by Vinita Ramchandani the Week [4th Oct 1998]
DEVDUTT Pattanaik is a doctor. But then he could have been a space engineer, an environmentalist or a yoga instructor, illustrator, columnist and medical communicator. That’s not all. He can recite the 300 versions of Ramayana with as much ease as he can rattle off the Mahabharata or the entire Bible – all this at the age of 27.
After taking his MBBS from Grant Medical College, he decided to chuck it as he realized it was not his calling. “I prefer to call myself a medical communicator – a person who communicates medicine to the regulatory authorities doctors the marketing industry and patients said Pattanaik.
While Pattanaik liked medicine as a subject he did not want to practise it. He could have lectured in medical colleges but decided against it. He also got through the civil services exams but rejected it. “It was one of the most intellectually stimulating exams I’ve done,” he said, “The idea of dealing with politicians all my life put me off.” “My parents were rather unhappy.” He admitted. “But they had to go through it. They wanted me to be something that I could not be.”
Giving up a secure future in the medical profession was a tough decision and he was ridden with self-doubt. He drew temporary succor from writing. “I first tried medical journalism. Then I met Dr. Giri Shankar a behavioral scientist.” When Shankar asked Pattanaik to counsel in his personality agreed. “I was healing at a mental level. Most medical problems stem from behavioral errors. The physical aspect is insignificant. It convinced me that clinical medicine me that clinical medicine was not what I wanted. Behavioral science, yoga and mythology offered me the way.”
Pattanaik says his profession is medicine but his passion is is mythology. “This [medicine] gives me my bread and butter but no jam. Jam is a must and it comes from mythology.”
What does God mean to him? Pattanaik grins: “I’ve never found an incompatibility between methods and logos (belief and logic). Belief systems have always been there, “he said. “They always co-exist with rationale. You have to ask a very simple question. Why do you want to be logical? Why do you want to believe in God? I believe in God because my life improves. And if logic helps me make my life better I will follow it. The bottom line is to give your life more meaning. Believing in God helps me lead a nice life.”
Pattanaik’s courses on mythology at the National College. Mumbai, are a success. The National Centre for Performing Arts will be hosting his lectures in October. He also works with Parag Trivedi’s group called Samrang.
Pattanaik believes that deconstructing the myth enhances it. Tradition he said has to be questioned but has to be seen in perspective. “Hanuman is a brahmachari monkey god a symbol of strength.” He said. “At an allegorical level I see it as bhakti – a God who sacrifices his virility and directs his strength for uniting the devi with her consort. At another level you see a powerful person who can over-power the demon easily but chooses not to. You see a lot of restraint. To me it becomes the Symbol of strength.” He said.
Pattanaik is adept in Egyptian Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Oceanic, Aborigine, Greek and Inca mythology. “I don’t know much about the tribal myths. They are far too many. It’s difficult to put them together and give a form. But I read them all I prefer civilizations.”
According to him, most of the myths are dead. “Hindu myths are alive. The Bible is well documented, so it is easy to study, Hindu mythology is difficult because it has so many versions.” Pattanaik knows all the sacred texts by heart. “Normally I pick up obscure characters. I prefer to examine Duryodhan or Balram than Arjuna or Krishna. I loved then character Ulupi, the Naga maiden who kidnaps Arjuna and says to him, ‘You better have sex with me because I’ve asked you for it.’ This kind of dialogues you will never find in sedate versions of the Mahabharata.”
Another of his favorite of his favorite is Sita’s exile. Most authors, he says stop where Sita s sent away by Ram and start again at Ram’s coronation. Most authors are unable to explain why the ideal man Ram divorced his wife. “But I will attack that first because it is exciting.” Said Pattanaik. He is convinced Ram was the ideal man and gives his reasons in his forthcoming book Vishnu – an Introduction. Pattanaik’s books carry his illustrations.
It was Suma Varghese former editor of Society who spotted this talent in the young man. She took him on as an illustrator for Society Eventually he did work for Island. Savvy Debonair and Options. Pattanaik is now working on a series of illustrations and paintings. Which he plans to sell. “Painting is not 100 per cent of me. Just as lecturing or writing is not 100 per cent of me.” He said. “I’m greedy. I wand to explore every avenue that God has given me.”
Pattanaik would walk into publications and ask the editor if they wanted someone to write for them. When he couldn’t get an audience with Trupti Kotecha, former editor of Savvy. He sent a note saying, ‘Do you know why I feel that Harshiput of Egypt had a bread? If not, I’m waiting in the conference room.’ Kotecha let Pattanaik do a column for her. And Ecstasy Uncle’ got started. “I learnt a lot of things about writing on the job.” he said, “I had to or I wouldn’t get my next cheque.”
His decision to do both medicine and mythology was a pragmatic one. He realized that he could not survive solely on mythology. His book Shiva was a success. He gives lectures on personality development and career counseling. Pattanaik admits that to live comfortably he couldn’t cut off medicine completely. He works for Siro Research foundation a clinical research organization as a medical executive and juggles between Satybama and Rukmini. Pattanaik oratorical skills showed up during his medical college days. “I earned my pocked money through prize money in college festivals and competitions.”
He got into yoga to delve future into the field of communication. “Yoga teachers learn the basics of anatomy and physiology. Scholars aren’t necessarily good communicators. So you have a yogi who can’t teach yoga. That’s where may strength lies. At the Yoga Institute he delivered sessions on ‘Yoga and Total Health. The classes were a rage. Pattanaik’s immense knowledge and wisdom places him more often than not, with older people. “I usually play father figure to guys my age,” he said.