Eyes, the most beautiful and the most complex part of our body, are a doorway to our personality. If you want to know me, look straight into my eyes. ‘Seeing’ looks such a simple matter but it is not so. Seeing is a gradual process, and it requires more than eyesight.. Buddhist text describes it as follows: A man comes, moved by confidence; having come, he joins; having joined he listens; listening, he receives the doctrine; having received the doctrine, he remembers it; he examines the sense of the things remembered; from examining the sense, the things are approved of; having approved, desire is born; he ponders; pondering he eagerly trains himself; and eagerly training himself, he mentally realizes the highest truth itself and penetrating it by means of wisdom, he sees.
We see the same object, but see it differently. What we see depends upon our ‘grade of significance’. As 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 ‘seeing’ differently than people who can. There are people who can see, but don’t. There are people who are present among us, but we don’t see them. There are people who are invisible. There are people who can’t see due to physical disability, but can ‘see’. Even darkness holds light for them. They have lost eye, but have not lost the sight. They have special eyes. They can see beyond the visible. They can see through the mind’s eye.
Jacques Lusseyran, a blind French author, tells about his visibly moving experiences. Young Lusseyran was returning home from a country vacation. He felt sad and began to cry. His mother could not understand why he was crying. Three weeks later, Lusseyran met with an unfortunate accident in his classroom, when he was 7 years old. He became blind. The mother understood why her son was crying that day. 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 got all the support from his parents. For them, their son was not an invalid. 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 he 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 that Lusseyran gave us is 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.”
Zoltan Torey, our next hero, met with an accident in a factory in Sydney. He was 21 when 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 me, why don’t I ask what I can do for God and the universe. Torey discovered his imaginary world, a world which became increasingly intense, accurate, and sharp, by continuously visualizing the surrounding. 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 at the age of 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 very 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 made a documentary film on Binode Bihari. 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 Binode Bihari was “a new feeling, a new experience, a new state of being.”
Rabindranath Tagore probably had a partial colour vision deficiency, writes KetakiKushari 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. She says that Tagore’s perception of green was different. 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).” KetakiKushari asks some very relevant questions: Did his other senses tend to compensate for the loss in colour vision? Is that why his poetry is so exceptionally rich in references to fragrances? Is the emphatic musicality of his poetry or his genius as a musical composer a compensatory development? Ketaki Kushari 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.”
“Even though the paths these men have followed might seem irreconcilable, these men have ‘used’ blindness to release their own creative capacities and emotional selves, and have achieved a rich and full realization of their own individual worlds,” writes Oliver Sacks.
In literature, we come across various kinds of blindness and invisibility. In H. G. Wells’ The Country of Blind, we find a man with normal sight in a country where all the inhabitants are blind. These people are self-sufficient, have other senses, but are close-minded and insular. In this allegorical tale of stagnation, since the inhabitants are blind, they want to deprive the traveller of his eyes. H.G. Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’ is about a research scientist who discovers a formula capable of making a human invisible. His theory: if a person's refractive index is changed to exactly that of air, and his body does not absorb or reflect light, then he will be invisible. He performs the experiment on himself, but is unable to reverse the formula. This drives him to insanity, crime and murder. José Saramago describes in Blindness a fictional, and contemporary city where all the people go blind. No one knows the reason of collective blindness. The first victim is a man who loses his vision, while in his car waiting for a traffic light to change. The blindness then spreads out very quickly as an infectious disease. All the blind people are put in a hospital.
The hospital quickly becomes overpopulated; there is collective despair. The only person, who apparently is not affected by the blindness, is the ophthalmologist’s wife. She can make the blindness ‘visible’. Suddenly, when all hope seems to have vanished, everybody is able to see again. The lack of vision ends as abruptly as it had begun. At the end of the novel, Saramago writes, “Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.” Saramago points to the vulnerability of our society. When we lose the ability to see, when the visible disappears in front of our eyes, when society itself becomes blind, how we can communicate our thoughts and emotions when we are blind to each other is the question Saramago asks.
Fritjof Capra in The Hidden Connections writes about a therapy session. A man tells the therapist about problems related to his job and his family situation. The therapist asks him a few questions. At the end, the man bursts into tears and says, “For the first time, I have felt like a human being.” The meeting established the necessary resonance between the patient and the therapist; “an authentic meeting between human beings”. The patient placed before the therapist all his inner feelings, and the therapist simply gave the patient an honest hearing. The therapist helped him to remove the cloak of invisibility.
We are more invisible than visible. Microbes, ghosts, magic, and god - all are invisible to the naked eye. Our ambitions, fears, doubts, secrets, aversions, attractions are all invisible. We are like an iceberg, seven-eighth of which is hidden. We can ‘see’ only a part of the person, and on the basis of that, we judge that person. We ignore the ‘invisible’ person. We overlook a person’s thoughts, emotions, imaginations, and fantasies, when we judge him. We love accolades, but hate brickbats.. Maintaining a balance between visibility and invisibility is like maintaining a balance between information and attention. Information is necessary, and so is attention. If there is “serious poverty of attention”, information is of no use. Too much information doesn’t remain a wealth. Too much visibility creates a poverty of attention. What does invisibility mean? Does it simply mean to be overlooked? “As such, the story of invisibility is not really about how to vanish at all. Curiously enough, it is a story about how we see ourselves,” writes Kathryn Schulz. Camouflage is a popular form of invisibility. The best camouflage technologies are available with nature. The technology to make something invisible is infinitely complex. On the other hand, nothing is easier than getting a human mind to ignore something it doesn’t want to see. Alan Watts says that one finds the highest pleasure when one is unconscious of one’s own existence. Conversely, one of the greatest pains is to be self-conscious, to feel unabsorbed and cut off from the community and the surrounding world. Philip Ball puts it concisely: “No one becomes invisible without a motive.” The motive to become invisible could be “to get away from something or to get away with something.” The invisible can’t be seen, but can be felt. No one wants to be permanently invisible. Permanently invisible are lost and dead. “We yearn to turn invisible when we are humiliated or persecuted . But when we are our best selves, experiencing our finest moments; or when we are lonely and careworn and suffering—at such times, what we want is to be seen,” writes Schulz.
You say something and you are not heard. You ask for something and there is no response. In short, you just get ignored. This is the most humiliating experience one can have. Ralph Ellison thus describes the invisible man - “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquid, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible; understand because people refuse to see me.” We don’t want to be visible to everyone, and all the time. We like to keep our sundials sometimes into the shade. Hiding sundials into the shade permanently also has many problems. It is good if we know when to keep our sundial into the shade, and when to keep it in the open. We should know when to remain a spore, and when to germinate.