The Eyes Are Not Here

by Ruskin Bond

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Summarize "The Eyes Are Not Here" by Ruskin Bond.

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Ruskin Bond's short story "The Eyes Are Not Here" tells the story of two blind people who meet on a train. The narrator sits by a girl whom he enjoys speaking to, but he cannot see her and wonders what she looks like. He tells her she has an interesting face, which she says she hears often. After she has gotten off the train, a person just getting on indicates that the girl is also blind.

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In “The Eyes Are Not Here” by Ruskin Bond, the narrator is traveling on a train in India, the author's native country. The narrator is blind, only able to perceive the difference between light and dark. He has the whole train compartment to himself until the train stops at the town of Rohana, where a girl gets on board. She is accompanied by a couple who see her off; the narrator assumes they are the girl's parents. Once they say their goodbyes, the train pulls out of the station and continues on its journey.

The narrator soon strikes up a conversation with the girl. Being blind, he can't see her, but he can certainly hear her voice, which he finds very pleasant. For her part, the girl appears startled by the narrator's voice, which the narrator takes to be an example of someone with good eyesight failing to see what's right in front of them.

The conversation continues, with the narrator daringly offering his opinion that the girl has an interesting face. He doesn't know this, of course; he's simply trying to flatter her. The girl responds by saying that

It's nice to be told I have an interesting face. I am tired of people telling me I have a pretty face.

This confirms to the narrator what the girl's sweet, pleasant voice has already told him: that she really does have a pretty face. But in any case, the girl will soon reach her station, leaving the narrator alone once again. As she gets up to leave, she bids him goodbye; as she does so, she tantalizes him with the smell of her perfume.

After the girl gets off the train, she is replaced by a man who self-deprecatingly tells the narrator that he's not as attractive as his previous travel companion. The narrator asks him if the girl wore her hair long or short. The man replies by telling him that he can't remember but that her eyes were beautiful, even though they were no use to her, on account of her being blind.

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In this story, the narrator is traveling by train through India, and he notices a young woman about to get on the train. The couple who brings her, probably her parents, give her lots of instructions about what to do and how to behave on the train. The narrator says that he was totally blind at the time, only able to see light and dark, and so he could not tell what the girl looked like, but he very much liked her voice. His voice startles her, after she sits down, and he attributes this to her good eyesight, suggesting that sighted people miss lots of things because there is so much for them to see. Only later is the irony of this statement made clear.

The narrator decides to see if he can keep her from realizing that he is blind. They talk about where each of them is going, and he tries to get her to describe the scenery outside, though she likely assumes he's asking about what it's like to be blind. She is pleased when he tells her that she has an interesting face because, she says, she's tired of hearing that she has a pretty face. When the train stops, he knows she'll forget their encounter, but he feels he will remember it forever. He smells her perfume just as she is getting up to leave, and he hears some confusion in the doorway. Presumably this is caused by her inability to see the young man waiting to enter the compartment. It is only when this young man tells the narrator that the young woman was blind does the narrator understand the irony of the situation.

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In Ruskin Bond's The Eyes are Not Here, a man (the narrator) is sitting alone in a train compartment en route to Rohana when a girl boards the train, assisted by a couple who the narrator assumes is her parents. The narrator is blind, able to see only light and darkness, so he cannot make out the girl's appearance—only that he likes the sound of her voice and the sound of her slippers.

He asks her if she is traveling to Dehra; she responds that she is headed to meet her aunt in Saharanpur. They converse a bit more about their destinations, and the narrator wonders if she has taken notice of his blindness. He moves to sit across from her and tells her that she has an "interesting face," which she is amused by because she claims to be tired of being told her face is pretty. 

The girl prepares to depart at her station, while the narrator wonders about her hairstyle and wishes for more time with her. After she leaves, another man boards the train and comments on the girl's beautiful but useless eyes—revealing that she too was blind. 

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First, it is important to note that "The Eyes are Not Here" is also known by two other titles:  "The Girl on the Train" and "The Eyes Have It."  In short, it is about two blind people meeting on a train.

At the beginning of the story, a man is alone in a train compartment simply waiting for the journey to begin.  The man is blind and can only differentiate between light and darkness.  Soon, he is joined by a young girl who is originally accompanied by her parents.  They seem extra anxious about her well-being in that they tell her exactly where to put her luggage, not to lean out of the window, and not to speak with strangers.  Soon, the girl's parents leave and the man and the girl are alone in the train compartment as the journey begins.

Most of the story involves the conversation between the two characters:  the man and the girl.  When the man asks the girl if her destination is the same as his own, she is startled, but is happy to strike up a conversation.  The girls says that she will be met by her aunt in Saharanpur in order to be taken home.  When the girl learns the man is headed to Mussoorie, the hill country, she looks at him in envy.  The hills are beautiful at this time of year. 

Just before the girl exits at her stop, the man tells her that she has "an interesting face," which the girl likes because she is usually told she has a "pretty" one.  The girl leaves and another man enters.  Through the comments from this new passenger, the man learns that the girl, too, was blind. 

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What is the theme of the story "The Eyes Are Not Here" by Ruskin Bond?

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.

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