Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Article on Ayn Rand's Influence in India

The ‘Ayn Rand in India’ initiative was mentioned for the first time in the media recently, in an article written by author Jennifer Burns. The article titled ‘Howard Roark in Delhi, appears on the Foreign Policy magazine website.

In this article, Burns traces the popularity that Rand enjoys in India. She has mentioned that outside the US, Indians perform the maximum number of Google searches on Ayn Rand. This is a bit of news that a lot of us may not have been aware of. The other interesting fact she provides is that unlike the US, the most popular Rand book in India is not Atlas Shrugged. Instead, it is her earlier novel, The Fountainhead. Think about it a little bit, and this is probably not surprising. For one, The Fountainhead is a much easier read. Besides, the explosion of popularity that Atlas has seen in the US is largely linked to their current economic and political context. Everyone is talking about the similarities between the world of Atlas and the US of today. A lot of Indians haven’t explored such an angle, and Atlas Shrugged largely remains a staple only for the serious Rand aficionado.

Burns’ article has a couple of contentious aspects to it as well. First of all, she suggests that the reason why so many Indians have an interest in Ayn Rand is because Rand is representative of the wave of modernization that has swept the cities. With the collectivist past left behind, and traditional family and community ties breaking, individuals seeking fresh answers are drawn towards Rand. Consider her comment –

“As modern India continues to undergo seismic economic and cultural shifts … Rand is emerging as a touchstone for a new generation. For many Indians, she is a tonic of modernization, helping to inspire a break with India's collectivist, socialist past.”

And –

Rand's celebration of independence and personal autonomy has proven to be powerfully subversive in a culture that places great emphasis on conforming to the dictates of family, religion, and tradition.

While there may be a lot of people in India for whom the influence of Rand was crucial in stepping out of the shadows of collectivism and traditional bonds, I’m not sure that this historical and cultural context sums up the reason why so many people in India are attracted to Rand. There may be just as many Indians who have been drawn to Rand even though they haven’t lived under collectivist or stifling family influences (myself being one). That is the power of an author who presents universal truths that are not related to one specific time period or cultural context.

Additionally, I don’t think that the modernization that India has encountered represents Ayn Rand’s ideas, even though individualism and free markets are stronger forces than before. The vision of life and man’s potential she presents is missing as much from the ‘modern’ environment, as from the traditional one. The business world in India hardly upholds Rand’s notions of rational selfishness, creative ingenuity and uncompromising integrity. If we look at cultural values, films or art, it is not much different. Rand’s vision of a proud, heroic man who is self-sustaining and fearless is rarely to be savored. So, I don’t think Rand is a ‘tonic of modernization’. She cannot be considered a part of any larger movement that we see in India. In fact, a modern individual in India will find just as radical an alternative in Rand, as a traditional one.

The other contentious point of this article is Burns’ identification of Rand’s philosophy as a development of ‘libertarianism.’ Considering how much Rand hated what ‘libertarianism’ stood for in her time, she would certainly not have appreciated this kind of an analysis. Click here for Rand’s views on libertarianism.

1 comment:

  1. Her ideas are universal as are all truths. This is a great testiment to her philosophy, and is a fact not to be ignored. Her ideas are rellevant to every age in every age and on all corners of the world. And it would serve her critics well to aim for that standard of truth.