Mansoor Khan, who directed the cult Hindi film Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and then quietly retreated to his dream farm in Coonoor is now back in the limelight with a book called The Third Curve, which looks at world economic reality. He tells we are all deluded about things, like money, growing forever
Mansoor Khan is charming, down-to-earth, has an ability to laugh at himself, and has a view of money and success that most of us would scoff at. But he also has a life one would envy — after dropping out of top engineering colleges, doing a successful stint in Bollywood, he’s running a cheese-making farm in Coonoor, growing vegetables, and writing about Peak Oil! “I don’t believe in superheroes, I’m Mr. Reality,” he laughs, when we suggest he pose in front of a statue of Superman at the launch of his book in Bangalore. And in saying that he quite ably characterises himself. Excerpts from an interview:
What connects the dots between films, cheese, oil, and the economy?
My heart! (laughs). Whatever I feel is should do, I do that. There are no boundaries for me. Living on the farm was what I always wanted to move towards, so there is a centre — to live a non-urban life. I can’t live in cities. I wanted to live in a small place, have my own farm, grow my own food. This book is something that needed to be said. It’s not like I wanted to be an author and looked for a subject to write on. I realised no one else was talking about it. I’ve been studying this for the last 13 years. We knew the collapse would happen, but didn’t know which year, but you could see all the signs. We knew oil was going to peak. Sadly we all see the world through the lens of economics. Economics is the study of false tokens called money. We started believing that the token has value and started making our rules around it. And you can fudge tokens. In the west the collapse was called the Black Swan event – it didn’t fit into their model – like a Bollywood guy who writes a book on energy! But this book is not a surprise if people knew my background. I was studying engineering, computer science, electronics. I was good in physics, which is among other things, the study of energy.
Are you a very easily unhappy or dissatisfied person? You dropped out of IIT, then Cornell, then MIT. You made four films in Bollywood and moved to a farm…
No, no…The only thing I changed my mind on was engineering. I didn’t wan to do that as a career. I liked to understand it. Films… I was always sure I didn’t want to do it forever. If I can make films, I will, otherwise I won’t. I became more aware of environmental issues, about chaos humans are creating on planet. I studied that. I like the idea that my world is small. I like that I have time for myself, can grow my own food. We experimented with a gobar gas plant, my wife Tina and I make cheese. It’s adventure, it’s fun, it’s hands on. I can’t understand what people do in cities. Honestly! It’s so boring ya… The world is not going to be able to sustain its cities. Cities are energy intensive. That model will have to redefine itself. The suburbia of America is already facing it. It was built on a car and driving model. Our world here in India is quickly shifting there.
Living on your farm changed your worldview?
No, my worldview was formed even before I went there. Living on farm consolidated my thinking, made it sharper. Petroleum took 250 million years to collect. We burnt half of it in 150 years. So the notion of sustainability is a totally false notion. How can you be sustainable, because the primary energy you use is in a deficit of 10,000 : 1.
Are we too late already to change anything?
The “too late” part isn’t here. It’s in climate change. We’ve crossed the tipping point. Climate change is the other side of Peak Oil. In terms of energy consumption and changing our world it’s not too late. For India it’s definitely not too late. We are only now trying to go the other way, the way of the Western countries that are in the doldrums.
So you’re saying growth is an illusion?
Growth is a disease. Yes, now it’s become illusive! First it was real. It became an illusion after a point. We fudged reality with artificial means in the form of stocks, mortgages, leveraging, options, derivatives. We’re getting more and more notional. Money has to grow, double, follow the rules; so we’ll make it, either by real means or mathematical means. We make models from our minds.
Then this year’s economics Nobel is wasted?
(Laughs heartily) They can do what they want. They are deluded. I’m not only blaming economists. I’m saying this about everybody who believes in finance planning. You can make your lifestyles easy with surplus food, labour saving devices, hi speed trains, 300 TV channels …we felt great and felt “why shouldn’t this go on forever?” The reason why it can’t, lies in another domain called energetics – it is a discipline that has to replace economics. If you don’t do the real accounting, you’re fooling yourself. I’m not saying all industries will decay. When you look at real growth, GDP, it’s definitely going to go down in a shrinking energy world.My book says energy is the currency of the universe and the bell curve I have plotted are the laws of energy. We are at the top of the curve and we’re beginning the descent now, and there’s no up again. Nothing grows forever. You’re going to feel the pain of shrinkage. That’s what our finance minister is feeling now. They cant figure it out. This is not a book of blame. People are looking though the wrong lens — that of money. We’re busily making false plans. Because India is an emerging market we can pay the high energy prices — 100 dollars a barrel. Oil is not going to get over. We’ve only finished half. But descent is what I’m talking about. In a paradigm of growth, how can you do with less? Oil is a dam of 250 million years of sunlight. Which we found, looted, had a good time. Now, time to reckon with reality.
Does your book offer solutions?
Solution is the wrong word. Problems have solutions. Traffic jam is problem; death is not a problem. It’s a predicament. You don’t find solutions for it; you find ways of dealing with it. The finiteness of the planet is a predicament. We’re refusing to accept we’re energy-holics. You’re refusing to accept that your world runs on liquid fuels; we’re enmeshed in it. You’re trying to find arithmetic solutions to exponential problems. Transition is about accepting ecological thinking rather than industrial thinking. Right now I’m sounding like an oddball but I know it’s going to happen, I’m confident, so I’m writing about it. I had to WAIT to write about this. Before the economic collapse no one would believe it. We’re living in a bubble economy. It’s a fascinating subject – you can make a 100-part series on this.
Why don’t you?
We should! I’ll talk to Aamir (Khan, his cousin) about it (guffaws). I don’t have the money or the energy. I can do great talks.
What were your learnings from Bollywood?
I learnt how to deal with people first of all (laughs). Because I was too much of a loner. Because when you’re part of a big team, you’ve to instruct, be captain of the ship. I was fortunate enough to have a father who handled all the nitty-gritty. I was happily left to do the writing, direction – the creative part. Things were not so dear to me; somebody else did the marketing. I really didn’t care.
You felt no pressure at any time to deliver another QSQT?
I didn’t feel it right after QSQT itself, which is why I made Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. This is a completely wrong way of looking at life, at success. I laugh at this notion of success. I find people are so badly trapped in this illusion. How unhappy can you be? I’m so happy with my book’s reach out…with whatever’s happened. It’s happiness in the happening, in the right now.