No one talks about the Howard Roark effect anymore. It seems to have got lost in the melee of MMS scandals, political intrigues, multiplex cinemas, rocking malls and the debate on whether Kolkata is dying, Mumbai is the maximum city or if concrete has finally buried the oleanders in Bangalore.
The Howard Roark effect is what happens to most people, of architectural as well as non-architectural bent, immediately after they read Ayn Rand’s 1943 bestseller, The Fountainhead. Howard Roark is the book’s carrot- haired architect, the man who will not compromise, who will never sell his soul, who dynamites his building rather than let it be redone to suit popular tastes. For all of six months to a year after reading the book, the Roark imprint makes the readers stand up straighter, walk in a purposeful manner, look people directly in the eye, act like men and women with values and principles.
After the six months or the year is over, the world comes rushing in. The walk becomes a shuffle, the figure starts to fall back into its comfortable slouch, and it’s hard to look people in the eye when you are cutting all manner of deals with them. “Values”, the recovering Roark wannabe snarls, “Doesn’t work in real life.” The Howard Roark effect, often likened to a hurricane, has all too obviously worn off.
“My philosophy is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
The Russian- born cult novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, and founder of the philosophy she called Objectivism, was born on February 2, 1905 and died, at the age of 77, in March 1982. Garnering more brickbats than plaudits for her uncompromising stand on life and living, Rand nevertheless continues to feature in all lists, as one of 20th century’s most read writers. A 1991 survey revealed that after the Holy Bible, it was Rand’s books that impacted people most; one cannot but help reflect wryly that coming in after the Bible would not have exactly thrilled the atheist author. The US Postal Service has released two commemorative stamps featuring Rand looking austerely glamorous. Closer to home, just about every roadside stall loaded with pirated books has copies of The Fountainhead and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, thus ensuring a wide section of the reading populace gets access to her works in the most economical manner possible. The Canadian rock band Rush has credited her with being their fountainhead of inspiration. There have been films and documentaries, Academy Award- nominated ones, on the life and times of Ayn Rand. The cult endures.
Objectivism is a take-no-prisoner system of values which celebrates individualism, reason and self-interest, and rejects the moral code that sacrifice, altruism and religion is good for the soul. Objectivism asks man and woman to live for the sake of himself/herself and not for others, to make his/her work the focal point of life and to develop a set of values; having developed which, never ever to compromise on them. Objectivism propounds a free market over communism; ironically enough, both use the same language when urging people to break free of the shackles.
Photographs of the woman behind this powerful philosophy show her to be short in stature, stocky, dressed impeccably, invariably holding a burning cigarette between stubby fingers and wearing the dollar sign as a lapel pin or brooch on her suit jacket. The gaze is keen, relentless, indeed what you’d expect from someone who has given us a series of tall and spare, quiet and uncompromising heroes and heroines like Howard Roark, Dominique Francon, John Galt, Hank Rearden, Francisco d’Anconia and Dagny Taggart. These architects, engineers, miners, builders, journalists, shape an Utopian world where everyone recognizes his rights and discharges his responsibilities, and where governmental shackles are minimal.
Do not let the hero in your soul perish.
Drawn in, held in absolute thrall by the world created in The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, her earlier and what some consider her most evocative work, We the Living, readers then graduate to Rand’s non- fic