Ruskin Bond’s short story “The Eyes Are Not Here” is very brief but is also intriguingly complex. Although most worthwhile stories cannot be easily paraphrased or reduced to a single theme, this story definitely seems to deal with issues of human perception. In this tale, three people, at least, prove to be imperceptive in various ways: the unnamed man on the train, the unnamed woman on the train, the story’s reader, and, perhaps, also the new male passenger. Bond’s story is the kind of tale that makes readers want to read it immediately a second time as soon as they have finished reading it once. Only on re-reading, in fact, does the story reveal its full richness and complexity as a meditation on human perceptions and perceptiveness and how both are influenced by the assumptions we make.
Briefly, the plot of the story is this: a man (presumably a young man) is sitting in a compartment in a train when a woman (apparently a young woman) also enters the compartment. The woman doesn’t notice that the man is blind, and he does not tell her. Instead, he asks her a series of questions that allow him to infer certain facts about her. She also converses pleasantly with him. After she gets off the train at her stop, another male enters the compartment and mentions in passing that the young woman who just left the compartment was blind. Thus, the young man on the train failed to perceive that the young woman was blind, as did the reader of the story. The young woman apparently also failed to perceive that the young man was blind, and this may also be true of the male who enters the compartment near the end of the story. In a very brief tale, then, Bond has managed to create a remarkably complex story about the limits of human perception and perceptiveness and about how people tend to make assumptions and then take those assumptions for granted in ways that influence what they perceive or fail to perceive.
Once the story is re-read, the reader notices various intriguing details and clues, including the following:
- The girl’s parents are very concerned about her when she gets on the train, but both we and the young man assume that there is nothing special about their concern. It doesn’t occur to us that the girl may be blind.
- The young woman is startled when the young man speaks, but both we and he assume that she is startled simply because he is sitting in the dark. Once again, it doesn’t occur to us that the girl may be blind.
- The young male, commenting on the fact that the young woman was startled, thinks to himself,
Well, it often happens that people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them.
- Later, of course, we realize that this statement is a sly comment, by the author, on the imperceptiveness of readers. After all, it doesn’t occur to us that the girl may be startled because she is blind. We make an assumption, and then we perceive all the rest of the events in light of that assumption. So, too, does the narrator, and so the narrator’s joke at the expense of sighted people is also a joke by the author at the expense of the narrator. Rather than being offended by the author’s sly trick, we ultimately appreciate all the ways in which he tricks both us the narrator, because we (both readers and narrator) ultimately learn a very valuable lesson about the influence of initial assumptions on the ways we perceive (or fail to perceive) the world and other persons.