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Take a bow, Ayn

Govind Malkani is in his nineties, with failing eyesight that cannot cope with the regular update of literature on Ayn Rand that is mailed to him in Mumbai from all over the world. He has outlived his wife Tara with whom he used to run a well-known Ayn Rand readers’ club in Mumbai in the 1970s.

Jerry Johnson, 25, has never met Malkani but he knows him as a fellow traveller. “Malkani possibly owns the largest collection of Rand material in the country — books, videos, audio cassettes,” says Johnson, who has kept pace with Malkani in spreading the R-word.

Both are ardent Objectivists, the strain of philosophy that the Russian émigré in America created over half a century ago. On October 12, in their own individual ways, they and other Rand fans celebrated a half-century milestone, the publishing of Atlas Shrugged, her best-selling seminal novel.

“My philosophy, in essence, 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,” wrote Ayn Rand in the appendix to her last novel, published in 1957 and referred to by its fans as AS.

Johnson read Atlas Shrugged when he was 20 and went from being a “devout Catholic to an atheist.” AS and its protagonist John Galt, who gives a 90-page radio speech, profoundly impacted many readers. One such reader was an actor called Shammi Kapoor.

“I read the 1000-plus-page book at one sitting,” says Kapoor. “It had a brilliant thesis — that money was not at the root of all evil. It was very significant but it did not change my life. But AS had a good speech that the central character gives. I remember that even after 50 years.”

Celebrations of the Atlas Shrugged’s 50th anniversary took place across the country, including Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi. The venue in Calcutta was the Crossword Bookstore on Elgin Road. A cake was cut, a film screened, and fans got together for a discussion and a question-answer session.

“It is a book that has changed innumerable lives,” says Dr B. Ramana, a laparoscopic surgeon at Wockhardt Hospital in Calcutta. “It taught me how to look at myself and the world.” Ramana praises Rand’s stance on individualism and reason. “Her works leave no space for religion or communism.”

The rationalist position of Rand is lauded by Barun Mitra, director of the Liberty Institute, a forum that stands for individual rights, free markets and limited government. Mitra got hooked on Rand in the 1980s and found “a new meaning in life after reading her works.” The striking aspect of Rand’s books, according to Mitra, is that they are philosophical detective novels. “The impact of Ayn Rand can be gauged from the fact that without any advertising, her books are selling by the millions so many years after their first publication.”

An important part of Rand’s thoughts is her materialism, a characteristic that is admired by Calcutta socialite Rita Bhimani. “I appreciate her thought that each man is for himself and reckon that her thoughts could be applied effectively in the corporate world,” says Bhimani.

No doubt the upcoming eponymous movie slated to release next year will take the message of AS further afield. According to theatlasphere.com, Angelina Jolie will have a role in the film. It is not yet known who will play Galt. But the list of wannabe Galts should be a long one.

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