This Project will focus on the fiction of Hanif Kureishi, namely; The Buddha of suburbia, The Black Album, My Son the fanatic and Something to tell you. It will explore the ways in which Kureishi uses overlapping constructs of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion to inflect the postcolonial identities of his fictional characters. The theoretical interventions of Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall amongst others will provide the framework of this project. In relation to postcolonial theory, this project will focus on Anglo-Asian identities in metropolitan locations, and their correlation with ambivalent notions of diaspora, hybridity, in-betweeness and liminality. Furthermore, with the use of Kureishi’s non-fictional works, this project will also investigate the affect of racial and cultural clashes on defensive migrant cultures, and how this often drive’s them to live up to their Stereotype-based expectancies.
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The term hybridity is one of the most recurring theoretical leitmotivs in postcolonial studies. There are several variants of the meaning of the term hybridity, but on the simplest level, hybridity is used to denote a racial mix. Karim, the protagonist of The Buddha of Suburbia (from here onwards Buddha), and Jamal the central character of Something to Tell You (Something), are both, (like Kureishi) of Anglo-Asian descent. Simultaneously, their hybridity allows them to have English-Christian and Indian-Muslim roots. The amalgamation of the (Muslim) Indian/Pakistani culture and the English ‘white’ culture existent in these characters also depicts the hybridity of cultural identities. Though the concept of hybridity originated in the work of Bhabha, this thesis will focus on John McLeod’s interpretation of this notion.
By definition, Diaspora is a dispersion of people from their original homeland, referring to any widespread migrant group. Diaspora communities, in other words, first-generation migrants are said to experience a complexity, diversity, and fluidity of identities. Thus, it will be argued that even the characters with a purely Asian heritage (especially second-generation migrants) have a hybrid ‘British Asian’ identity as they have contact with two differing cultures. Diasporas are of importance to postcolonial studies as the descendents of these people often construct a culture that both preserves and builds on the principles of their original culture. For Salman Rushdie this leads to the emergence of ‘Imaginary Homelands’.
First and second-generation migrants are likely to experience a feeling of homelessness; metaphorically rather than literally. This feeling of homelessness or rootlessness is reflective of displacement from the dominant culture of the host nation. In addition, the term In-Betweenness will also be used to refer to a state of cultural displacement, representing the limbo associated with liminality. In-betweenness implies a niche on the margins of cultures, and the spaces between cultures that are likely to be occupied by migrant communities. Liminality will also be used to denote the space between the competing Anglo-Asian cultural traditions experienced by Kureishi’s characters. A person described as being in a state of liminality is usually not fully accepted in either of the two (or more) cultures they are associated with. Rushdie eloquently expresses how; “Identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.” 
As already mentioned, this chapter will highlight the ways in which Kureishi dismantles and subverts pre-conceived notions of cultural identities. Buddha is by and large an account of how racial groupings need to be defied and destabilised by individuals like Karim, and Jamal who struggle to fit into one, tidy category. In an interview, Kureishi commented on his experience as a mixed race child growing up in a white suburb. He explained how the debauched language used to refer to immigrants and their families had helped fix and limit his identity. Thus, it can be argued that through his story-telling, Kureishi endeavours to undo this stasis and craft a more fluid and dense self. Kureishi, Jamal and Karim’s hybridity, allow Kureishi to dismantle these inflexible perceptions of cultural identity.
