Together, the five stories and novella in The Blind Writer by Sameer Pandya follow the lives of first- and second-generation Indian Americans living in contemporary California. The collection is anchored by the title novella about a love triangle between an aging, blind writer, his younger beautiful wife, and a young man desperate to start a writing life. Excerpt courtesy of University of Hawaii Press.
The Blind Writer
- The Fall
When I was a graduate student, preparing for a career I would eventually abandon, I did something that, now that I am older and finely attuned to the cruelty of consequence, surprises me.
I received an email announcing that a prominent writer spending a year at the Center — a think tank of sorts at my university where established writers and scholars came for a year to think — needed an assistant. Over the years, these stays had produced many scholarly books that I read then with the care and precision of a miniaturist, but are now just books in stacked, weakened boxes in a garage we once thought was spacious. There was no name attached to the writer in the email, but the assigned duties — reading to him from the newspaper, transcribing notes he’d spoken into a recorder — confirmed a rumor I’d heard that Anil Trivedi, the great blind Indian writer, was at the Center for the year. The list of occupants of the Center was a guarded secret, to ensure that they would not have admirers dropping in.
“I did something that, now that I am older and finely attuned to the cruelty of consequence, surprises me.”
At first, I sat on the email, assuming that someone more qualified (to read the paper to a blind man!) would contact him. Had it been someone whose books I loved — a mute Roth, a paraplegic García Márquez, even a late-cancer Carver — I would have jumped at the opportunity. And yet, Trivedi’s books had been very important to me, though I wouldn’t readily admit this in front of my fellow students who were all obsessed with falling off a cutting edge. His straightforward prose had made the stories of my extended family feel literary.
When another email went out, this time with the added detail that the pay rate was fifteen dollars an hour, I picked up the phone. I wanted to be physically close to a writer, as if proximity would make my ambitions real. And the idea of riding my Schwinn every couple of days into the hills above the campus to read to a blind man had the whiff of romance I’d expected from graduate school. In the year I had been there, it had just been numbing seminars on topics that sounded good on paper — “The Short, Happy Life of the Enlightenment,” “The Sexual Politics of the American Reconstruction” — but turned out to be failures. I’d wanted to fall in love with a graduate student in English, busty, studious, a lover of me and the modernists, and instead I’d ended up with a few bad dates with an econ postdoc working on a project on microlending.
“His straightforward prose had made the stories of my extended family feel literary.”
A woman picked up the phone.
“I am calling about the assistant job.”
“Why else would you call?”
She didn’t let me answer.
“Are you a student?”
“He doesn’t want graduate students in English.”
“I’m in history.”
“I’m sure you are.”
Were these attempts at humor?
She gave me directions to their place, and told me to come that afternoon at four.
I had a car, my father’s old, beige Taurus that he had left for me when he moved to New York, but I rode my bike.
It was late afternoon, the middle of a warm California fall, and I was riding through the tree-lined streets, ushered along by a slight tailwind. This was the luxury of being twenty-four, living in a temperate place, with a scholarship that was just generous enough to let me finally buy bottles of Anchor Steam instead of cans of Keystone.
I rode through campus and into blocks and blocks of small Craftsman bungalows, rambling Victorians, and old Spanish adobes that populated the faculty ghetto. The size of a faculty member’s house was roughly equivalent to the department she occupied. The medical and law faculty, and the local moguls who chose to live close to campus, had multiple stories, while the humanists and social scientists had to make do with one, unless they’d had a textbook or a novel that had done particularly well, or they had family money they were tired of hiding.
The house was a small, one-story bungalow covered by the afternoon shadow of a much-larger main house.
“I wanted to be physically close to a writer, as if proximity would make my ambitions real.”
I knocked on the door and took two steps back. The woman on the phone hadn’t mentioned it, but I had assumed she was the writer’s wife.
She opened the door and there standing in front of me was a woman — and I know this is an absurd, beaten-down phrase — that took my breath away. She was in her mid-thirties, and in her well-pressed purple salwar-kameez, she tapped into that part of me that had always wanted, at some core level, an ideal of Hindu womanhood: devoted, doting, pure, and beautiful. But beneath the long shirt was a woman with a body that reminded me of the full figures in the Playboys I’d teethed on during puberty. I imagined the wife as the mythical Sita in tasteful topless shots, a scarf casually covering the mound below.
Of course she’d married a blind man. She blinded the seeing. It seemed that successful blind men always had younger, attractive wives who believed their men saw only their inner beauty.
“It’s not polite to stare,” said a voice coming from behind the wife.
“Anil,” Mira chided. “Let’s not chase him away before he’s even stepped in the door.”
I had been staring. Any man who didn’t was just too afraid to look.
“Come in,” Mira said.
* * *
Sameer Pandya was born in India and moved to California when he was eight. He earned a BA from the University of California, Davis, and a PhD from Stanford University. He currently teaches literature and creative writing at University of California, Santa Barbara.