My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. I am often considered to be a funny kind of Englishman, a new breed as it were, having emerged from two old histories. But I don’t care –Englishhman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere. 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. Or perhaps t was being brought up in the suburbs that di dit. Anyway, why search the inner room when it’s enough to say that I was looking for trouble, any kind of movement, action and sexual interest I could find because things were so gloomy, so slow and heavy, in our family, I don’t know why. Quite frankly, it was all getting me down and I was ready for anything.
Then one day everything changed… I was seventeen…
On this day my father hurried home from work not in a gloomy mood. His mood is high, for him. I could smell the train on him as he put his briefcase away behind the front door and took off his raincoat… He grabbed my fleeing little brother, Allie, and kissed him ; he kissed my mother and me with enthusiam, as if he ‘d recently been rescued from an earthquake. More normally, he handed Mum his supper : a packet of kebabs and chapatis so greasy their paper wrapper had disintegrated. Next, instead of flopping into a chair to watch the television news and wait for Mum to put the warmed-up food on the table, he went into their bedroom, which was downstairs next to the living room. He quickly stripped to his vest and underpants.
« Fetch the pink towel, » he said to me.
I did so. Dad spread it on the bedroom floor and fell on to his knees. I wondered if he’d suddenly taken up religion. But no, he placed his arms beside his head and kicked himself into the air.
« I must practise, » he said in a stifled voice.
Practise for what ? I said reasonably, watching him with interest and suspicion.
« They’ve called me for the damn yoga Olympics, »he said. He easily became sarcastic, Dad.
He was standing on his head now, balanced perfectly… Like many indians he was small, but Dad was also elegant and handsome, with delicate hands and manners ; beside him most Englishmen looked like clumsy giraffes. He was broad and strong too : when young he’d been a boxer and fanatical chest-expander. He was as proud of his chest as our next-door neighbours were of their kitchen range…
Soon, my mother, who was in the kitchen as usual, came into the room and saw Dad practising for the yoga Olympics. He hadn’t done this for months, so she knew something was up… Mum was a plump and unphysical woman with a pale round face and kind brown eyes. I imagined that she considered her body to be an inconvenient object surrounding her, as if she were stranded on an unexplored desert island. Mostly she was a timid and compliant person, but when exasperated she could get nervily aggressive, like now.
« Allie, go to bed » she said sharply to my brother… He was wearing a net to stop his hair going crazy when he slept. She said to Dad, « Oh God, Haroon, all the front of you sticking out like that and everyone can see ! She turned to me. ‘You encourage him to be like this. At least pull the curtains !
It’s not necessary, Mum. There isn’t another house that can see us for a hundred yards – unless they’re watching through binoculars. »
That’s exactly what they are doing, she said.
I pulled the curtains on the back garden. The room immediately seemed to contract. Tension rose. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house now. I always wanted to be somewhere else, I don’t know why.
When Dad spoke his voice came out squashed and thin.
« Karim, read to me in a very clear voice from the yoga book. »
I ran and fetched Dad’s preferred yoga book – Yoga for Women, with pictures of healthy women- from among his other books on Budhism, Sufism, Confucianism and Zen…
He grunted his approval at each sentence and opened hs eyes, seeking out my mother, who had closed hers…
« I feel better. I can feel myself coming old, you see. » He softened. « By the way, Margaret, coming to Mrs Kay’s tonight ? She shook her head. « Come on, sweetie. Let’s go out together and enjoy ourselves, eh ?
« But it isn’t me that Eva wants to see, » » Mum said. « She ignores me… I’m not Indian enough for her. I’m only English. »
« I know you’re only English, but you could wear a sari. » He laughed.
« Special occasion, too, » said Dad, « tonight »
« What is it Dad ? »
« You know, they’ve so kindly asked me to speak on one or two aspects of Oriental philosophy. »
Dad spoke quickly and then tried to hide his pride in this honour, this proof of his importance… This was my opportunity.
I’ll come with you to Eva’s if you want me to.
« Ok, Dad said to me, »you get changed, Karim. He turned to Mum. He wanted her to be with him, to witness him being respected by others. ‘If only you’d come, Margaret. »
« Say goodbye to your mom, »he said…
Dad and I got out of the house.
It wasn’t far, about four miles to the Kays’, but Dad would never have got there without me. I knew all the streets and every bus route.
Dad had been in Britain since 1950 –over ttenty years –and for fifteen of those years he’d lived in the South London suburbs. Yet still he stumbled around the place like an Indian just off the boat, and asked questions like, « Is Dover in Kent ? I’d have thought, as an employee of the British Government… a one as him, he’d just have to know these things. I sweated with embarrassment when he halted strangers in the street to ask directions to places that were a hundred yards away in an area where he’d lived for almost two decades.
The Budha of Suburbia from Hanif KUREISHI (Part 1 : In the suburbs)
2.Make a portrait of Karim (age, origin/race, place of birth, origin of parents, brothers and sisters)
3.What is the main event taking place all through this passage ?
4.What are the main aspects of the life of an Indian in London (tolerance, prejudices, exoticism, attachment, rejection to traditions.
5.Compare karim’s portrait of his father and mother. Which portrait is more positive ? What can you say about it ?6.To what extent can you link the sentence « I always wanted to be somewhere else, I don’t know why » to the notion of identity ?