Eyes, the most beautiful and the most complex part of our body are a doorway to our personality. We see the same object but see it differently. What we see depends upon our ‘grade of significance’. Ernst Schumacher said, “Not the eye, only the mind, can determine the grade of significance.” The significance of ‘seeing’ varies, depending upon who is seeing it. People who can’t see, see differently than people who can see. Some people can see but they prefer not to see. Some people are present among us but we don’t see them. They are invisible to us. Some people can’t see due to physical disability but can ‘see’. Even darkness holds light for them. They have lost their eyes but have not lost their sight. They have special eyes. They can see beyond the visible. They can see through the mind’s eye. Some blind watchmakers have the power to open our eyes.

Jacques Lusseyran, a blind French author, tells about his visibly moving experiences. Lusseyran, when he was 7 years old, met with an unfortunate accident in his classroom. He became blind. Surprisingly, even though he was blind, he could see ‘light’. He could feel light “rising, spreading, resting on objects, giving them form, and then leaving them.” Lusseyran saw light, but the light faded, when he was afraid, angry and impatient. “The minute before, I knew just where everything in the room was, but if I got angry, things got angrier than I. They went and hid in the most unlikely corners, mixed themselves up, turned turtle, muttered like crazy men and looked wild.” When he was jealous or unfriendly “a bandage came down” over his eyes. When he was happy, he thought well of people. Lusseyran lost his sight but got many extraordinary abilities, as a return gift. He seemed to hear better. “My ears were hearing no better, but I was making better use of them.” Smell became more distinctive. “Inside me every sound, every scent, and every shape was forever changing into light, and light itself changing into colour to make a kaleidoscope of my blindness.” Lusseyran believed that the blind suffer greatly “from the inexperience of those who still have their eyes.” The most important message Lusseyran gave was that “For a blind child there is a threat greater than all the wounds and bumps, the scratches and most of the blows and that is the danger of isolation.”

Our next hero, Zoltan Torey, met with an accident in a factory. At 21 he became blind. His doctors advised him to leave all his visual imagery behind and rebuild his mental representation of reality using hearing and touch. Torey took just the opposite route; simply picturing the world around him through his now hyperactive visual imagination. One day in the hospital, Torey was very depressed. He thought, “It was not quite fair for me to turn to God for assistance now that I was in a pretty deep mess, when, in fact, I had had no need for the relationship before.” He told himself, instead of asking what God and the universe can do for him, why doesn’t he ask what he can do for God and the universe. Thus Torey discovered his imaginary world, a world which became increasingly intense, accurate, and sharp by continuously visualizing the surroundings. It took him some time to master this art, and after some months, he was living in a visual reality. “Often, people forget that I can’t see. I wear sunglasses all the time, and once somebody even said to me—it was very funny—she said, “Don’t ‘look’ at me that way.” Torey believes that vision gets in the way of sighted people. “Often, in fact, people close their eyes when they think. So in that respect, I was able to utilize my abnormal situation as a real advantage,” he writes. He, however, cautions that to achieve this, one needs to be a very dedicated person; you have to be very aware of the absolute importance of finding solutions. Torey’s most important message for us is that fate is one thing but what we make of it is another.

John Hull developed cataract when he was 13. At age 17 he became blind by his left eye. He became completely blind when he was 48. Hull’s blindness meant a loss of every idea of seeing; even the sense of objects having appearances, visible characteristics, vanished. Hull lost his visual imagery but his other senses sharpened remarkably well. For him, it was not just compensation, but a whole new mode of human being. Hull writes, “I realised that false consciousness was creeping up my life like a rising tide. It became easier to see life from the top of the pile and more difficult to imagine it from underneath. It was blindness, which saved me from completely succumbing to this fatal falseness. Facing every day a dozen frustrations and little humiliations, continually aware of my dependence upon others, alienated at the same time from an easy rapport with other people, I became increasingly conscious of the way that marginalised and disabled people experience the world.” Blindness for Hull was ‘a dark paradoxical gift’. He was no longer a prisoner of ‘visual nostalgia’. He became intellectually and spiritually bolder, more confident. He created for himself a new identity.

Binode Bihari Mukherjee was myopic in one eye and blind in the other, since birth. He lost his eyesight completely following an unsuccessful cataract operation. He was then 52. He continued to create art even after that and his paintings are regarded as the greatest achievements in contemporary Indian painting. Satyajit Ray admired him immensely. He considered him a great intellect with a total lack of flamboyance. In his art, writes Ray, “There are resonances of other styles and other periods. But all the influences have been assimilated into a synthesis that bears the unmistakable hallmark of Binode Bihari Mukherjee.” Binode Bihari had inner eyes. Blindness for him was “a new feeling, a new experience, a new state of being.”

Rabindranath Tagore probably had a partial colour vision deficiency, writes Ketaki Kushari Dyson. In a passage in Chhinnapatrabali, she found Tagore jocularly referring himself as “a celebrated colour-blind person.” Tagore favoured certain ‘colour-words’ over others. Ketaki Kushari says that Tagore used red in a roundabout and anomalous manner. “Red is often a-jana (unknown), a-dekha (unseen), often associated with dukkha (sorrow) and vyatha (pain).” Dyson asks: Did his other senses tend to compensate for the loss in colour vision? She concludes, “He has left us an ocean of words, melodies, and visual images. There could well be a connection between his colour vision problem and the exceptional fecundity of his genius. Perhaps the experience of a handicap, the condition of perceiving things differently from others, the consequent struggle with communication, hones a person’s sensitivity, sharpens the edge of genius, encouraging intense self-expression in a million different ways.”