Wednesday, December 12, 2012

V.S. Naipaul Mistaken for Ved Mehta

Esquire, July 1988, p. 61.


A veteran New York journalist was convinced that Ved Mehta, the blind Indian writer, was not really blind at all. Having spotted Mehta sitting stiffly on the couch at a party at Mike Nichols's, he stationed himself in front of the man, who was stealing the cashews from a bowl of mixed nuts. The journalist waved his hands back and forth at the man, started making faces. The guests -- Renata Adler and Penelope Gilliatt among them -- were aghast. But the Indian stared straight ahead, impassive. The journalist shrugged. He had had his doubts, he announced, but was now convinced that Mehta was indeed blind.

"That may be so," replied one guest, "but that man on the couch is V.S. Naipaul."

Spy, September 1989, p. 111.

Slaves of the New Yorker

By Jennet Conant

[...] The most intense Ved skeptics are not fully convinced that anyone could produce such detailed visual passages if he were actually blind. [...] In one often-told incident, a young writer became obsessed with the notion that Ved could, in fact, see. At a literary function, the story goes, the young writer spotted a dapper Indian gentleman, walked directly over and started making extraordinary faces and obscene gestures at him. The mortified hostess, as she dragged the young writer away, asked, "What in God's name were you doing to V.S. Naipaul?" [...]

Paul Theroux, Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998),  pp. 278-9.

There was a story I never asked Vidia to verify -- didn't dare ask, because I wanted it to be true. If it was not true, it ought to have been.

Ved Mehta is a distinguished Indian writer. [...] Ved Mehta is also famously blind. A certain New Yorker doubted his blindness. Seeing Mehta at a New York party, speaking to a group of attentive people, holding court, the man decided to test it. He had always been skeptical that Mehta was totally blind, since in his writing he minutely described people's faces and wrote about the nuances of color and texture with elaborate subtlety, making precise distinctions.

The man crept over to where Mehta was sitting, and as the writer continued to speak, the doubting man began making faces at him. He leaned over and waved his hands at Ved Mehta's eyes. He thumbed his nose at Ved Mehta. He wagged his fingers in Ved Mehta's face.

Still, Mehta went on speaking, calmly and in perfectly enunciated sentences, never faltering in his expansive monologue.

The man made a last attempt: he put his own face a foot away and stuck his tongue out. But Mehta spoke without a pause, as if the man did not exist.

Realizing how wrong he had been, the man felt uncomfortable and wanted to go home. Leaving the party, he said to the hostess, "I had always thought Ved Mehta was faking his blindness, or at least exaggerating. I am now convinced that Ved Mehta is blind."

"That's not Ved Mehta," the hostess said. "It's V. S. Naipaul."