw were solid, material things, and

looking along the line of brothers’ faces upon which spirituality was taking

place, he felt a failure.” – The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber

Ltd, 1995, page 96 Shahid is uncertain and doubtful, but realises that:

“…faith, like love or creativity, could not be willed. This was an adventure

in knowing. He had to follow the presciptions and be patient. Understanding

would surely follow; he would be blessed.” – The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi,

Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995, page 96

Even this seems to be the wrong way to approach faith towards God, and the

author himself feels it is a fruitless endeavour when one seeks faith because it

is popular to do so, or because one feels left out without it. Kureishi’s

depiction of Shahid’s uncertainty in his religion makes the reader, who

associates with him as the central character, doubt what Riaz and his posse

stand for in general because the questioning brings forward the lack of evidence

which is involved in faith to God. The reader finds him/herself in the same

position Kureishi puts Shahid in, tempted by passion of sex, the lure of drugs,

the reader feels he has been cheated in some way for his/her own beliefs, taken

in by a deception.

Karim is also absorbed by his father’s spirituality, affectionately calling

him ‘God’ for his accomplishment at conducting yoga sessions with Eva and a

hoard of other converts in ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’. But, like Shahid, Kureishi

puts Karim not without doubt, and distances from the core of belief. The

children of the first immigrants have come to find themselves living in a

divided world, in a state of limbo between cultures and traditions. They were

seen as unwelcome outsiders by the White majority and shunned by their families

back in their own countries for being too western. They were labelled as

‘coconuts’ and ‘paki’, degraded, hated for their colour and rejected for their

‘hybridised’ cultures.

‘ … Perhaps it is the odd mixture of continents and blood, of here and

there, of belonging and not, that makes me restless and easily bored … I was

looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could

find.’ – The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1990, page

3 All of this furthered and increased the (dis)location of resistance in the

relationship between the second generation immigrant and the dominant culture of

the white citizens; which is based around ‘a background of raves, ecstasy,

religious ferment and sexual passion.’. This is observed when Shahid and his

lover and lecturer Deedee Osgood go out into the night-clubs of London -

resistance is directed towards religious disbelief on the part of Shahid, and

Riaz responds to preach: ” … ‘Must we prefer this indulgence to the

profound and satisfying comforts of religion? Surely, if we cannot take the

beliefs of millions of people seriously, what then? We believe in nothing! We

are animals living in a cesspool, not humans in a liberal society.’” – The Black

Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1995

Both of these novels consider a genre preoccupied in both conserving and

disrupting conventions, and political and religious borders through the process

of hybridity – a popular culture derived from implications of racial and

cultural mix vie with spiritual practices and orientations from many corners of

the world to indicate paths by which one may further ‘realise’ ones experiences

- and authenticity as practised by the second generation of immigrants.

In both novels the experience of ethnic discrimination govern the social and

economic order of the nation to ‘determine’ (not ’cause’) the whole cultural

life of society, and create a need for resistance which is only further

complicated by the simultaneous yearnings for upward mobility – the need for

recognition – within the economic and social-cultural structure. So, what are

the consequences of embracing the borderlessness of hybridity for the main

character? What is achieved for the main character whether by gain or loss, from

creating borders in tradition or authenticity? Where can political agency be

located if not in resistance to some border, be it morality, religion or

philosophy? To answer these questions one must fully determine Kureishi’s

focus on the subjects of ethnicity and class as well.

A reader of ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ may feel it is appropriate for the

narration to be done by the main character, giving him a chance to express his

deeper, more personal emotions and thoughts throughout the story; also keeping

in mind ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ is a comedic novel, this provides the

opportunity for Kureishi to explore the humorous and absurd innuendoes within

every-day life itself, deliberately forcing the reader to enter the characters’

mind and perceiving through his eyes, taking what is said to be fact without


In ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ the focus is perceived through a seventeen year

old Karim Amir, a mixed child of an immigrant from Bombay and a lower-middle

class English woman, Haroon and Margaret, driven by hormones and lured by the

sense of danger in seeking release from the status quo. Kureishi identifies the

character of Karim as being a ‘new breed’ as the second generation of the

immigrants living in England; a direct product of transmigration and interracial

marriage creating an almost chaotic jumble and confusion of feelings within him,

and a non-linear – contrary to tradition – set of beliefs/principals that

present an inherent restlessness and the need for change and resistance.

Kureishi constantly flips between the lives of the characters and the

perception of life as experienced by Karim. he is placed in the midst of a

polarised society; where radicalism is contradicted by convention, to be

different is to be cool; two ideas presented through Margaret (the

traditionalist) and Mrs. Eva Kay (new-age spiritualist and radical); and a

transition (a disruption) in the family mainly induced by his father’s renewed

and revitalised interest in spiritual practice in conjunction with Eva. Hanif

Kureishi’s exploration and critique of the stigma’s of progression as seen in

both novels and continuity of the western tradition cross-fertilising with a

multitude of cultural and religious beliefs, for instance, the teachings of

Buddhism. The desire to shift toward novel, foreign, or iconoclastic teachings -

or to reconcile more familiar faiths to unfamiliar ones – expresses a timely and

healthy impulse to include a wider world in to humanity.

By making the character firstly accept his own predicament by stating it,

Kureishi goes on to develop Karim, as well as introduce the reader to the

differing facets of his life: friends, sexual interests, family, and so on.

In ‘The Black Album’ focus is perceived through the eyes of Shahid Hassan who

is a teenage student of a rundown inefficient college in London, and a Muslim

second generation immigrant. Kureishi introduces the reader and Shahid to

hybridity – the Multi-culturalism – present all ready in London’s streets and

society; we are made to observe the compact way in which the different cultures

fit together, obscured further by the disordered nature of the college students.

For both immigrants and native-born members of the working and lower-middle

classes, notions of culture and class authenticity help to demarcate borders for

both progressive and conservative forces. Resistance based on authenticity,

however, often flounders when it becomes an officially sanctioned site of

marginality within the dominant culture. Hybridity reflects both groups’

investment in the dominant culture, but can obscure the borders which mark the

unequal power relationship between ethnic groups. The fate of Kureishi’s

second-generation, upwardly mobile characters in both novels interrogates both

the alteration of traditional radical resistance through hybridity and the

culture-wide transformation potential created by the upward mobility of the

second-generation within the dominant cultural system, realising the basic

stance of both novels is to imply acceptance of the reality of people of colour

by White Britain (both the establishment and the working classes).

It seems that when one is promised new kinds of experience, one is led to

suppose that one has long been involved in illusion, ignorance, or error. One

may regard both oneself and the patterns and meaning of the world’s claims upon

one’s life as at fault: so if one awakens it will be because one has somehow

escaped from (or struggled above) what one has become used to – and often the

shakles are named to be the entire western tradition.


? The Buddha Of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd., 1990 ?

The Black Album, Hanif Kureishi, Faber and Faber Ltd., 1995 ? Mastering

Economis and Social History, David Taylor, The Macmillan press Ltd., 1988 ?

A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory, Raman Selden, The Harvester

Press, 1985 ? Comparative Religion, A.C.Bouquet, Penguin Books, 1960s ?

Anti-D?hring (Herr Eugen D?hring’s Revolution in Science), Frederick Engels,

Foreign Languages Press Peking, 1976 ? http://www.ibo.org/archives.htm