Like a newborn child traditionally takes its father’s surname; cultural identity is also usually passed down from the father. However, despite Karim’s father (Haroon) being Indian; in the very first page, Karim describes himself as; “an Englishman born and bred, almost.” (BOS, 3) By almost, Karim means hybrid. It is later apparent that Karim seeing himself as an ‘Englishman’ is instilled in him by Margaret (his English mother) who tells him; “[…] you’re not an Indian. You’ve never been to India […] who gave Birth to you? You’re an Englishman, I’m glad to say.” (BOS, 232) Is Karim denying his Asian roots or is he simply going by the culture he is in touch with on a daily basis? Kureishi in his non-fiction writing admits the struggle he had with his cultural identity while growing up in racist England; “from the start I tried to deny my Pakistani self. I was ashamed. It was a curse and I wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to be like everyone else.” (RS, pg.9) By being ‘like everyone else’ Kureishi is likely to be referring to both his white peers because they belong to the dominant culture and because they can not be said to be in a state of liminality. Kureishi’s longing to fit in is something all his characters crave for:
“The London I liked was the city of exiles, refugees and immigrants […] people who didn’t have a place and didn’t know who they were. The city from the point of view of my father.” (STY, 40)
In this quote Jamal describes the sense of homelessness and rootlessness many first-generation immigrants experienced, and as seen in Kureishi’s fiction, this sense of in-betweenness is also experienced by second-generation migrants. However, unlike Karim, Jamal does not seem to struggle with a feeling of racial in-betweeness; which could be down to the age gap as Jamal is probably old enough to be Karim’s father. In addition, Jamal is able to associate himself with the ‘Indians’ which Karim struggles with at first. Despite this, the death of Jamal’s father severs ‘the Indian threads’, and like Karim realises; “if I wanted the additional personality bonus of an Indian past, I would have to create it.” (BOS 213) Karim and Jamal feel no pure connection to their (Asian) cultural and religious heritage and so Karim is forced to settle for being a “funny kind of Englishman”. (BOS, 3) Chad, an Asian character who was adopted (by white people) struggles to come to terms with his disconnection with British society and his Pakistani roots; “In England white people looked at him as if he were going to steal their car or their handbag […] but in Pakistan they looked at him even more strangely.” (BA, 113)
Like many first-generation characters, Chad experiences a feeling of displacement and expresses his anxiety of being “homeless” and having “no country”. (BA, 114) Like Jamal’s father goes back to Pakistan because of feelings of alienation, Anwar also grows tired of England. According to Wohlsein; “[Anwar] realises that he is in the very middle of two cultures, and has lost touch with both of them.  Shahid’s uncle argues that developing a sense of belonging is not as simple as migrants might first anticipate; “It takes several generations to become accustomed to a place. We think we’re settled down but we’re like brides who’ve just crossed the threshold.” (BA, 59)
” Most whites considered Asians to be ‘inferior’, less intelligent, less everything good. Not that we were called Asian then. Officially as it were, we were called immigrants, I think. Later for political reasons, we were ‘blacks’. But we always considered ourselves to be Indians.” (STY, 36)
Society is obsessed with clear-cut definitions of cultural or ethnic identity. This idea of labelling ourselves and others, and putting them into neat clusters, which (in theory) do not spill over onto each other, is world-wide and incessant. Thus, not being able to pigeon-hole somebody as either ‘Black’ or white’ can be problematic for society and the individual. Surely this act of differentiating between races only propagates racism and feelings of inadequacy? A person of hybrid identity is even more at risk as they are not easily categorised; they are often referred to in derogatory terms, such as when Miriam (Jamal’s sister) is called; “half Indian, half-idiot […] The mongrel dog.” (STY, 15)
How society labels individuals yet groups them into categories such as race and ethnicity can often limit an individual who is brandished as ‘Asian’. Unlike Jamal who “more or less passed for white” (STY, 36) and Anwar who was “so pale that no one could possibly call him a darkie or black bastard” (BOS,79), others a forced to change their ‘ethnic’ name in order to blend in with British ‘white’ society. We are informed by Karim; “My brother Amar […] called himself Allie to avoid racial trouble.” (BOS, 19) Similarly, Mustaq (whom Kureishi compares to Freddie Mercury) experiences a reincarnation by changing his name to ‘George Cage’. Much to his delight Mustaq explains; “Because of my “pop” name and fair skin I haven’t been mistaken for a Paki for years.” (STY, 161) For some, Allie and Mustaq would appear to be the prototype of the totally assimilated second generation British Asian, who consciously rejects every link and association with their origin. However, Kureishi would most probably expect a hand-full of readers to Judge Allie and Mustaq and accuse them of taking the easy route of assimilation. It would be so easy for the reader to judge these characters; however, although the text is preoccupied with Mustaq’s ‘incarnation’ it does not appear to take a position on the matter.
