The Eyes Are Not Here

by Ruskin Bond

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Last Updated November 8, 2023.

“The Eyes Are Not Here” by Ruskin Bond first appeared in 1991, published in the short story anthology Contemporary Indian Short Stories in English. This brief yet meaningful tale is set in contemporary India. While the story’s characterization, setting, and plot may appear limited at first glance, it offers a deep reflection on perception and identity that encourages readers to think about how they relate to the world and the people around them.

The story opens on a train. The narrator, who describes himself as “totally blind at the time,” listens as a girl enters the compartment and gets settled. Her parents give her detailed instructions about her possessions and rules for her trip. The narrator likes the sound of the girl’s voice and wishes to know what she looks like.

The girl is startled when the narrator speaks to her. He assumes she did not notice him, commenting to himself that sometimes “people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them.” Enamored with the girl, he finds himself wanting to hide his blindness from her.

The traveling companions make small talk, discussing their destinations and the beauty of the month of October. The narrator pretends to look out the window at the girl’s request and imagines what he might have seen out of it, still trying to hide his blindness.

Finally, the narrator turns back to the girl and tells her: “You have an interesting face.” It is a “safe remark,” he thinks, but she responds with laughter, explaining that she is used to being told she has a pretty face and thus finds his comment refreshing. The narrator likes her laugh, but he does not join her, explaining: “The thought of laughter only made me feel troubled and lonely.”

By this time, the girl’s journey is nearly at an end. The narrator, however, feels like he could sit and talk to the girl indefinitely. He is sad to think she will soon forget their encounter, as he knows he will remember it for “some time after.”

The girl gathers her possessions and prepares to leave the train. The narrator wonders what her hair looks like. As she offers a simple farewell, the narrator catches a whiff of her perfume, musing on how the scent lingers even after she leaves the compartment.

The narrator listens as another traveler boards the train, apologizing to the girl. The narrator decides to play his game once again, pretending to see and guessing at what is outside the window. The new traveler greets the narrator, joking that he must be disappointed because his new cabinmate is not nearly as attractive as the girl.

The narrator remarks, “She was an interesting girl,” and then asks if she had long or short hair. The other man says he does not remember; he failed to notice her hair because he was looking at her eyes, which were beautiful but useless, as “she was completely blind.” He then asks the narrator: “Didn’t you notice?”

The story ends on a revelatory note, as readers learn that both the narrator and the girl have been playing a game. Neither one wants to admit his or her blindness; both seem to long for a few minutes of being “normal,” of relating to those around them in a “normal” way. Readers are left to ponder the narrator’s reaction to his fellow traveler’s revelation.

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