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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Color of Blindness

I have often wondered what it might feel like to be blind, which I know is odd and alarmingly asinine, but it's something that I think about at random moments - perhaps when I am admiring my daughter's glossy curls and the way the sun brings out the warm brown in her hair. Or when my son catches my eye and bestows a toothy grin that encompasses his face. Or when my aching legs carry my tired body home as I admire the view on the last mile of a scenic long run.

I have been fortunate to have been blessed with the full knowledge of all of my five senses, so it seems odd that I am especially fearful of losing my sight in comparison to my other senses.

As if the idea of missing out on seeing my children's faces trumps the fear of missing out on their laughter.

Or the smell of their skin.

Or the taste of the candy we share.

Or the whisper of their breath against my cheek.

There is no logic to this fear, and oftentimes, when these moments of realization hit me - I imagine what it would be like to slowly have my world fade to black.

Or gray.

I can't presume to know what color is when your eyes have never known the difference between purple and yellow. Or never had to distinguish the nuances of aquamarine from a deep turquoise.

At night when darkness envelops me and I turn out the light, there is always a tiny jolt of shock as my eyes are thrust into their pitch black surroundings. But even as I become accustomed to the dark and allow my eyes to droop with exhaustion, I know that the fear is unwarranted and that regardless of how dark my world is at night:

My memory of what my world looked like in the light is still etched in my mind.

Morning will bring my world back into view.

My eyes will adjust to the darkness.


I was nine years old the day my father told me he would no longer be able to drive. I recall very clearly the sound of his voice as I sat facing him in the kitchen of my childhood home, my mother sitting in the corner, not bothering to hide her own tears as she cried into the folds of her sari.

As the youngest of five children and the only remaining child still at home, my parents had decided to explain the situation to me in the gentlest way they knew how.

The doctors had given my father a few more months before he lost his capacity to see. At best, it would be a few years. But the onset of severe glaucoma, coupled with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, made my father's doctors quite confident that their prognosis of complete blindness would happen sooner rather than later.

My father (or Papa, as I have always called him) explained to me that retinitis pigmentosa is a degenerative disease of the eyes that would ultimately lead to incurable blindness. It was hard for me to grasp, so my Papa held up his hands alongside his head to demonstrate the range of his peripheral vision. He brought his hands closer and closer together to show me what the doctor's had told him.

That the darkness would start on the periphery.

And slowly work its way in.

And eventually, my father would live a life in the dark.

I recall with clarity that one of the first thoughts that struck my little fourth grade mind was,

"This sucks."

Who was going to bring me to my friend's parties? Or the library? I really didn't want my mom driving me in whatever Indian outfit she was wearing that day, sporting one of her outlandishly bright and bold bindis that separated me from my friends.

As I realized that whatever social stock I had (never really on the rise, questionable at best) was now at even greater jeopardy with my father's impending blindness, I did what any other self-absorbed child, who couldn't handle the larger issue of her own parents' vulnerability, would do.

I cried.

I cried because I wished my mom would just wear jeans. Then it wouldn't matter that my dad could not drive me.

Then I cried because it wouldn't matter if my mom wore jeans. I knew I still wasn't going to be cool. And lord knows, she would still probably wear some fuchsia colored bindis anyway.

I went on to cry because even as my mother sat there in her sari in the kitchen and released her own tears of sadness for what my father was going through, I also recognized that she was crying out of fear for what this would mean to our family. Would mean to her.

I cried because I realized my parents would age. And that the stability of my world was far from permanent.

I cried because even in my own nine year old brain, I could process that this talk in this kitchen, on this day, would be a turning point for my family.

I cried because hearing my father's prognosis was an explanation for things that had happened in the past which my family had neatly ignored, wishing and willing the best.

Like the time I was standing coherently next to my father to be caught off guard by a painful blow to my face - one so sudden that I had passed out in pain. I came to consciousness, able to hear my mother yelling at my father - how could he not be more careful? And I came to, with the realization that my father had literally just smacked me upside the head.

Literally. Like swept me off my feet when he abruptly turned to absentmindedly respond to something my mother said. And unknowingly swiping me at full force in the nose with a blunt turn of his elbow.

I recall my own father's face as I returned to consciousness. I must have been about seven years old, but even I saw in his face his sadness, and also confusion, as he held me till I was fully revived.

I will never forget the day my father told me that he would soon be blind. It was like a key had been handed to me - a key to something that I had subconsciously known on some level since that day when my dad inadvertently went kung-fu on my ass.


My father still has his vision today. It is very limited. As the doctors had predicted, his peripheral site deteriorated with shocking speed over the years, however - he has been able to maintain some level of sight that allows him to live a full life. I am grateful that he has been able to live into his seventies, still with the gift of sight.

It is more of a gift today, more than twenty years after he thought he would lose the ability to do simple things which I can do with little effort. Like see his reflection. Or read a book. Or watch "Meet the Press." And see his grandchildren.