While individuals struggle to find a cultural identity they can call their own, they fail to realise that culture itself is socially defined and forever changing. Kureishi depicts culture as a remorseless metamorphosing monster, of which many fall prey. Culture is a social construct and a combination of what and how individuals are expected to be. Society’s cultural over-simplifications and stereotypes will trap many individuals; and many, by having a single understanding of a culture, will corner themselves. Anwar for instance, fails to see how he and his daughter Jamila are able to be many things at once. On the other hand, characters such as Karim and Haroon manage to break out of these preconceptions and stereotypes by manipulating them. Thus, the novel suggests there is no such thing as cultural authenticity, as what it ‘authentic’ is only a fictional construct and a series of expectations. To develop the idea of an authentic cultural identity, it is worth looking briefly at the character of Changez. Although, as Adami suggests, Changez does represent “the ultimate image of the stereotype of laziness & passivity associated with the colonised/immigrant.”  Culturally, Changez is not what the reader ‘expects’ him to be. Individuals, and indeed Kureishi’s characters have to produce an identity that functions for them at any given time. The character of Karim as an aspiring actor develops the idea of a flexible identity.
Buddha is also engaged with the perception of identity as performance and the theatre group’s Karim is involved with highlight this. Even outside of the theatre, all of Kureishi’s characters engage in the performance of identity, which is reflective of Bhabha’s view of cultural identity as mask and performance. This performed identity is often seen as a response or reaction to the myth of convenient archetypes. Karim and Haroon respond to how others assume they should be by, appropriating their identity to suite cultural expectations of them. Haroon’s clever marketing of culture and his appropriation of Buddhism permit him to achieve social success; something Karim attempts to do through his acting career. Karim does this with ease as many of the identities he assumes are a performance and thus, he (as well as Haroon) is able to transform a stereotype from a repressive to a rebelling one. Kureishi uses the idea of cultural expectations to make the view of a cultural identity problematic. In addition, exploring the thought of identity as performance allows Kureishi to disillusion predetermined notions of cultural identity.
“Everyone looks at you, I’m sure, and thinks: an Indian boy, how exotic, how interesting […] and you’re from Orpington.” (BOS, 141)
Haroon and Karim take full advantage of Western culture’s enthusiasm to devour images of exotic others by appropriating stereotypes and showcasing their otherness. This attraction to otherness is exemplified in characters such as Jamal’s mother, and Eva who verbalises her awareness of Karim’s contrived grandiose taste in clothing: “Karim Amir, you are so exotic, so original!” (BOS 9) Eva and Jamal’s mother’s relationships can be seen as an extension to their attraction to the ‘exotic’, for example Jamal’s mother; “collected anything ‘Eastern’ and held on to it. It was only the husband who got away”. (STY, 51) Realising “there’s nothing more fashionable than outsiders” (BA, 181), Haroon substitutes his initial attempts of integration for an assertion of cultural difference. In doing so; “[Kureishi] restores Asian reminiscences […] in the figure of the urbanised Buddha selling New Age doctrines […] a carnivalesque interpreter of the Western commercial and secular gaze onto the East […]”  In this case, the dominant culture appropriates (traditionally threatening) stereotypes so that they are no longer fearful; thus, Haroon’s ‘Indianness’ is commandeered into an agent of resistance.
While Karim, Haroon and Jamal’s analyst effectively master their ‘exotic other’ persona, Anwar, fails to strike the right balance. His extreme and sweeping return to Asian traditions renders his cultural identity inauthentic, as his return to his ‘roots’ are used as a defence mechanism. Even characters, who appear to be themselves, can be said to inhabit a borderland comprising of a mixture of society’s expectations of them and who they really are. By carrying out and repeating negative racial stereotypes Anwar performs an act of resistance in relation to the host-culture’s expectations of him. According to Adami, originally, “Anwar’s sense of modernity and progressive attitude permitted Jamila’s promiscuous and free life. But then Anwar switched into the role of the devout Muslim.” One will suggest however, that Anwar’s impulsive visits to the mosque do not necessarily coincide with a ‘devout Muslim’. Besides, not many will agree that a ‘devout Muslim’ and alcohol go hand-in-hand. Thus, Anwar’s renegade Muslim act will be interpreted as a reaction to “his daughter’s hybridity [which] comes as a shock because he fears the final disappearance of his native culture.”  Anwar’s fear is what leads to his compulsion to arrange Jamila’s marriage without her approval of her partner. This act of desperation should be seen as Anwar’s attempt to reconnect with his Indian/Pakistani cultural roots rather than a backlash to Muslim values.
