Got my hands on Ayn Rand’s biography Ayn Rand and The World She Made by Anne C. Heller in a second-hand book shop that I frequent in Koramangla, Bangalore.
In final year of college, there was plenty of time to indulge in hobbies, mine being that of reading. In suburb of Kapurthala(Lucknow) which was a “tempo”(hybrid of autorickshaw and mini van) ride away from my Alma mater, I used to frequent a used book shop on Sundays. We were young and had nothing much to do with shallow pockets and even shallower will to spend .That is where I got introduced to some of the contemporary fiction writers, few of them been in the likes of Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Salman Rushdie and some classics like “Gone with the Wind” and its sequel “Scarlett”, “Love Story” and “The Class” from Segal and many others.
In the said period in college, I got hold of Any Rand’s “Fountainhead” from the shop. Must have costed around 30-40 bucks. It was a thick book and since I read at a phenomenal speed, it pleased me to see that it had sufficient content to keep me busy for a few days. I read the book in next 3-4 days (as I said, nothing much to do). And for some reason, was unable to sleep for 2 nights. The philosophy, the rebellion and the intensity and directness of language impacted my impressionable mind. I was not new to unknown ideas, having been exposed to Indian and foreign writers at an early age. However, her independence and clarity of thought portrayed through her characters bound me to the heroes and heroines of the book.
Views on Capitalism, Socialism and Communism were new to me. Despite having being taught Civics in schools throughout, concepts were not my strong point; neither did I find them interesting. Plus ours was a family with very strong opinions but very clear apolitical environment. Ideology was driven by “Gita” and “Mahabharata” focusing on Karma rather than western views on the kind of government or society we have or should have. I followed that up with her “Atlas Shrugged” which of course, had less impact simply because my mind was still in a spin.
When I saw her biography lying around, I picked it up with mild curiosity. I wanted to check out what she was beyond a writer. Despite all her detractors, her complicated personal life, her narcissism and her absolute lack of humility, it is a fact that she had the courage to say that individuality, in any form of thought, needs to be celebrated and revered, rather than forced to be subjected to, what she called “Collectivism”. I interpreted her views in my own way. Here was someone who was not afraid to be different and who insisted that it was alright to be different. For a conflicted person like me, it was reassuring. Ayn Rand’s philosophy struck me as unique and resonant with what I was brought up on.
How much that has shaped me as a contrarian, I will never know.
Her two books had an impact on me because what she said and what I understood was similar to what my world was shaping into at that moment. In our growing up years, my dad did not encourage giving alms as he believed that this is how we produce an unproductive society. A society which aims for betterment should question why any action, policy or belief has to be accepted without supporting logic. We were not very religious for the same reason. Our parents questioned religious dogma as it did not sit well with Karma concept of individuals and society as a whole.
I remember very well a conversation I had with my dad when grappling with Economics as a subject in my High School. He did not believe that governments had any role to play other than to govern. This is what they are voted for. Enterprises should be free to run with basic framework. His views, when projected to mine and juxtaposed with Rand’s philosophy many years later, made an impression that is hard to shake off even now. I did not become a fan or a follower, but the process opened my mind in many different ways.
As a person, what I did not know about her surprised me. For eg. her name is pronounced as “Ayeen” and she was a not just a celebrity author of best-selling books ,but also screen play writer for some of the major studios in Hollywood . She was born to Jewish parents and came to America in search of better life and to escape drudgery of Communist Russia. “Fountain Head”, arguably one of the most popular books of contemporary fiction, was a lesson in her philosophy and the world she believed is needed, instead of what she was born into. Her books were made into movies and she wrote the screen plays, zealously protecting her intellectual vision lest it gets destroyed on silver screen. Her success gave rise to a cult like following with youth of that era adapting her philosophy “Objectivism” and following its principles in word and action.
I am going through the biography the second time. There is inexhaustible information about Rand on the net, should anyone care to research.
It has been almost 20 years since I read those books. I do not remember much from the text, only what I felt. However I do talk to my dad often. And I continue admiring courage of conviction and belief in one’s own truth in both.
Parting thought It is remarkable that Rand’s thoughts or ideas are not clubbed under feminism or Women Empowerment. For once, there is someone who is not bogged down by gender obligations.