The Penguin Annual Lecture 2014 by Dan Brown

The line started queuing up around 4, three hours before the lecture was commenced to start at 7. Teenagers with bright enthusiastic faces and copies of Inferno or Da Vinci Code tucked under their arms stood chatting outside the famed NCPA theater. College students from nearby cities like Pune and Ahmedabad could also be seen standing in the perpetually growing queue. The excitement in the air was palpable. Mixed among the crowd were middle-aged literary veterans, calmly surveying the chaotic youngsters. The gates opened at 6:15. Seats were randomly allocated seats on ‘first come, first serve’ basis, which essentially people (read: the author) who came first were allotted seats in a far off corner, while people who arrived later got front row seats. Well played Crossword!

All complaints however died out when the man of the hour himself walked in, after having been introduced by Indian author, Ravi Subramanian. As the legendary writer of Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown walked in, the entire auditorium erupted into cheers and applause. The entire audience were on their feet, clapping hard and long. He endeared himself to the hearts of all youngsters in the audience when he started his speech by exclaiming surprise at the young age of the majority of the audience. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?!” he jovially asked

For me, and most other members of the audience, this was a dream come true. To be in the same room as one of my favourite authors isn’t something I could have ever dreamed of. The lecture on ‘Religion and Science’ was delivered to perfection by the author. Mr. Brown started by telling us about his paradoxical childhood, with a church organist as his mother and a mathematics teacher as his father. He even showed us their respective car number plates. His mother’s read ‘Kyrie’ (Greek for Lord), and his father’s read ‘Metric’. He then expounded upon his theory about the god of gaps, wherein he said that whenever the ancient Greeks and Romans experienced a gap in their knowledge, something they couldn’t explain, they invented a god to fill in the gap. So infertility was considered to be due to a falling out from the goddess Juno, plagues were brought upon by the wrath of an angry god and hurricanes were caused by the god of the sea, Poseidon. In a style reminiscent of his famous character Professor Robert Langdon, Mr. Brown further explained that as science discovered the logical reasons behind these events, the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods slowly died out. Today we turn to God for answers to those questions that science cannot answer – where do we come from? why are we here? where do we go after we die? – and in a way, we are still worshipping the god of the gaps.

One of his most powerful statements, according to this author, was when he talked about world religions. The writer said that all human beings have similar spiritual experiences: while looking at the star-lit heavens, we all have at times acknowledged a higher power beyond our understanding, and yet we follow different religions.

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It is not religion, but language that divides us, he proclaimed. When we take metaphors as history, the cosmic space as a concrete space, and when we argue over the semantics of god that we are divided. Otherwise all religions preach a similar message of kindness over cruelty, and of love and peace.

“To grow up in a world without religious prejudices is a privilege, and not one many of us enjoy”, he said.

After his speech, Dan Brown engaged in a conversation with famous Indian author, Ashwin Sanghvi. The conversation steered to many topics. When asked about the two Hollywood blockbusters Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code, based on his novels, Dan Brown praised the hard work of actor Tom Hanks and the entire filmmaking crew. He said:

The magic of a book is in its ability to be different things for different people…When a book becomes a movie the quantum wave collapses, and all possibilities die out except one…A movie is like someone else’s child. All an author can ask for is that the filmmakers stay true to the pulse, heartbeat and message of the book.

The talk was as engaging as it was informative. His humourous jokes cracked the audience up,every now and then. The minutes flew swiftly by, and the lecture was over too soon for anyone’s liking. The silver lining was Mr. Sanghvi’s question, when he asked Mr. Brown if his protagonist, Robert Langdon, would soon be following his steps to Mumbai. Though Mr. Brown’s reply was diplomatic, hope lingers. We can’t wait to welcome him back to these shores again!

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