In 1940, Kip was in Westbury, England, with Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, and Mr. Fred Harts. Kip was fond of Miss Morden, and she was the first Englishwoman he had ever spoken to. As the second son in his family, it was always expected that Kip would become a doctor and his older brother would join the army, but the war changed all that. Kip joined a Sikh regiment and went to England, where he joined a bomb unit. At the time, there were 25 bomb units total, and they had little technical equipment.
Here, Kip’s culture is completely disregarded and disrupted by the war. As a British colony, Indian men were expected to fight for the British, and cultural expectations and traditions did not matter. Kip is expected to put his life on the line for people he doesn’t know and doesn’t interact with, and he is given few resources, which suggests the British military cares little if he is killed in the process.
While Kip was training, he learned that the most dangerous bombs did not explode until after they landed. Unexploded bombs littered the European countryside, waiting to be tripped by unsuspecting soldiers, civilians, and animals. By August of 1940, there were 2,500 unexploded bombs, and by September that number grew to 3,700. The life expectancy of a sapper in a bomb unit was around 10 weeks.
This reflects the abject violence and destruction of the war. Bombs were constructed to inflict the maximum amount damage and death, and the climbing number of unexploded bombs adds to the trauma of Kip’s experience. He diffuses multiple bombs each day, which as an isolated incident would be bad enough, but Kip is forced to do it time and time again.
“Lord Suffolk was the best of the English,” Kip tells Hana. While in England, Kip quickly found the best places to drink tea, and Lord Suffolk would join him for a cup. He told Kip that he trusted him as he did Miss Morden and Mr. Harts, and Lord Suffolk and Kip soon grew close. Kip was just 21 then, and he was a long way from his family in the Punjab.
Kip’s love of English tea reflects his assimilation to English ways, but it has a more ironic connection as well. In colonizing India, England became rich through “tea estates” where indentured servants—enslaved Indians—were forced to harvest tea for the English.
When Kip had first applied to Lord Suffolk’s bomb unit, he was led into a library for testing with 15 other men, none of whom were Indian. Miss Morden sat at a nearby desk, staring at him. Kip took a book off a shelf, Pierre; or The Ambiguities, and felt the woman’s eyes on him. She had probably never seen a turban, Kip thought. Putting the book back, Kip couldn’t believe the English. They expected him to fight for them, but they wouldn’t talk to him.
This, too, reflects the racism of colonialism. Miss Morden watches Kip move around the library with suspicion, which he assumes is because of his turban. Kip’s selection of Herman Melville’s Pierre; or The Ambiguities has subtle meaning here. Ambiguity means being open to more than one interpretation—Melville’s book, for instance, is at once a novel but is also autobiographical, depending on the interpretation. Similarly, Kip seems to suggest here that Miss Morden should be open to more than one interpretation, beyond the racist assumptions of colonialism, regarding his turban and Indian identity.
When Lord Suffolk finally arrived at the library, the testing for the bomb unit began. Kip breezed through each round and began to believe that he would be easily admitted if not for his race. He was, however, one of three selected by Lord Suffolk at the recommendation of Miss Morden. “I know you don’t drink,” Miss Morden had said to Kip when she arrived with two glasses of sherry—one for Lord Suffolk, one for herself—to celebrate Kip’s acceptance. “Congratulations,” they said, raising their glasses.
While Lord Suffolk and Miss Morden seem to accept Kip easily enough, they still disregard his culture and identity. They are celebrating Kip’s accomplishment, yet they choose to celebrate in a way that excludes him. Had they really wanted to celebrate Kip and his accomplishment, they would actually focus on Kip and celebrate in a manner in which he can actually partake.
Kip traveled England with Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, Mr. Harts—“the Holy Trinity”—and five other sappers. After Kip had been in the unit for about one year, Lord Suffolk, Miss Morden, and Mr. Harts were killed in the explosion in Erith. Kip had been in London diffusing a different bomb when he learned of their deaths. Two bomb disposal officer had come to inform Kip, and they also told him that there was another bomb like the one that had killed the Holy Trinity. They needed Kip to diffuse it.
Kip looks to Lord Suffolk like a father figure, yet he has no time to mourn this profound loss. He must immediately go to Erith and diffuse the bomb—the same kind of bomb his mentor was unable to diffuse. The stress and trauma of such a situation is unimaginable, and it is more evidence of the hardships Kip is made to endure because of the war.
Holding back his emotions, Kip went to Erith with Hardy but insisted on diffusing the bomb alone. The bomb was a “trick,” Kip tells Hana. He was lucky to have figured it out, but he had loved Lord Suffolk, and he now carried more of Lord Suffolk’s knowledge than any other sapper. Kip was used to his “invisibility” and being ignored by the other soldiers. He was merely an “anonymous member of another race,” but with his knowledge of bombs, he was expected to carry on Lord Suffolk’s work.
This is more evidence of the racism Kip must face in the British military. The men in Kip’s unit obviously do not respect him because of his Indian identity, yet he is the best bomb specialist among them. They should respect him for doing what the rest of them can’t, but instead they ignore him and treat him as if he is invisible.
Kip tells Hana about his older brother, who refused to fight in the war. “He refused to agree to any situation where the English had power,” Kip says, and his brother was soon thrown into jail for his resistance. Kip believes his brother is still alive, but is probably still sitting in jail.
Kip’s brother also illustrates the blatant racism and injustice of colonialism. Kip and his brother are wholly oppressed by the British, as their country and culture have been completely taken over by colonialism. Kip’s brother thus refuses to fight, and possibly die, for his oppressors.