As the only character of color in the novel, attention is repeatedly drawn to Kip’s differences, often through his turban, which is an ongoing symbol of his Indian identity. When Kip first arrives at the Italian villa while Hana plays the piano during a thunderstorm, Hana catches a quick glimpse of Kip’s turban as lightning streaks the room and immediately knows he is a Sikh. When Hana sees Kip’s turban, she is “somewhat amazed.” This reaction is contrast to when Morden (the secretary of Kip’s military mentor) first encounters Kip—she is obviously suspicious of the Indian man, following him with her eyes around the room. “She [has] probably never seen a turban before,” Kip thinks, feeling Miss Morden’s eyes upon him. He knows that his turban is not only an obvious emblem of his native culture, but a representation of the stark cultural divide between himself as an Indian man and the West at large.
Kip does willingly conform to Western culture as a sapper in the British military, but he is never without his turban for the entirety of the novel. Each day when he emerges from his tent near the orchard of the villa, Kip’s military uniform is “immaculate,” and his turban is “symmetrically layered.” At one point, Kip is caught in a sudden rainstorm, and he immediately removes the wet turban and winds a dry one around his head. Kip’s turban remains the one undeniably Indian part of him in the whitewashed British military, but after atomic bombs are dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he removes his turban. The tragedy of the bombings convince Kip that the East will never be fully accepted by the West; however, he doesn’t remove his turban to deny his native identity. On the contrary, Kip feels a certain kinship with the Japanese, so he removes his turban and places his long, dark hair in a topknot, a traditional hairstyle popular in Asia, especially in Japan. When Kip removes his turban and dons a topknot, he does so in solidarity as a fellow Asian and promptly leaves Europe, returning to India and his native culture.
Kip’s Turban Quotes in The English Patient
He looked back at the others, peered around the room and caught the gaze of the middle-aged secretary. She watched him sternly. An Indian boy. He smiled and walked towards the bookshelves. Again he touched nothing. At one point he put his nose close to a volume called Raymond, or Life and Death by Sir Oliver Hodge. He found another, similar title. Pierre, or the Ambiguities. He turned and caught the woman’s eyes on him again. He felt as guilty as if he had put the book in his pocket. She had probably never seen a turban before. The English! They expect you to fight for them but won’t talk to you. Singh. And the ambiguities.
Before light failed he stripped the tent of all military objects, all bomb disposal equipment, stripped all insignia off his uniform. Before lying down he undid the turban and combed his hair out and then tied it up into a topknot and lay back, saw the light on the skin of the tent slowly disperse, his eyes holding onto the last blue of light, hearing the drop of wind into windlessness and then hearing the swerve of the hawks as their wings thudded. And all the delicate noises of the air.