Ved Mehta, 1934-2021 | The New Yorker

The longtime staff writer Ved Mehta, who lost his sight as a child, wrote for the magazine on the life of Mahatma Gandhi and many other...


The longtime staff writer Ved Mehta, who lost his sight as a child, wrote for the magazine on the life of Mahatma Gandhi and many other subjects.Photograph by Paul Stuart / Camera Press / Redux

Ved Mehta, a writer for The New Yorker for more than thirty years, died at the age of eighty-six, on Saturday morning. Born in Lahore to a well-off Punjabi family, he lost his sight when he was three years old, to meningitis. Sometime after, he was sent to live and study at an institution for the blind in Bombay. His book “The Ledge Between the Streams” describes his life as a blind child in the India of the nineteen-forties, as he learned to read Braille and to ride a bicycle and a horse. Throughout his youth and his maturity as a writer, Mehta was determined to apprehend the world around him with maximal accuracy and to describe it as best he could. “I felt that blindness was a terrible impediment, and that if only I exerted myself, and did everything my big sisters and big brother did, I could somehow become exactly like them,” he wrote.

Mehta came to the United States when he was fifteen, and attended the Arkansas School for the Blind, in Little Rock. After studying at Pomona College and Oxford University, he began to flourish in his working life as a writer. He asked David Astor, the editor of The Observer, about writing a fourteen-thousand-word piece about his travels in India. “Something that long and boring,” Astor reportedly said, “only The New Yorker would publish.”

Mehta joined the staff of the magazine when he was twenty-six and, for more than three decades, wrote a stream of pieces, many of them appearing in multipart series. He wrote about Oxford dons, theology, Indian politics, and many other subjects. Some of his most fascinating work includes “A Battle Against the Bewitchment of Our Intelligence” (1961), a portrait of British intellectual life and the philosophical debates of the time; “John Is Easy to Please” (1971), a piece about the young linguist Noam Chomsky and the critics of his theory of transformational grammar; and, in 1976, a three-part Profile of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1998, he published a highly admiring book about his longtime editor at the magazine, William Shawn, who ran The New Yorker during Mehta’s tenure. Penguin is releasing in e-book form much of Mehta’s work, including his many autobiographical pieces.

Mehta walked the streets of the city without a cane or a seeing-eye dog, and he bristled when someone dared try to assist him. Madhur Jaffrey, the Indian-born actress and cookbook author, once told Maureen Dowd, of the Times, that when she first met Mehta, “I tried to take his arm” to help. “He gave me a shove, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

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Newsrust: Ved Mehta, 1934-2021 | The New Yorker
Ved Mehta, 1934-2021 | The New Yorker
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