The New Yorker writer, who died last month, detailed the world with such clarity of vision that some doubted his disability
People who had never read a line of Ved Mehta knew the story, and were telling it almost before you finished saying his name. There was this party in Manhattan. A solitary Indian gentleman in a good suit is sitting in a chair in the corner. Two other guests observe him. “That’s Ved Mehta, the blind writer on the New Yorker,” says the first. “He doesn’t look so blind to me,” says the second, noticing the confident way he takes a drink from the tray. They agree to a test: one of them stands in front of the writer and pulls all kinds of faces, stretching his mouth with his fingers, wagging his tongue – an animated gargoyle. The writer stands up in spluttering outrage. It was not Ved Mehta, but VS Naipaul.
It’s a story that dates from the time when celebrated Indians were still relatively uncommon in New York; before American writers had south Asian names (Mukherjee, Lahiri, Gawande, Kumar); when American ignorance of India was still quite profound.