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Steadily, quietly, Mehta keeps adding to his unique family/personal history--which began in earnest with parental studies (Daddyji, Mamaji) and turned to Mehta himself in Vedi (1982): the chronicle of his five years in a special school after being blinded by meningitis at age four. Now, removed from the school because of health problems, little Vedi must go without an education--living at home with his loving, cultured, oddly neglectful family. (No one read to him.) But ""home"" keeps shifting, as public-health official Daddyji is moved from Lahore to Rawalpindi to a hill-station, then back to Lahore. Vedi is fearful yet reckless, determined to ride a bicycle: ""Mamah felt that my blindness was a curse on her for something she had done in a previous incarnation. . . I felt that blindness was a terrible impediment, and that if only I exerted myself, and did everything my big sisters and big brother did, I could somehow become exactly like them."" He develops his sound/feel ""vision,"" yearns for education, settles for visits from a seedy Indian-music master: Daddyji suggests music as ""solace,"" a singing career as the only viable one for a blind man. Then, at last, Vedi argues his way into a makeshift little Lahore school for blind children--with a Muslim teacher who tells lurid stories about houris and venereal disease, a principal who insists on Vedi's nonstop knitting. In the late 1940s, however, even Vedi's attention shifts to the escalating Muslim/Hindu tensions in Lahore: distant sounds of riots, fires; imminent fear of mob attack; sleeping with a knife under his pillow; flight, after the Partition violence erupts, to Bombay, where the children seek out trouble. (""In Lahore we had got so used to living, with a sense of danger that in Bombay we couldn't hear to live without it."") There, again, the question arises: what to do with Vedi, who still hasn't even learned Braille? And the strange answer is St. Dunstan's in Dehra Dun--a top training center for blinded soldiers, where the ""little civilian fellow"" finally gets his basic reading/writing skills, his first English. . . and then goes on, after heart-catching setbacks, to gain admission to an Arkansas school, ""the first Indian blind boy ever to go to America for education."" With rich backgrounds of nation and family: the most personally compelling of the Mehta memoirs--fired by the hunger for learning.

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1984
Publisher: Norton