I have been shopping with my parents to have people roll their eyes in exasperation at my father's slow gait, as he takes a little longer to get out of their way - or unknowingly bumps into their cart before he can adjust himself. I recall one time at Costco, a woman became very impatient as she almost tripped over my father in her haste to drive her cart like a lunatic in the store.

"Some people!!" she yelled indignantly as she swept by my parents, serving as a great model, one might expect, for the young daughter who followed closely in her wake.

I am ashamed to say that I myself have become impatient with my father.

"Papa!" I have said with a condescending tone (that I cringe at as I replay my own voice in my memories). "Please be careful. You need to look where you are going," I have said.

All the while in full command and control of my own sight.

Just because I am in full possession of my vision doesn't mean that my own perspective hasn't been blurred.

My dad and mother holding Shaila at 4 months.

Despite the lapses in my own perspective and my own moments of blindness, I am grateful that my father has been able to hold on to his sight. I hope he always sees in color.

Bold, vivid color.

Just as bold as my mother's bindis.

"What you lose in blindness is the space around you, the place where you are, and without that you might not exist. You could be nowhere at all." - Barbara Kingsolver


MiMi said...

Girl, I need to take a few weeks off, hopefully I write something as beautifully as you just did!!
One of my big fears is blindness. When I was diagnosed with MS all I could think was that I would lose my sight. I asked the Dr's over and over again.
Of course, they don't really know, but they finally told me that I wouldn't, I think to shut me up.
Your family is gorgeous, and I'm so glad the Dr's were wrong in your dad's case. May he see your mom's brightly colored bindis for as long as he lives!!

Ruth J said...

that was beautiful. i have tears in my eyes. you write so well and so honestly. i'm happy your father still has his sight, although it's limited.

your post made me realize to be more patient, like sometimes when my 79 year old dad asks me to repeat something a few times. it's hard getting old! said...

Lovely. Your insight into the human condition? Yeah. You need a talk show. ASAP.
Bonus points for the Kingsolver quote.
(Seriously. Write more.)

singedwingangel said...

This was beautiful, articulate and let us "see" what we often over look in our day to day goings..

Sara said...

It's so hard that first time you realize your parents really do age, and that one day they may not be there anymore.

The picture of your parents with your daughter is beautiful.

Keenie Beanie said...

Oh my goodness, did this make me cry… cry for my sister, blind since birth and never knowing color… cry for my friend, who at 35 is already experiencing the same slow closing in of his vision due to macular degeneration… and cry for the tenderness with which you wrote this port. Thank you.

Garima said...

Its a beautiful post. My FIL has a very similar condition- Glucoma with barely any vision left. The doctors have termed him legally blind. However the strength of that man inspires me. If you meet him, minus the initial hiccup, you will not be able to tell that he cant see. He does his day to day activity very well, in a new surrounding, he only wants to touch and feel the layout once, and then he stumbles but he manages and does not like our hand to come out and help him. He will play with my daughter, and engage her all the time. I sometimes think, that he is palying us and can actually see. But sadly... I know he cant!

myra said...

I love your posts. They always make me think & make me slow down to take the time and be grateful for what I have. I'll be thinking of your dad every day and praying his vision stays as bold as ever!

Hope you are doing wonderful, girl!

foxy said...

Ahhh, beautifully written (per usual). There is always so much emotion in your writing... so much that you actually make me feel. Thanks for that. :)

Kathy's Klothesline said...

I hope your mom reads this to your dad. So much love and insight.

Lemon Gloria said...

Oh, Kiran, you just made me cry. How very loving and sweet. My grandmother had macular degeneration and eventually went blind. My mom has it as well, although it's in the early stages, and she has better care than my grandmother did. It's very scary, though.

Also, I love brightly colored bindis. And I love the intricate ones. Apparently there's a Nepali store near my house that sells them. Must buy!

Glennon said...

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Sadia said...

Beautiful. I'm glad your father still has his sight.

I've become blog-buddies with a woman who lost her vision to MS. Her perspective is amazing, though, and she's so stinking positive!

She's at, if you're interested.

Ruby said...

Gah tears can i just say you made me miss my dad 100000 times more. I'm so happy your dad can still see and enjoy his grandbabies. When ever i see someone taking their time i will now think of your father and hopefully learn some patience. hugs!

Kristen said...

This is just beautiful - insightful -- moving. xo

nmaha said...

You write straight from the heart. This post reminded me to be more patient with my mom, who I love to bits but blame whenever something in my life goes wrong. My dad is the center of my universe and he an never do any wrong.

It is difficult knowing that your parents will age and get weaker as you grow older and stronger. I can't imagine a world without my parents.

Keep writing and getting us to think.

Mike said...

I am writing to ask for your permission to include your posts on and include a link to your blog in our directory. We would
include a link back to your blog fully crediting you for your work
along with a profile about you listed on . Please let us
know as soon as possible.

Mike Thomas

SurferWife said...

Kiran. I'm so sorry I haven't been around. I think about you often and wonder how you are.

And then I open your blog and start reading and reading, taking in all of your beautiful, emotion filled words.

I miss you, friend. Let's try to coordinate so we can catch up soon, yes?


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