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My interview in Sunday Hindu

Interviews 17 Comments

Published on Nov 1, 2009

Why choose to write on Indian myths and fables?

I write on sacred stories, symbols and rituals of all cultures: European, American and Chinese, but my audiences, typically, like me to focus on India. My interest developed around 12 years ago, shortly after I had finished my medical studies. I was not interested in clinical practice and was more inclined towards medical and pharmaceutical communications (content for patients, doctors and sales representatives). This has been an organic process and one that I had to traverse alone since there is no university that actually teaches you mythology. There are courses that teach the stories like literature departments or learning about rituals in anthropology and sociology classes, symbols in art history, fine art and design classes. Freelance assignments writing on culture and religion later metamorphosed into detailed studies of myths and mythology.

You trained to be a doctor. Did your understanding of Indian mythology contribute to your studies in any way?

It’s the other way round, actually. Medical training taught me the art of breaking down the complex maze of stories, symbols and rituals into clear systems. You could say that it helped me figure out the anatomy and physiology of mythology and its relevance in a society more incisively. How is it that no society can, or does, exist without them? How we delude ourselves that we are not influenced by myth? A methodical approach that has resulted in the creation of flow charts and tables in my book Myth=Mithya is a result of my training in the medical sciences.

What does Chief Belief Officer mean?

It includes solving corporate issues by trying to bridge the gap between company values and personal values. Let me illustrate. We walked into a department in one of our offices and found everyone unhappy, hence unproductive. Kishore Biyani (MD, Pantaloon Retail (India) Limited) tells us that whenever there is a problem go to the Gangotri (the source). We realised if everyone in the department is unhappy, the head of the department had to be the source.

Now, in mythology, Lakshmi (wealth) always follows Vishnu (the leader). This meant this unproductive department (less Lakshmi) had a leader who was less Vishnu. Vishnu holds the shanka(the conch symbolising communication), chakra (the wheel signifying review), gada (the mace meaning discipline), and padma (the lotus representing appreciation). This departmental head was using more reviews (chakra) and discipline (gada) and less communication (shankha) and appreciation (padma). This awareness, through a simple visual image of Vishnu and Lakshmi, helped the department head rectify the situation. I believe business emerges from behaviour while behaviour emerges from beliefs. Beliefs emerge when values are internalised.

How do the myths influence you?

Mythology is a vast body of knowledge that has not been tapped. For example, look at how the idea of happiness is presented. What do we seek from the world around us? The ancients answer by showing us three goddesses — Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga: the goddess of wealth,of knowledge and power. Durga is Shakti who makes us feel secure. Is that not what we seek from the outside world? Wealth, knowledge and emotional security? Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga? In short, LSD! I have found answers to my personal issues in mythology.

You are an artist as well. How did art happen?

I have been doodling since childhood. I have a passion for illustrating but cannot paint or colour for that matter. I illustrate what I am trying to communicate through my writing. My images are like drawings in a science text book. Typically I like my illustration to be completed in less than 10 minutes. So what the viewer sees is a quick visual interpretation of the written word. Illustrating for me is an extension of my writing; a tool to communicate.

Most readers today are fettered by limited visual vocabulary. Most readers aren’t visually educated to see the same mythological stories in a different light. Traditional art forms have, unfortunately, remained restricted to museums and art books. I hope my illustrations help readers look at our gods and epics in a new light.

Will the coming years see more of you as an artist, a writer or a corporate person?

All three, I hope. I see little differences between the three roles. I communicate the beliefs of our forefathers through word, art and lecture. Some I do through books, some through corporate workshops, organisational development and personal interactions. These are all manifestations of a single thought, an intense desire to share this fabulous inheritance full of profound wisdom that our ancestors shared with us through stories, symbols and rituals. Blinded by science and logic, we have not been able to appreciate the depth of ancient wisdom. We have stripped ourselves of the technology of mythology that has made our culture in particular, and all cultures in general, what they are.

  • I read the article and found the mythical tangent very interesting and moreover very relevant and applicable. I always believed that our rituals and customs and even folklore have a logical, scientific and rational basis. You have explained many of those in a very simple manner and made it more relevant for the younger generation that likes to question everything and feel convinced before following it. My congratulations on your endeavour!

  • Great interview and responses :)

  • shreya

    i read the interview and thus visited this site. it’s quite interesting and keep up the good work. it does help in spreading Indian culture to our generation. and in answering questions like why do we worship gods?what’s so great about them afterall…it is well explained…

  • shreya

    i do yoga daily and one day while doing dhanurasana our teacher explained the symbolism of dhanus or the bow. it represents the word om which is a combination of three letters a u and ma. he said the body is equivalent to a bow and with it we aim to the goal brahma using the arrow i.e om…life is a goal achieved

  • Sushil

    I had read your book with great interest your book “Myth Mithya” because unlike other books on Hindu Mythology, you had explained things in brief with good illustrations.
    Your interview to Hindu newspaper and your experience of attacking departmental problems drawing on mythology was very interesting.
    I would request you to post more on such lines so that we could at last have a fully Indian system of Management that draws on our ancient cultural roots.

  • SP@Mlton Keynes

    Great !!! Very intersting !!! This is a real life exmaple of relationship of hindu mythology to the morden corporate world.

    Brilliant responses to the interview .

    Wish you all the best for your future endeavour . Keep it UP !!!!

