Sound-Shadows of the New World Critical Essays

Ved Mehta


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Sound-Shadows of the New World paints a picture of the world of the blind as perceived by one of its members. It speaks of the fear that the blind have as well as of the skills they are able to master and the life they are able to live in what they call the sighted world. As one follows Mehta through his adolescence one also learns about Indian values and Indian ideas. Mehta’s family was from a high caste—the second highest caste in India—and as such had firm ideas of how life should be lived.

In particular, Mehta’s values were shaped by his father, who had been educated in England and often reminisced about his days at the university. Thus, the already determined Ved Mehta became even more eager to go abroad for study. The first problem for Mehta was to gain admission into a school in the United States; the second was to finance his education, as the family had limited means, having lost most of their wealth when they emigrated from Pakistan when India became independent from Great Britain. Money was always a problem and was often on Mehta’s mind. A scheme to raise money by selling ivory statues and carvings and other semiprecious materials in Little Rock came to nothing.

Throughout his first year, Mehta also had another worry; he had entered the country with a visitor’s visa, as the Arkansas School for the Blind was not on the immigration authority’s list of approved schools for foreign students. Only after intense efforts on the part of school officials did Mehta receive approval for him to stay and complete his education.

In chapter 1, Mehta raises the question of the cultural differences between India and America. The topic was an emotional one: girls and marriage. Just before seeing him off in New Delhi, his father asked him if he would ever marry a Western woman. Mehta replied rather haughtily in the negative, as a good Hindu should; his father noted that it might not be a bad idea, that India is a harsh land and marriage there is like a business transaction. Indian parents carefully measure their children’s liabilities and assets; because of Mehta’s blindness they would never be able to find a wife for him in their caste. Hindus would look down on him. A Christian woman might make him a much better wife than a Hindu woman, in any case, as Christians are taught love and compassion whereas Hindus learn only fate and duty.

Further, in a Western marriage, Mehta’s father noted, “there is the possibility of intellectual companionship of equals—something that doesn’t exist in an Indian marriage at all. Once you’ve seen that kind of marriage, you may want a companion equal to yourself, even if that means staying in the West.”

This conversation—indeed, the entire subject of romance—was an embarrassing one for...

(The entire section is 1148 words.)