October was a special month for fans of Ayn Rand. It was the 50th anniversary of the publication of her grand polemic, Atlas Shrugged. And of course, there were celebrations, in the US as well as in India, the latter lot organized by the Delhi- based Liberty Institute. At the Mumbai event, held at the Landmark bookshop, people viewed a 1974 interview of Ayn Rand and followed it with a discussion on the life and works of the author. They then cut the anniversary cake.
The Delhi meet began with a 40- minute discussion by some of the participants, on Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand's impact and continuing relevance, then the interview was screened, and of course, a cake was cut. Later, at the request of some members of the audience, Rand's last public lecture to an audience of businessmen, Sanction of the Victims (1981), was screened.
In Hyderabad, people watched the Oscar-nominated Ayn Rand: A sense of Life, discussed Rand's philosophy, and its contemporary relevance…and cut the mandatory cake! Other events are scheduled for this month, in Kolkata, Bangalore and Patna. The writings of Ayn Rand, we can safely conclude, are alive and well ensconced in the hearts and minds of the country’s reading public.
Many Rand readers consider Atlas Shrugged, her magnum opus of 1957, the go- to Bible for Objectivism. All of 1,200 pages, it’s often criticized for being unwieldy, an awkwardly crafted tale of business men going on strike and bringing life to a standstill; characters talk for as many as 57 pages in a staccato style; the Utopia created by the `protesting` tycoons is pure fantasy, as is bringing NYC to its knees.
Ah, but what a book. The central premise --- that the Atlases (thinkers, doers of this world) can, and should, shrug --- is more pertinent to the world today, than ever. Rand draws a forceful, dismal picture of what can happen to us if the troika of altruism-collectivism-mysticism is unleashed upon society. And then, Rand provides a radical solution, too. The New York Times termed it ``one of the most influential business books ever written.`` As of September 07, Atlas Shrugged ranked 124th on amazon.com’s bestseller list, and last year, sales of the novel in US bookstores topped an astonishing 130,000 copies --- more than when it was first published. Many million copies have been sold worldwide, over the years, and it remains a popular title, particularly among the youth, according to its publisher, the Penguin Group.
There have been repeated attempts to bring Atlas Shrugged to celluloid life. The author herself blocked some earlier attempts, and plans for a television mini-series fell victim to network politics. Near the end of her life, Rand tried to write her own script, as she had done for The Fountainhead, but she died with only a third of the mini-series finished. The latest effort involves a line-up of big names like Angelina Jolie (to play Dagny Taggart), Randall Wallace, who wrote Braveheart to do the screenplay; the moot point is, no one in Hollywood has as yet figured out a formula that will deliver to both the masses and the intellectual classes.
Over the years, readers of Rand and believers of Objectivism have learned that it is better to be quiet about their set of beliefs. A philosophy that preaches the virtues of selfishness, that denounces altruism, that reveres man instead of god, cannot really be held aloft as a banner in these times of militant intolerance. So, the real Randians tend to go underground; what you get is Page 3 types saying their favourite author is Ayn Rand, and quickly following it up saying the one book they would recommend to all would be Swami So- and -So’s latest heal yourself treatise. The utter contradiction is apparently lost on them. Or else it’s the routine outing of Rand’s name from one’s store of literary pretensions, for the cachet it carries.
However, here and there, the Rand connection surfaces, low- key, steady, authentic. Kiran Majumdar Shaw, the founder of biotech firm Biocon admits to being inspired by Ayn Rand; she does not elucidate further but then, her work speaks for itself. Foo