In the first paragraph of Vedi, the boy’s father voices the two most important themes of the book, self-reliance and memory: “‘You are a man now,’ he said. This sentence of my father’s was to become the beginning of my clear, conscious memory.”
It was Vedi’s good fortune to have a father who wanted his son to become self-reliant and had the resources to help. Consistently rational in a society permeated with superstition and hidebound traditions, the father took what steps he could to secure his son’s future. On the other hand, Vedi’s mother, though loving and supportive, embodied the fatalistic Eastern attitude he had to resist. Torn between the conflicting needs for independence and security, Vedi was finally oriented toward the West by his father. Necessary as this was, it makes Vedi a book about loss: of sight, of friends, of family. Vedi was always an outsider, the blind among the sighted and the rich boy among the poor. Rejecting pity, he had an impatient, almost imperious need for love, which he demanded of people but which never provided him with the security he sought. There is no self-pity in this book. As crucial to his achieving self-reliance as his father’s support was Vedi’s cheerful self-assurance, which reflects his mother’s emotional, irrational nature as much as his father’s enlightened ways. With a playful imagination that still shines in this writing, Mehta could pretend a cold shower was rain or that his fingers were his friends competing to see who could read Braille letters the fastest. When Mohun first saw him, he thought Vedi was a sighted boy because of his open expression, and this openness and curiosity, along with a sometimes mulish self-confidence, were the boy’s main strengths.Sometimes the wish to touch a thing I had heard about, like Mr. Ras Mohun’s ruler, would so agitate me that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The name of the thing would go on repeating itself in my head . . . like a permanently stuck record.
This agitation made Vedi stubborn in his refusal to acknowledge limitations. For example, he insisted once that he could see a photograph, and on his first visit to the ocean, he went racing “toward the roar and the rush,” exhilarated by the sense of having nothing in front of him but the wide open ocean.
Beneath his self-confidence, however, is an undercurrent of anxiety running throughout the book. Parting from his family at the train station to return to the school, Vedi heard a blind beggar approach the family. “I remember thinking that I could end up like him, and feeling even more frightened.” This fear was grounded in the sense of powerlessness that came with blindness. All the children felt something malevolent in the sighted world, with its objects that seemed to lunge out at them. “Whenever we hurt outselves on anything at all, we would kick it and beat it and cry out,‘The sighted bastards!’” Their crude equation of sight and power, so strong that the boys hardly believed there could be schools for the blind in America, was mainly associated with the dormitory proctor, the Sighted Master, who handed out beatings with a discarded shoe that he kept under his bed. In the one really shocking incident in the book, the Sighted Master uses a board one night to silence the whimpering of two boys, one blind and deaf, the other retarded, who then mysteriously vanish by the following morning.
Such extreme abuse was the exception, but the children’s fears were not groundless. Returning years later to the school, Mehta found that while one of the boys went on to become a teacher of the blind, several others died young of tuberculosis, and the rest apparently returned to the poverty that had spawned them. He interviewed a woman who had been lucky enough to wed a sighted teacher, but after her husband’s death, she was reduced to such destitution that she had to beg Mehta for money. Though sympathetic, he fled, “her begging tone having stirred...
(The entire section is 1,290 words.)