The Curse of Purity

Vinoth rubbed his evidently irritated eyes with his fingers for a few seconds and said, “My father married his elder sister’s daughter. And according to doctors who have been treating me for years, my blindness is an effect of this inbreeding.”

The 31-year-old man is a blind post-doctorate student doing his research on the different dialects of Tamil language in Thiruvallur district of Chennai. He hails from a small village in Kannambakkam and his family shifted to Chennai when he was 14 years old for his higher studies.

“I wasn’t always blind”, said Vinoth slowly, measuring each English words carefully before speaking them. “The symptoms started with night blindness when I was 10 years old. Gradually, it proceeded to loss of focus in daylight. Then finally when I was in my second year of my under-graduation, 99 percent of my vision got impaired”, added he.

He was wearing a faded black and white striped shirt with red sleeves folded upto his arms and black tailor-made cotton trousers. He had a deep moustache which was accompanied by a scanty beard. His watery eyes were seated inside prominent dark circles and unlike other visually impaired people, Vinoth preferred to not wear black glasses because when under direct sunlight, he was able to figure out others partly.

Doctors at Shankara Naitraleya, Chennai, told Vinoth that Close Relative Marriage over the years led to the hereditary problem. His grandfather also went blind in the twilight of his lifetime. “Doctors also said that this disorder — Retinus Pigmentiatia — is not likely to affect everyone born as a result of Close Relative Marriage”, said Vinoth.

Apart from allopathy, in 2014,Vinoth also opted for Ayurvedic treatment in Shree Daryam hospital in Kerala. He frequented to Kerala four times in two years but they were also unable to provide relief. Each visit cost him Rs. 40000, and according to healers over there, the disorder could have been arrested if he was younger.

When Vinoth’s father learnt that his son was going to be blind for the rest of his life, he was very angry with Vinoth’s grandparents and paternal uncle. “My father was compelled by my paternal uncle to marry my mother”, said Vinoth. “He was compelled because of societal pressure and even though he was angry he could not sever ties with them”, added he

Close Relative marriage is very common in South India. “According to my understanding, marrying within close relations keeps the bloodline clean and it also means that wealth would remain within the family”, said the 31 year old, who wants to start off his working career as a teacher as a lecturer in Pondicherry University.

“Obeying your parents, grandparents, and elder brothers/sisters is must in the society. The children would be brought up by teaching this discipline. It is very rigid”, said Vinoth

He said that if even if the younger member of the family had a good idea that would benefit the family, their idea would not be accepted just because they were younger. “If the family was well off, the elders would have the dominant voice. This is exactly why my father was compelled,” he added.

Vinoth continued, “One of my father’s elder brother had to marry out of the family because he was not that well off. They searched for the bride within the circle of the district and even more importantly, caste.”

Intercaste marriages in India are still not looked favourably upon in certain societies. And it was even more unheard of and stringent during the time Vinoth’s father and his other brothers and sisters were married.

Pointing towards his friend Karthick A. who stays with him all the time whenever he is in college, Vinoth said proudly, “My friend married out of his cast amidst big problems”. Karthick silently nodded in agreement and said, “I faced many problems, but I handled everything carefully. Both mine and the girl’s parents have accepted the marriage but my parents haven’t disclosed the caste of the girl to the villagers in fear of getting teased.”

Karthick was a big man, with a big belly that always went before him wherever he went. Dark skinned, with hair thinning and balding, Karthick always had a tired look on his face, molded and hardened by life. Coming from an agricultural family, Karthick wasn’t well off and Vinoth tried helping him in any way he could.

In what looked like a regular ritual between them, during lunch, Vinoth gave his homemade spinach-sambhar and rice to Karthick and he himself chose something from the canteen, whose contents was relayed to him in Tamil by Karthick.

Vinoth used a Micromax smartphone and used the Google Talkback function to go about the phone. When he got a call the phone announced, “You have got a call from XXXXXXXX number”. He brought his ears close to the phone as he tapped to ascertain how to receive the call. Each tap directed him what to do. His friend called him to inform him about a lecture that was going to happen in a while.

Vinoth held Karthick’s shoulders as they proceeded onto the auditorium from the common room taking small and familiar steps through the corridor. He had in his other hand a white walking stick whose colour was peeling out in areas, baring the nakedness of the steel underneath.

In the auditorium, Vinoth listened to the lecture with rapt attention and recorded it with the help of his phone. At times he rubbed his watery eyes with his fingers looking in obvious discomfort. He wiped them dry and kept them closed for a while. By the time the third lecturer was speaking, Vinoth had dozed off. Karthick, who was sitting on the seat to his left, held his hand all the while as if he was urging him to sleep peacefully and to assure him that he was not alone in the darkness.

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