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The Fountainhead

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Yes, no frills in the title of this post. Just that, Fountainhead, an honorary title by itself. I will be committing a sacrilege by even attempting to review a timeless masterpiece such as Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. No, this book is beyond my arrogance and attitude. It commands from me what religions failed to do. It commands reverence. I kneeled down subserviently before the book last night after reading the last few pages. Reading this book was like cringing in front of my conscience and being slapped back to my senses. I cringed and cried. Dumbstruck and enlightened!

I cannot and will not review ‘Fountainhead’. Especially after reading some maddening reviews by morons, trying to act smart and feign intelligence, I was so sick that I swore not to review it. But I badly want to talk about it, talk about it with people who’ve read it. Like having watched a fantabulous movie and discussing the plot with our friends, I so want to talk about it. So much that I couldn’t resist a rest. I am possessed and I guess I will be for some time until the world shocks me again with realities and erodes, sorry, corrodes the little gems of wisdom imparted by this book and imprinted in my memory to last for as long as it could. It may not be too long but as long as it could.

It might come as a surprise to many that I, having taken pride in being a voracious reader that I claim to be, haven’t read ‘Fountainhead’. True, I hadn’t until yesterday. Inspite of all the praises and criticism showered on this book for ages, I had intentionally put off reading it until I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had attempted to read it once, during my teen years and couldn’t go beyond the initial 80 odd pages. Too philosophical. Too preachy. But those were not the reasons. The character that I related to during those days made me feel so ashamed of myself, ashamed of being and behaving a society’s so called good girl when my heart and mind wasn’t in it. It shamed me for not being me, for not being proud to be me but pretending to be someone else, something else. Pretending a sweet smile is tough as it is and this book made me feel so small that I honestly hated it. I returned it back to the library with the excuse of semester examinations in the way. After that, I dare not pick it up again.

With rolling years and growing experience, I changed. Not because of the book that I never read but because of life’s lessons learnt the hard way. Every time I ordered a new book to read, I had considered ‘Fountainhead’ but without the courage to go by the consideration, I ordered another. Every reader out there was lauding this book and placed it among their best reads. What if I couldn’t understand it? What if I had to pretend to love it but really didn’t? What if I wasn’t as mesmerized? What if it makes me squirm within my skin again? I was so afraid of hurting my ego that I refused to challenge that fear. Well, after conquering some of my clichéd dogmas, I finally conquered that fear. I started reading ‘Fountain Head’ again, 10 years later.

This time around, the first thing that struck me was surprise. Since I had changed as a person myself, I was no longer relating to the character that I did the last time. And the person that I was trying to so desperately identify myself with didn’t seem such a stranger anymore. Agreed, I am nowhere close to him or his ideals, but at least I am not so far away. Simply because I’ve started living by my ideals. That knowledge was such a relief! Such a consolation and such a pride! With the fear factor out of the way, the fineness of the literature started seeping in slowly and smoothly, seducing me all the way.

I said that I will not review the book. So, I will not talk about Ayn Rand’s richness of language or her expertise in exchanges that simply made the characters and their intentions transparent without explicitly saying it aloud in so many words.  I will not talk about individualism and collectivism because after reading Rand, mine will sound like ring-a-ring-a-roses. I will not talk about anything that Rand has already talked about and make a mockery out of myself. But I will talk about the things that she didn’t but the movie makers of ‘Fountainhead’ portrayed as something that she did.

A brilliant book such as this made me so badly want to watch the movie, a 1949 movie. They say old wine is tastier. I was so eager for a delicious sip of the pages pictured on the screen and what a disappointment it was! Movie adaptation was not just gross but downright rotten. Understood that the movie adaptation will have to accommodate changes but to compromise the integrity of the story? I mean, the story is all about a man’s integrity and to have that twisted just made me want to puke.

fountainhead poster

To those of you who had read the book but haven’t watched the movie, my one sincere advice. Please don’t. Unless you want to see Dominique Francon as a love stung, pretty damsel pleading Gail Wynand to save Howard Roark, unless you want to see Ellsworth Toohey as a cigar smoking obvious villain, unless you want to blow your brains out, please don’t. In all the 724 pages, the book was iterating and re-iterating the concept of man and mind that would not conform to conventions. The movie however had made every change necessary to follow conventions and had tried a box office hit with just the novel’s title. I hope it had failed abysmally. I was an insult, an astonishing idiocracy!

After reading the Fountainhead, without letting the movie rip off or tarnish those words, my brain was searching for parallel real life characters from India, characters that I know of. To me, Peter Keating is you and me. Howard Roark was Mahakavi Bharathiyar. Dominique Francon is Sri. Jayalalitha. Gail Wynand is Dhirubhai Ambani and Ellsworth Toohey was none other than Mahatma Gandhi himself. Don’t you see it? If you had read and understood the book and the characters in detail, you’ll see it and if you are or aren’t a big fan of some of these celebrities, you’ll see it straight through. Some like Rand and some dislike her. Some agree with her and some don’t. But that’s not the point. Rand’s characters had either lived or born in her time, each triumphed into leaders of sorts with different names and different personalities in different countries but her book is timeless and eternal. Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s golden crown, or at least till I read her other works.

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