Anwar fails to notice Jamila’s full-awareness and celebration of her roots, which she uses as a form of resistance against the host-culture’s antagonism of ethnic minorities. Jamila’s use of Black Feminism and her re-enacting of typecasts serve as a form of resistance, which enable her to strike fear in the dominant culture. Jamila’s ability to induce fear & anxiety in the dominant culture can be extended to forms of religious/cultural fundamentalism which will be discussed in the next chapter. Miriam is depicted as an older and more irascible version of Jamila who is a belligerent and strong-minded “Muslim single-mother […] If anyone’s got any objection I’m here to hear it!” (STY, 15) Both Buddha and Something confirm Jamila and Miriam’s cantankerous behaviours as a reaction to racism.
It is clear, that not every member of British society epitomizes Western culture’s readiness to devour images of exotic others in the same sense as say Eva and Jamal’s mother. In his true-life writings, Kureishi explains;
“I suffered as a kid in Britain from an enormous amount of racism, […] we were spat on, we were abused, we were called wogs, we were called pakis, we were chased down the street. Our lives as a Pakistani family in England were made a nightmare by racism in Britain”  .
As a result of Kureishi’s experiences, Britain as a xenophobic society is thoroughly depicted across his literature. All of Kureishi’s ethnic- minority characters experience racial abuse & ethnic discrimination. Racists, also labelled as ‘Paki-busters’ made ‘Commonwealth’ immigrants and their families feel like “third-class citizens, even lower than the white working class.” (BA, 147) The “dark-skinned [characters were] regularly insulted” (STY, 48) as they instantly fit the ‘black’ imprimatur, whereas Jamal and Karim were “more beige than anything”. (BOS, 167) Despite the fact that all if the ethnic-minority characters were classed as officially ‘black’, those that that instantly fit the bill, in terms of complexion, are subjected to an even deeper feeling of alienation and leaving them feeling as though there was something lacking in them. Like Mr Moorehouse of East is East (1998), ‘Hairy Back’ (Helen’s father), professes his solidarity with the views of Enoch Powell and prohibits Karim from seeing his daughter, and makes clear; “However many niggers there are, we don’t like it. We’re with Enoch.” (BOS 40) Powell’s extreme view encouraged prejudices and antipathy of ethnic minorities ingrained in society.
Racism exists in many forms; brazen and implicit. As well as revealing performance as being reflective of the need to construct an identity, Karim’s involvement in the theatre groups sheds light on racism in its veiled form. Karim’s excitement about being cast in show is undercut when Shadwell reminds him that he has “been cast for authenticity and not for experience”. (BOS, 147) While working as an actor Karim becomes an exotic caricature of himself as he cast as Mowgli in Shadwell’s production of The Jungle Book and play an ‘authentic’ Indian role. As Clement Ball states; “Father and son both become faux-Indians, successfully marketing back to the English warmed-over versions of their own popular appropriations of Indian culture.”  The character of Mowgli becomes divested with all its colonial trappings and an orientalised creation of Mowgli emerges. The darkening of Karim’s ‘creamy’ skin with ‘shit brown muck’;
“proves that English racism, in its various forms, operated a subtle transformation of the body and the skin through a humiliating procedure with the intent to adopt social modes of discriminating races and cultures.” 
