Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Though blinded at the age of three by meningitis, the Indian-born writer Ved Mehta has always been relentlessly self-reliant. After his first book, the autobiographical Face to Face (1957), Mehta ignored the subject of his blindness. He joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 1961 and focused his attention on postcolonial India, especially its political situation. He went so far in his refusal to make any concession to his blindness as to keep mention of it off the dust jackets of his books. Starting in 1972, however, he began a multivolume autobiographical project, which deals at great length with his handicap and his adaptation to the sighted world. The first two books, serialized before publication in The New Yorker like all subsequent volumes, were biographies of his parents, Daddyji (1972) and Mamaji (1979).

Vedi, its title taken from Mehta’s childhood nickname, is the third volume and deals with his experiences from when he was almost five to the age of nine at the Dadar School for the Blind in Bombay. The narrative is roughly chronological, but most chapters are organized by themes (indicated by titles such as “Activities and Outings” and “Holidays”), and an epilogue relates the author’s return to the school while writing the book. Mehta balances the boy’s sketchy but vivid memories with the mature reflections of the adult Mehta. Interwoven throughout are his father’s commentary about past events and a selection of the correspondence between his father and the headmaster, Mr. Ras Mohun, a use of letters characteristic of Mehta, who makes extensive use of interviews, letters, and diaries in all of his autobiographical writing.

Vedi was a normal boy, despite his blindness, but with the fatalistic Indian attitude toward blindness, his prospects for a normal life were bleak. Conditions in the country’s few schools for the blind, most of which were started by American missionaries, were generally deplorable. The lucky few who were helped could not aspire to much more than learning a simple craft and often died young. The rest...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Blaise, Clark. “Four Senses and Imagination,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXV (October 17, 1982), p. 12.

Dong, Stella. “Ved Mehta,” in Publishers Weekly. CCXXIX (January 3, 1985), pp. 57-58.

Dowd, Maureen. “A Writing Odyssey Through India Past and Present,” in The New York Times. June 10, 1984, sec. 6, p. 50.

Malcolm, Janet. “School of the Blind,” in The New York Review of Books. XXIX (October 7, 1982), pp. 3-5.

Sternhell, Carol. “A Donkey Among Horses,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCI (March 9, 1986), p. 14.