Book Title: One: The Story of the Ultimate Myth
Author: Mansoor Khan
A book with a front blurb by Aamir Khan is bound to attract eyeballs. That the book is written by his director cousin Mansoor Khan, who gave us hits like ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ and ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’, lends it more appeal. Pursuing natural farming in remote Coonoor for the last 20 years, Khan has diverged from the interpersonal relationships his films explored to tackle deeper questions around human existence.
While his first book, ‘The Third Curve’, focussed on the concepts of infinite economic growth and ‘peak oil’, this one explains the world’s ecological crisis through an anthropological lens.
Written as a short novel, ‘One’ builds its arguments through two characters who are deemed mentally unfit by society because of the challenge they pose to the normative. They end up collaborating to subvert the dominant thought through an experiment in the backyard.
There is a book within this book and both operate at different levels and also differ in quality. While the fictional story lags at some points, the non-fiction anthropological and the conceptual segments lend gravitas to the writing.
Despite a tardy start, the author manages to hold attention after a few pages and delivers some key insights into how we became so good at building boundaries from the real world. Starting with the discovery of fire to the advent of farming and creation of a society focussed on symbols, Khan unpacks what we understand by science, technology and logic and how our approach to resolve problems actually amplifies them. The fictional characters, Sonal and Abhay, go through self-doubt and life-changing moments that bring them together. Through these characters, Khan explores how society and corporate culture are capable of unleashing mental trauma and harassment on those who don’t fall in line. From genetically modified food to big dams, the story traverses several major environmental issues India is facing.
The title ‘One’ derives from the belief that a human being is not separate from nature, a tenet still followed by many indigenous tribes across the world. In a way, they are the only exceptions among hordes of us who are part of ‘modern civilisation’ that has triggered the present crisis. While many readers might be already aware of the ‘oneness’ concept, Khan offers more substantial arguments and also manages to pick holes in popular theories like ‘The Butterfly Effect’, ‘The Chaos Theory’ and ‘Black Swan Events’.
Having detached himself from the glamourous and glossy life of the film industry to live on a farm, the author seems to bring a lot of his own life into this book. Thankfully, it is not another tome on popular messages of environmental protection. Instead, it scoffs at them as attempts to divert attention from the real problem.
What it doesn’t address, however, is the need of a living being at self-preservation, which has ironically driven us to this point of self-destruction. The experiment by Sonal and Abhay holds the key to how this need can be met while we connect back to nature, but it needed more explaining.