Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813
Ross’s rite-of-passage account is in many ways novelistic in its depiction of a young hero who is torn away from an exotic beloved place and brought to another, quite alien land, where he learns to cope with bewildering customs and unfamiliar surroundings. In his new home, he battles self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, overcoming both, then goes on to success in school, sports, and—the ultimate test—war.
His own hero, Ross envisions himself as a person who, though taking part in the grand, collective events of his day, is essentially a loner, an observer taking notes on the parade of life which passes him. For all of his courage, he is more often a man acted upon by events than one who shapes them.
Blindfold Games, Ross’s exploration of how he became the person he is today, is in most ways within the bounds of traditional autobiographical practice. Nevertheless, the subtleties of his verse allow the reader to gain a three-dimensional look at his life’s significant events in a way that a standard prose work cannot provide.
One of the book’s major themes is the universal experience of leaving home, an experience made especially poignant in Ross’s case by the abruptness with which he was thrust into the alien world of Cornwall—a world that differed in every imaginable way from that of Calcutta. While many people are able to return to their childhood homes and, to a degree at least, relive their early years, Ross could not do this, for India—after 1948—was no longer a British colony and therefore had as little as possible to do with former colonials.
Indeed, the predominant sensation to be gained from a reading of Blindfold Games is one of loss and its attendant feeling of disconnection, of important things left unfinished, of life losing its earlier sense of promise and intensity. Many of Ross’s poems reflect that loss of place and mission, but none more than “Stateless Persons,” in which he describes persons like himself as phantoms:
They carry no shadow, the past like a slateRubbed out by a future that arrived too late.Visaless and visionary, they travel to discoverContiguous ruins that are all like each other.
This sense of spiritual and physical displacement makes Ross see himself as outsider, yet not outcast, one who participates somewhat, but never fully, in the life of his adopted nation. Ross also finds that in loving India, he was loving not British India—so removed from the real country in its customs and beliefs—but Indian India. He has come to understand that the notion of empire was and is untenable, a falsity based upon outmoded ideas about creed and color. Within his own mind, Ross fails to reconcile his self-perceived “Indianness” with his British heritage, the two remaining separate as oil and water in his consciousness. His tragedy is that of the man who cherishes a country, a culture, that will never claim him as its own; his only inheritance from India is an unquenched longing for something diffuse and mystifying that spells home.
The second great influence on Ross’s life began with his discovery of cricket, a game which gave him something other than fantasies of his lost India upon which to dwell. Certainly, it was a happy circumstance that some first-rate Indian cricket players played on Sussex fields, serving as models, heroes, and symbols for the sport-crazed boy of literary bent.
Finally, the war was a third life-shaping force. The experience of combat compelled him to attend to the here-and-now rituals on which physical survival—his own and others’—depended. In the navy, Ross’s self-confidence was shored up by the authority given him and the dangerous duties he was expected to perform on the high seas. He speaks with the voice not only of one accustomed to giving orders but also of one highly sensitive to the moods and difficulties of those under his command. It is clear from the way he relates those experiences that common sailors gave him much to think about in their brash and hearty way. If he ever was an arrogant man, there is no evidence of him remaining one while on sea duty.
Recalling himself as he was in his various guises—young boy in India, cricket enthusiast, wartime seaman—Ross is always vivid, persuasive, drawing the reader to share in his experience, yet he refuses to impose a purposeful pattern on his narrative. Indeed, in his postscript, while acknowledging with classic British understatement that his remembered selves “must presumably have something in common,” Ross insists that what he is “conscious of is the pure chance that turned one into the other”—the boy from India, for example, transplanted to Cornwall and transformed into a cricket-playing poet—“and which might have set up a totally different chain of circumstances.”
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