Adami explains how, on an optical level, Karim is obligated to recognize a phony colonial identity in an allegorical surgery that bisects the anglicised boy from the clichéd Indian savage. Karim struggles with these two conflicting identities, as he fails to recognise the ‘Indian’ in him. Even Shahid, who unlike Karim, has parents who are both Indian, struggles at times to see the ‘Indian’ in him:
“I wanted to be a racist […] why can’t I be a racist like everyone else? Why do I have to miss out on that privilege? […] Why can’t I swagger around pissing on others for being inferior?” (BA, 15)
Many of Kureishi’s characters struggle with who they are culturally and on various other levels. If they cannot distinguish who they are as an individual then it is no surprise that notions of ‘us, and ‘we’ leave them perplexed. This need to divide and group society on racial grounds is directly related to cultural intolerance. Racism and cultural intolerance leads to a mentality of ‘us vs. them’ and cultural divide;
“[…] The races were divided. The Black kids stuck with each other, the Pakistanis went to one another’s houses, the Bengalis knew each other from way back.” (BA, 139)
Moreover, this divide of ‘us vs. them’ also leads to censorship when individuals are read as representative. Jamila and Tracey (Karim’s fellow black actress), are both guilty of practising a form of censorship. Tracey manages to make “One old Indian man” representative of “black and Asian people”. (BOS, 180) Buddha can be seen as a critique of Tracey as she groups ethnic minorities together by assuming that “anybody who is not white in a racist society is black”  which indicates her blindness to disparate British minority cultures. Kureishi’s criticism of Tracey, and in particular, his references to Rushdie can be read as examples of his anti-censorship stance (which will be elaborated on in the next chapter) and his warning against reading individuals as representative;
“I’m not really writing about Asians as a category […] we are all
people. I don’t think because [a character] is Asian, I have to be
reverential. That would be ridiculous. […] It’s censorship.” 
3, 465 words
dissolution/ Dismantling of Pre-Conceived
Notions of Cultural Identity
Religion & Extremism
A Question of East or West
Religion as the opium of the masses
Returning to the theme of labelling and society’s fixation on pigeon-holing individuals, Kureishi draws attention to the shifting nature of these labels;
“The use of the word Muslim is a completely new thing. Before, we were pakis, we were blacks, we were Asians. Now we are Muslims. A new imprimatur, for political reasons.” 
The branding of individuals distinguishes their difference from others; Muslim, Paki, and Asian are all labels that distinguish the bearer from their British, Christian white counterparts. When Kureishi’s young son realises he is a ‘Muslim’ (in so far that his name is Muslim), he is far from pleased; “Urgh, but they’re horrible.”  Chad on the other hand, proclaims; “No more Paki. Me a Muslim” (BA, 134), and voices his dislike of the offensive label; ‘Paki’, while also establishing his preference for a label on religious terms. The shift of cataloguing people from racial, to religious grounds creates a far larger scope as, unlike religious groups such as Sikhs, for example, Muslims are a multiethnic group. Hence, it can be argued, that the feeling of exclusion, for those in the multinational ‘Muslim’ category is minimal compared to those in the ‘Asian’ cluster. Islam as a universal religion is open to people of every race, and teaches Muslims to avoid differentiation on the basis of ethnicity and see all races as equal. British society’s inability to see all races as equal gives way to social exclusion; and causes Shahid, and many others to long for the feeling of belonging as opposed to invisibility;
“Shahid wanted a new start with new people in a new place. The city would feel like his; he wouldn’t be excluded; there has to be a way in which he could belong.” (BA, 20)
Compared to the hybrid, in-between and liminal identity examined in the first chapter, a non-negotiable and totalising religion like Islam is perfect in providing stability and security. Though it does not quite work out for him, Shahid does turn to Islam as a way of belonging. This is partly down to the initial warm and hospitable nature of Riaz and his posse, and partly down to Shahid’s experience of a mosque where “men of so many types and nationalities-Tunisians, Indians, Algerians, Scots, French-gathered […] race a class barriers had been suspended. […] Strangers spoke to one another.” (BA, 137-8) However idyllic Shahid’s description of the mosque may sound, his Muslim associates fall short in continuing Islam’s teachings of tolerance of people of all faiths. In an interview, Kureishi points out that;
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“The backgrounds of these young people’s lives include colonialism-being made to feel inferior in your own country. And then, in Britain, racism; again, being made to feel inferior in your own country. Without a doubt this is constraining, limiting, degrading, to be a victim in your own country. If you feel excluded it might be tempting to exclude others.” 
