On a warm morning in February, I visited a windowless beige room in Delhi’s Apeejay School of Management, to see India’s largest collection of writings by the author Ayn Rand. On metal bookcases lining all four walls, antique editions signed by Rand stood alongside cheap pirated copies, once peddled on street corners. Audio and video cassettes also sat on the shelves, though more of them rested in a ceiling-high pile of boxes in a corner. I was welcomed by Barun Mitra, a 56-year-old policy analyst and the proud custodian of the collection. “I’m very lucky,” he told me, spectacles dangling from a cord around his neck. “Ayn Rand changed my life.” As a fan wobbled overhead, Mitra’s research assistant scurried about the room to fetch collectibles for my inspection.
Rand, a Russian-born American writer, is best remembered for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Through many fiction and non-fiction works, she created Objectivism: a philosophy that posits rational self-interest as the moral purpose of life, and capitalism as the best system to govern society.
Many Indians have found solace in Rand’s philosophy, despite the fact that India’s political tradition is a far cry from the Objectivist ideal. In fact, Mitra’s collection emerged from a 50-year attempt to create an official Objectivist movement in India. But the movement, like the collection, has been largely abandoned by its followers. Over conversations with Mitra and many others who helped lead the movement, I learnt about this ill-fated endeavour.