Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead

This book could as well have been a theory of her philosophy with the ideal person being Howard Roark and the others just examples of variations of imperfect people. The story was just a prop, a background to the real intention of explaining her philosophy. Probably, that's what makes the book attractive to many. A philosophy told as a story. Few other books if any do this, none as far as I know. And this very form adopted to explain a philosophy is what creates problems. All the characters are integral in the way they are portrayed, each a different single colour. No hues allowed. The differences between them are crystal clear. Though very unrealistic, this could still be pardoned if not for her ruthless disapproval of Peter Keating when he wants to pursue his passion later in life. Sorry, but there are no second chances. It's like once she has defined Peter Keating, she wants no confusion in his characterisation because if he reforms, Peter Keating won't be Peter Keating, he will become Roark which cannot be allowed. There can only be one Peter Keating and one Howard Roark. The characters don't seem to breathe. She holds them tight and puts them in their slots with her obsession with perfection.

Towards the end of the story, she even leaves the pretence of a story and gets into a preachy tone, defining the concept of a second hander and on and on. Not that it doesn't make sense. Some of it does. The problem is not with the content but with how she goes about delivering it. She doesn't let the readers choose the characters they like. She tells them what is good, what is bad, what is ugly. She gives her own opinion and she is present throughout the novel like an unnamed invisible character in the story shouting what she has to say. She is not a neutral narrator just telling a story of Roark, Keating or Wynand. She has already decided what she wants the reader to pick from it and what to think about it. Every time before Roark or Dominique enter the scene, there are sevaral hints given to prepare the reader for their entry and how the reader should feel when her hero or heroine enter. She almost announces them loudly. A halo each would have completed the picture.

She compels her readers, especially the younger folks, (I was one of them), to try hard and convince themselves that they are Roarks or Dominques. If one fails to do so, one is left with no choice but to see oneself as a Keating or a Wynand or a Toohey which doesn't make the reader feel good. This is disturbing. Reality is not among the choices. Most youngsters, after reading this book, start calling themselves Roark and probably judge themselves all the time to live upto the ideal nature of the character. This is brutal. It kills the identity of the reader if the reader buys her philosophy. It makes them convince themselves that they always had a purpose in life, an undiscovered passion. If there was no story but just theoretical philosophy, it wouldn't have been so bad as there wouldn't be an example of a real life character called Roark who makes it possible to imagine an idealistic life lived. People would've cut it off saying this is just philosophy which cannot be put into practice and would have taken it in a lighter sense.

Also, because of her obsession with her philosophy, even her novels become repetitive. I couldn't go beyond a few pages of Atlas Shrugged or We The Living after reading The Fountainhead. To be honest, this book, The Fountainhead, shook me for almost a month when I was judging myself, comparing myself to the characters in the book, how much of whom I was. It's not a nice feeling. However, better sense prevailed. Maybe, all that I said is triggered by my discomfort with her philosophy but I do believe I have been honest with my evaluation. Anyway, one should start from one's own vantage point and see what one makes of her novel or her philosophy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Is the death of Osama Bin Laden the end of terrorism?” – An essay topic

The question itself seems to want to answer itself in the way it is asked. In order to question the question, we need to ask the following. Is Osama Bin Laden the only terrorist? Is he the cause of terrorism? We may arrive at a “No” for both the questions but our question here seems to want to make us believe otherwise. The question wants us to merely justify what it has already answered. Osama Bin Laden may provide a context for a tea time talk about terrorism but if we really want to understand what causes terrorism, we may have to look deeper. It might take a researcher to exactly tell what the causes are but using our logical mind we can definitely tell where to look for the causes. It is true when they say what you see is determined by what you want to see with the lenses you have. Today, our lenses have been tweaked with by our dear mass media so much that we seem to miss the reality as we are deliberately kept away from it.

Coming back to the question, framed differently, a question that doesn’t try to deliberately lead us somewhere, we may ask, “What causes terrorism?” Why would anybody want to terrorize anybody? What kind of life experiences one might have gone through to cause terror? Are terrorists born terrorists? Why do they become terrorists? Is it like the way most of us choose to become doctors or engineers? Now, for most of us, being a terrorist is something abnormal because our life experiences do not normally make us choose to become a terrorist. But hey, let us hold on and understand who ‘we’ are. We are a minority living in a highly protected environment, safely ignoring the world outside, having the luxury to discuss terrorism. And most often, we stop at discussing who the terrorists are with gory pictures of killings and bombings in our minds. It’s not by chance that this is so. Our media, which feeds us with a daily dose of the world stops there at these pictures and mysteriously doesn’t seem to go further. Coming back to ‘we’, taking India as an example, ‘we’ are at the maximum, 20% of India’s population. What do the remaining 80% discuss? Never mind.

In India, we are not unaware of terrorism. We do not have to be introduced to Mr. Osama to understand terrorism. The rising levels of naxalism in the country is no surprise. But all we read or hear about is how to curb it. Never mind why there is naxalism in the first place. 80% of India lives on less than $2 a day. How do they see the world? Do they discuss terrorism at tea time? We should ask ourselves how we would look at the world if we were living on less than $2 a day. Our mighty government keeps pushing the poverty line lower and lower so that we do not have to bother ourselves thinking of ‘them’. Even media protects our mind space from thinking about them. We seem to have drawn lines, their world and ours without even consciously accepting it. But the truth is that there’s just one world for all and everybody has to live together. By denying the majority their basic needs, a minority no matter how powerful is only short-sighted if it believes that the majority will accept its fate. Acceptance does not come easily when one doesn’t have enough to eat, talking at the minimum level. That is what is happening today. But we still don’t seem to see the time bomb ticking and we talk of the end of terrorism with Mr. Osama’s death.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prison of Perspectives

I just watched this documentary called Born into Brothels. I sat down wondering when I finished watching it. I can start being critical about it with a go. However, I stopped. I tried to appreciate that it produced at least some feeling in this insensitive head watching it. I kept thinking.

What should I do?

How do I look at the world? There seem to be so many ways to look at it. So many.
I ask questions. What makes people happy and what makes them sad? I realize my questions are not good enough. They are not good enough to get answers that capture the reality, whatever it is, or are.

There’s no one thing or a couple of things that make one happy or sad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s a combination of things of various measures in various contexts. Sometimes, I feel just too helpless. I feel tied up with so many perspectives which do not let me decide how to act. What am I doing anyway? Watching these documentaries and movies and feeling them or thinking about them for a day or two. Then, what?

I never knew if there’s anything I’m good at. Am I even looking at everything around with any sensitivity? Am I really sensitive about things happening around me? Do I feel them? Am I conscious of them? How conscious can one be? Is there a limit? Till where do I go? Where do I stop? Would I know?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

To Write or Not to Write

When a friend suddenly brought it to my notice that I haven't updated my blog for a while, I realized I haven't been writing at all these days and it didn't even occur to me. I seem to lack any interest in most things around me or I am just not looking the right places. Either way, life seems pretty jobless and everything so overrated. I keep shunning the word important as I always do but even more these days. I'm curious to find anything that interests me just for the sake of understanding it. Not to use it or apply it but just to understand it. That's enough to make me happy, worth my time if it's worth any. I've become too choosy for movies or books. I hardly read which is too bad especially when I have time to read. I search for a dream but the same old ones keep coming back. Memory can make life so boring. Scarcity of dreams blurs one's imagination. I extrapolate and dread the time when I run out of memories going over them over and over again and get so bored with the lack of new ones. I dread boredom. Two eyes staring at nothing, looking nowhere. Silence. Emptiness. A dead end. Full stop.