  • LSD – Great, Lakshmi Sarasvati Durga. You would be aware that ALL three are ‘unifiied’ in Gayatri. Gada (protective tool, not necessarily weapons, like presence of mind and quick/intuitive reflexes), flower (symbolising knowledge and wisdom, vessel (riches), Chakra (search and destroy), Shankha (confidence of victory), and other equipments, in all numbering 10, carried in the ten hands of Gayatri. Meditation is not a thought-free, blank mind,but has to visualize something, which in Hindu practice, is on Gayatri. Distractions like atmospheric noises but more importantly mental disturbances and ramblings, can hinder meditation, and the Rishis have prescribed Pranayama preceding meditation upon Gayatri, which is the Gayatri mantra chant within plus the image of Gayatri as described. Pranayamas 10, Gayatri 108. Daily three times, Praatah, Madhyanha, and Saayam. All other than manual workers have been required to perform Gaaytri, as an essential to achieve mental clarity leading to knowledge, wisdom, wealth and happiness for self and family, indeed, by radiation to all you come across, and a life spiritually and materially balanced, so that there will be no room for hypocrisy and illusion replacing reality, and the meditator feels automatically motivated to study and imbibe whatever essentials of wisdom and knowledge one missed so far, and thus become a better person.

    I downloaded and enjoyed viewing your almost 20 min long video titled ‘East vs. West : The Myths that Mystify’. All major religions have now come to be referred to as ‘myths’, cognate with the Sanskrit ‘mithyaa’ or illusion, imagination, which refers to the illusory nature, from a spirituality viewpoint, of materialism without the higher truth of man being a speck of infinite cosmic divinity. While in the material realm, every human being can meaningfully aspire for and achieve material success even while contributing to the harmony and continuity of all ecology, due to the spiritual wisdom gained on the basis of understanding and appplication of ancient wisdom — which I believe is available in different forms, but essentially not different,in all religons. However, I believe, our Rishis of yore gave explicit “formulas” for our benefit, just like we use them in mathematics, with ease and by simple selection of the relevant ones depending on the need.

    I WARMLY CONGRATULATE TO YOU ON YOUR VERY CREATIVELY PRESENTED IDEAS ON THE RELEVANCE IN TODAY’S WORLD, OF MYTHS WHICH HAVE BEEN MYSTERIOUS, MYSTIFYING,AND TO SOME EVEN MEANINGLESS. IT CAN BE HOPED THAT YOUR SERVICE THUS WILL BE APPRECIATED BY ALL DISCERNING PEOPLE EVERYWHERE AND MOTIVATE THEM TO APPLY IN REAL LIFE, TO BUSINESS, OR ANY OTHER FIELD OF ACTIVITY IN WHICH THEY ARE ENGAGED IN.

  • sahana

    very inspiring work!!

  • Iti

    I admired your way of thinking..

  • Subhasis Pujapanda

    Fantastic interview. I liked reading the same. The fundamentals are clear and inspiring too..

    Would like to read more of your articles!!!

  • Vishal Handa

    I watched your talk on the TED website.You have made a good attempt to differentiate the philosophy towards life in the Oriental and Occidental world.It seemed to me to be a comparison between christanity and hinduism and how it has led to the formation of the western domination and eastern submission.would you agree?

  • I enjoyed your talk, and it was lucid, very flowing and very attractive to intelligentsia to listen and how well it could be practicised
    by the ordinary folks in particular.

  • Dr. Kamalanathan SPS

    Your presentation was simply wonderful and well balanced. Noble thoughts on preservation of civilisation as prescribed by ancient Seers and great Thinkers seemed to have found fertile ground in your mind. Your address on the diversity of the Human Mind is so clear and the analogy that even identical twins do not think alike emphasizes this. Just 2 questions please………..1. Can it be that the Goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswathi & Durga were revealed to man to ensure perpetual respect for womanhood who are so often abused in this male dominated world? 2. The Mughal conquest of Baratha subjected the intelligentsia to harsh impositions on the thinking processes , how has this affected the masses?
    Best wishes,
    Dr. Kamalanathan SPS

  • simply impressed by the way you link and find solutions to corporate solutions by mythology

  • Rajesh Kamath

    I have been a regular follower of your column in the ET-Corporate Dossier- called the Management Mythos published every Friday.

    Now I also follow your tweets.

    I quite appreciate the way you portray Indian mythology and beliefs…and I myself believe that all the traditions and rituals followed in India have some or the other logic or Scientific reasoning, which we have lost over the period by purely following it without questioning its relevance.

    However, I also believe that Indian culture and roots are so strong that we shall recreate what we have lost.

  • Star_007

    Hello Sir,

    I started to read your articles & watching the program on your site from last two to three months. Though I came to know about you & your work somewhere 2 years ago but didn’t get time to follow you. Just because of you, mythology has developed as hobby in me.

    I came to know that you had completed “Diploma in Comparative Mythology” from University of Mumbai. I visited the MU’s site but didn’t get much information. Can you please guide me about this? I only know about this course is that, it is one year part time course & classes are held on weekends at noon but didn’t get any information about the subjects & pattern.

    Can you just guide me about the course like what kind of subjects they are tought? what is the pattern in it? they only tought Indian Mythology or any other like Greek & Western Mythology? or any other information would you like to share?

    If you will answer me on this, it would be great help to me because even in University admin or enquiry department are not able to give or say not willing to give more information on this & I want to do this course !

    Waiting for your reply ! Best Wishes !

    Thanks & Regards,

    Sneha A. Gupta