How is the movement from the periphery to the center reflected in The Buddha of Suburbia?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In The Buddha of Suburbia, Kurieshi reflects the movement from periphery to center is seen in two distinct ways.  The first is literal.  There is a geographic move from periphery to center.  Karim feels compelled to leave the periphery of the South London suburbs and make his way into the heart of London.  Karim feels that what Bromley offers is peripheral in many ways.  He recognizes that staying in the suburbs will only give him a mid- level job and life.  The world that Karim covets is in London.  In this regard, the London suburbs of Bromley is peripheral.  It is a realm that lacks power and autonomy. Karim feels that Bromley and the suburban life, in general, is "‘a leaving place" and what is featured in London is far more profound.  London comes to represent "the center" because it embodies so much in way of transformation for Karim:

There was a sound that London had. … There were kids dressed in velvet cloaks who lived free lives: there were thousands of black people everywhere, so I wouldn’t feel exposed; there were bookshops with racks of magazines printed without capital letters or the bourgeois disturbance of full stops.... there were all the drugs you could use. You see, I didn’t ask much of life; this was the extent of my longing.

There is a physical move from margin to center in Karim's aspirations.  London represents a world of accomplishment, and of achievement.  When Karim arrives to London, it shows that in his own mind, he has "arrived:"  "So this was London at last, and nothing gave me more pleasure than strolling around my new possession all day."  In this regard, the movement from periphery to center is geographic.

Within this physical movement, there is a psychological understanding, as well. Underscoring Karim's desire to leave Bromley and enter into London's world is a condition of identity that struggles find the center from the periphery.  The novel's opening lines indicate this struggle is critical to Karim's characterization:

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 – Englishman I am (though not proud of it), from the South London suburbs and going somewhere.

For Karim, the ability to find his own sense of identity in a world where such issues can be muddled represents another voyage from periphery to center. Karim's understanding of identity in a period of social change in 1970s London, one that is on the verge of 1980s Thatcherism, help to make this struggle towards understanding identity a challenging notion. The social reality that represses multicultural identity and one that extols it on boutique levels help to complicate this journey of self- discovery.  Karim struggles with this internally, representing another aspect of the voyage from the periphery to center.

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