IN THE BLIND AGE

Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug (The blindage), the landmark book, set in the last days of the Mahabharata war, was written in the years following 1947. It speaks about destruction, not only of human lives but also of ethical values. In the Mahabharata, both the victor and the vanquished loose eventually. HG Wells tells us the story of stagnation in The Country of the Blind. It is about a mountaineer who accidentally finds himself in a valley cut off from the rest of the world. All the inhabitants of the valley are blind. These people have other senses. They are self-sufficient but are insular and close-minded. These sightless people of the valley wish to deprive the mountaineer of his eyes. The mountaineer flees from the valley. Sight can be confusing. It is the theme of a story by Brian Friel, based on Oliver Sacks’ case history of a patient. In this story, a born blind gets sight in middle life but finds it profoundly confusing. She can not make sense of anything she sees and thus wants to return to her original state of blindness. In the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness, we read about collective blindness — when we lose the ability to see when the visible disappears in front of our eyes when society itself becomes blind. It is about a fictional city. The city can be any city anywhere in the world. In this novel, characters have no names, only descriptions. In this city, a man at a traffic light suddenly finds he can not see. Soon the blindness spreads like an infectious disease and engulfs the city. No one knows why. There is despair all around. With so many blinds around, conditions deteriorate in the mental asylum where they are kept for treatment. The asylum becomes more like a concentration camp than a hospital. There is blind terror, blind hate, and blind love. The lack of vision ends as abruptly as it had begun. At the end of the novel, Saramago offers clarification: “Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps, one day we’ll find out. Do you want me to tell you what I think, yes, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, blind people who can see, but do not see.” Various metaphors have symbolized blindness. Dharamvir Bharati has used blindness to represent the dehumanization of individuals and society. HG Wells’s blindness represents a restricting society and the struggle of the individual against social conformity. Sight can lead to confusion, says Oliver Sacks. Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for both personal misfortune and social catastrophe. In catastrophic times, we need icons and role models to take us away from the darkness. Perhaps, in the present blindage, we are hoping for some to guide us to the end of the tunnel.