Kureishi proposes that exclusion experienced by those from previously colonised countries, and those living in a country where they are an ethnic minority, can trigger their desire to be on the dispatching end. This is certainly the case in Album, where there are hostilities between dominant white society and minority Muslims. Social groups are depicted as being at odd, and we are asked to consider;
“[…] Wasn’t the world breaking up into political and religious tribes? The divisions were taken for granted, each to his own. But where did such divides lead to, if not to different kinds of civil war? […] everyone was so hastily adhering to their own group” (BA, 140)
This ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality on racial, ethnic and religious grounds is something Kureishi uses disassemble preconceived notions of identity. “Us” in terms of Muslims, not only excludes white non-Muslims but also, for example, non-Muslims of the same racial ad ethnic background. Like many of Kureishi’s characters, Parvez was “not entirely sure who ‘our people’ were”, (SF, 297) but while the other characters fail to realise the racial implications of “we”, Ali encourages him to see “we” on a religious and cultural level. Ali’s “We”, distinguishes them as enemies of the West whose “education cultivates an anti-religious attitude.” (SF, 295) While some of the Muslim characters use derogatory terms such as ‘infidel’ to describe non-Muslim’s, characters such as Jump, happily conflate Muslims with ‘terrorists’, claiming that they “will slit the throats of us infidels as we sleep”. (BA 201-202) The method of labelling people develops from a common way of recognising members of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, as well as other groups. When mainstream society holds a certain viewpoint of a group, that viewpoint becomes a stereotype. That typecast will affect the way people regard the group being considered, resulting in a label that is symbolically forced on the associates of the group being considered.
This habit of typecasting only heightens the ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation and puts characters, like Shahid, in an awkward position. Shahid is continually asked to declare his allegiance to Islam, he only other alternative he is given is “hellfire [with the] disbelievers.” (BA, 87) Shahid’s naiveté about how serious the militant posse are about taking sides gets him in trouble at the end of the novel when he is branded as a traitor. Shahid is caught between his love-interest Deedee and the feeling of belonging, which his Muslim associates make available to him. The group demonstrate s a wildly passionate form of solidarity; both with one another, and other’s who come under the umbrella of ‘our people’; “We will fight for our people who are being tortured in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir! War has been declared against us. But we are armed.” (BA, 88) Anyone showing any sign of not being willing to fight for ‘their people’ is kindly reminded by Chad, of their answering to God and hellfire. Though hesitant at first, Shahid later begins to affiliate himself with the wider concept of ‘us’ and voices his frustration at Deedee’s criticisms;
“But we’re the victims here! And when we fight you say we’re getting worked up about nothing! You sit smoking dope all day and abuse people who actually take action.” (BA, 116)
In this quote, Shahid openly expresses his feeling of victimisation, and his belief in the need to speak up and fight back. Being deprived of an identity they can be proud of, the posse, as well as Shahid, intermittently assert their otherness, which develops into a form of resistance. By performing society’s archetypal conjectures about Muslims, they bulldoze preconceived notions of identity. In explaining the fervent Chad’s background, Deedee faults white society for being ‘too racist’ (BA 177), as did Kureishi in his explanation of the performance of Muslim radicalism amongst British Asians. Like Jamila and Miriam, but to a greater degree, Riaz and his followers are able to strike fear in the governing culture whose racism once inhibited their freedom of expression. Bhabha confirms this speculation when he proclaims;
“Political groups from different directions, refuse to homogenize their oppression, but make of it a common cause, a public image of the identity of otherness, [and the] crucial engagement between mask and identity, image and identification, from which comes the lasting tension of our freedom and the lasting impression of ourselves as others.” 
In the production of Album, Shahid’s wearing of the salwar Kameez and a white cap is a crucial moment and is highly symbolic of Bhabha’s notion of the performance of identity, in this case religious. However, one could argue that a religious group’s assertion of otherness will only amplify their disparity from British mainstream culture. This performance of an identity, this acting out of otherness, leads to the questioning of their religious authenticity. Religious fundamentalism’s ability to provoke trepidation gives them an enriching and addictive feeling of power which, because of their previously marginalised position, they are likely to have never experienced. It can be argued then, that for some this seeking of religion may be used to seek revenge and enhance their sense of identity. After all, its seems that, the ‘Muslim’ characters (especially the protagonists) were brought up in families where the practice of religion was non-existent, this is worth quoting at length;
“In Karachi, at the urging of his cousins, Shahid had been to the mosque several times. While their parents would drink bootleg whiskey and watch videos sent from England, Shahid’s young relatives and their friends gathered in the house on Fridays before going to pray. The religious enthusiasm of the younger generation, and its links to strong political feeling, had surprised him.” (BA, 97)
Parallel to Kureishi’s father, the first generation immigrants such as Haroon came from liberal middle-class Indian families and had no interest in religion,
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