Published on 12th March, 2016, on Mythical India
With over 30 books to his name and numerous article on platforms like The Economic Times, Mid-day, Speaking tree etc., Devdutt Pattanaik is prolific author, mythologist and a leadership consultant in India. Educated in medicine and having worked with majors like Apollo Health Street, Sanofi Aventis and E&Y, he was always interested in reading and writing about Mythological stories. His focus area has been to draw rich insights on business, leadership and management from the mythology. He has also featured in shows like “Business Sutra” on CNBC and hosted “Devlok” on Epic channel. Devdutt was also the Chief Belief Officer of Future Group and consults Reliance Group and Star TV on matters related to culture and mythological serials respectively. We had this wonderful opportunity to interact with this well sought after public speaker, author, columnist and mythologist on various issues like Indian Mythology, religious views and hardliners along with his show and the upcoming book. Below is an account of Mythical India’s interaction with Dr Devdutt Pattanaik.
1) What has been the inspiration for starting to write about Mythology, culture and religions? Being an MBBS and working in pharma industry for 14 years, what lead to your deep interest in researching about Indian Mythology and then start writing full time?
Hobbies are hobbies. It has nothing to do with education. I was always interested in mythology as a child though I got more deeply interested in college. I wrote my first column related to mythology in college magazines, and then, following interest of a publisher, my first (Shiva an introduction) book on mythology in 1996, that is over 20 years ago. Mythology remained a parallel track to my job in pharma industry until 2008 when I took it up full time thanks to the support of Mr. Kishore Biyani who felt I would add value to the think tank of Future Group (Big Bazaar).
2) You have been very radical about your views on how various religions treat women in their mythological stories or how various religions enforce the caste system on their disciples. You have also challenged the status quo of beliefs for the religions. What is your motivation behind such topics?
I don’t think I have been radical. I just refuse to accept information based on bias and without checking all the data. Most people approach mythology in general and Hindu mythology in particular with a bias that distorts all understanding of scriptures. I just challenge the bias and introduce new ways of looking at data. For example, many who read Ramayana assume that Sita is victim. Yet, when we approach Ramayana by seeing Sita as Goddess, we discover she makes 5 choices in the epic, and Ram none. Who is more empowered? In caste matters, nobody asks why Pakistan and Bangladesh which is Islamic still follows caste system in matters related to sewage. This is as per Dalit sources. So clearly caste needs to be seen from a South Asian lens, not a Hindu lens. But we don’t. The problem is with presumptions, not data.
3) Have you faced any challenges from the extremists groups based on the topics you have written about?
Left extremists or Right extremists? Wherefrom comes this urge to constantly seek validation of extremists who listen to no one, and are usually narcissistic and psychopathic? To seek their validation is giving them power, no?
4) What is your take on how hard liners from various religions have twisted and tweaked the religious teachings to misguide people?
They exist. They have a right to express themselves. I have a right to filter them out. Nobody in the world is misguided. We should not assume that humans cannot think for themselves. The assumption that people can be manipulated indicates our own lack of faith in humanity or our own high opinion of ourselves as ‘saviors’. People have the choice to choose their path. We judge them as being guided or misguided based on our prejudices.
5) What is your long term objective with your writing? What kind of change would you want to bring in the current ideology of the society, if any?
I have no desire to change the world. The world makes up its own mind. I do what I love doing. I have been doing this 20 years long before mythology became ‘cool’.
6) You have also partnered with EPIC channel to present Devlok. How has been the experience? Please share some of it with our readers.
It has been great fun, speaking in Hindi and explaining concepts that I usually write in English. You realize how translation can distort ideas, and from viewer feedback I have learned how happy people are to learn about our great culture.
7) You have been a busy writer. You have published more than 40 books. Can you tell us about your latest book and what it’s about?
I never talk about future books. I love writing as it helps me clear my thoughts. The more I write, the clearer my mind becomes. It is my meditation.