By Asees Bhasin:
Date: 11th November 2014.
Venue: Sri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi.
The Penguin Random House Annual Lecture promises intellectual stimulus, heated discussions, and either change or clarity in perception. When Dan Brown, author of the most scandalous amalgamations of religion and science, addressed New Delhi, the result was far different from what was expected.
Dan began his lecture recounting his roots, explaining his childhood dual identities of being born to a devout Christian mother and a scientific mathematician for a father. It does become interesting for readers to understand an author’s upbringing as a contributor to his writing, however, the present is far more important and relatable in understanding the literature he’s written.
Dan Brown might have done an eloquent job in reconstructing his childhood influences for us, but he absolutely refused to engage with what happened once he grew up.
Expectations: It would be safe to say that people expected this lecture to be packed with historical references. Why Florence, Venice, Paris and other seats of renaissance serve as sets would have been an interesting answer to receive. The ideas of cryptography and the study of symbols is a very unconventional idea, which has been expounded upon in the books. These ideas would have made for a riveting seminar. The modes and means to research such heavily factual books would’ve helped budding writers. Primarily, the themes of science and religion, and how they entwine in today’s day and age, and the relevance of the coexistence of the two should have been the main theme of this seminar.
Post his childhood ramblings, Brown began to vaguely and gingerly touch upon matters of science and religion. He ambiguously quoted principles of metaphysics and spoke of spiritual journeys people undertake accepting their parent’s Gods as theirs. He spoke about how due to the existing gaps in our understandings of science, we develop faith and resort to religion. He then digressed into musings about human intolerance and how fundamentally each religion is the same, preaching love over hate and creation over destruction.
Dan Brown decided it would be a wise idea to carry forth this lecture with interjections and questions from the audience and the moderator Rajdeep Sardesai. The latter made the entire essence of the lecture frivolous by asking banal questions regarding his further work and whether it would involve exploring India. He contorted and manipulated the questions the audience was asking and unfortunately, politicized the entire lecture by placing it in a comparative Indian religious scenario where religious identity, he claimed, was radically asserted. By this point, the entire lecture took a turn far away from anything to do with religion, science and codes.
The audience asked ridiculous questions like – ‘Would you sign my book?’, ‘Would you hum us a pop song?’ and ‘Who, in your childhood, inspired you to write?’. When asked about his research and selection of history he portrays, Brown stonewalled this question and ambiguously said that because so many interpretations of history existed, he chose the one he fancied the best.
It was unfortunate to see a lecture with such scope for discussion be reduced to banter. Furthermore, it was disappointing to hear ridiculous questions with no thought lying at their base. Lastly, it was painfully moderated by an individual who seemed clueless about this genre of literature and was insistent on solely promoting his book.
The Indian audience is usually smarter and lectures can be far more interesting (like Reza Aslan’s at the JLF last year).