Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

November 19, 2015

First published November 19, 2015


India Can Offer a New Way of Thinking to the World

Published on 19th November, 2015, on

The new edition of the much anticipated literary festival in the country has just been announced. The Bangalore Literature Festival will be held at the Royal Orchid hotel (Near KGA) on 5-6 Dec 2015.

The two-day festival will feature writers from India and abroad. Kulpreet Yadav interviewed one of the bestselling Indian writers, Devdutt Pattanaik, who is scheduled to speak at the festival. Devdutt, a trained doctor, writes on Indian mythology and symbology, illustrates his own work for his books, and is one of the most sought after speakers in India.

Kulpreet Yadav: Where do you place contemporary India in our increasingly shrinking world where cultural identities are mutating by the day & scientific advancement the only litmus to measure success?

Devdutt Pattanaik: I think India can offer a new way of thinking to the world, provided we rein in one thing: an obsessive desire to mimic the West. We are mimicking the West in both the Left and the Right and are forgetting India offers a unique worldview that enables the world to include diversity and dynamism. We are so obsessed with measurement and objectivity that we have stopped valuing the subjective, the inter-personal, and the cultural and are embarrassed by femininity.

KY: By agreeing to your idea of India and its being at peace with itself, some argue we might lose an edge in a globalised world. Is it a better idea to find strength from our myths, legends and symbols? Or we should be open to accept other cultures, values and belief systems even if they are not aligned with our way of thinking.

DP: What is the point of life? Is it to dominate others, or to find happiness? We have to ask this question. The globalized world has decided that ‘having’ more creates happiness. They simply created power hierarchies where the powerful are those who deprive others of property. The globalized world is one that is increasingly becoming technocratic. We find more pleasure and security in WhatsApp. We avoid conversations and connections. Even on a date, there is a tendency to connect via an App. Is that a world that we find aspirational? Whether we accept other cultures or not, we will always be influenced by them. The point is to include them, rather than let them overwhelm us as we are ashamed or unaware of our own belief systems. We need to contribute to the globalized world, not just be passive recipients. For that we have to actively engage with who we are and not simply engage with Western versions of who we are.

KY: The western idea of happiness through alcohol and other forms of debauchery is rising in India. Bars are mushrooming, the western movies and television shows are a rage among the young, and pairing food and wine the very idea of a great evening etc. How do we make spirituality and mythological relevant to our future generation. Make our myths and legends cool, more fun maybe? You have written a lot of books for children. That is certainly one of the ways forward. What more?

DP: Where did you get that thought from? Varuni, goddess of wine, was churned out of the ocean of milk, according to the Puranas. Bhairava, a form of Shiva, is offered wine. Offering wine is part of many tribal and folk traditions. We have assumed that ‘Monastic Hinduism’ that rose from 10th century AD/CE, is ‘real’ Hinduism; hence we shun all form of pleasure. We deny the truth of our scriptures and present it in a puritanical way because of this monastic obsession. We also try to see Hinduism through a Western lens and so try to shape our children’s story to ‘protect’ them from reality, which is hardly good parenting.

KY: You are one of most read and highly rated Indian writers. What are the three things in your writing you can attribute this success to?

PS: Honesty, clarity and simplicity.

KY: Out of the 31 books that you have written, only one is fiction. Why do you rely more on nonfiction than fiction to covey your stories? Doesn’t writing fiction give you more bandwidth to play around, to excite and entertain the readers by dovetailing your own imagination?

PS: I am interested in mythology and all books present various aspects of mythology to different audience. Even the fiction story is part of this process. Mythology expands your horizons and creates a wider framework of writing fiction. Our own imagination is rather limited. Most fictions simply endorse this limited reality. Mythology helps us appreciate the wider world of our ancestors.

KY: What are the three things that strike you the most about Bangalore as a writer, both good and bad?

PS: I like the food, the weather and the people of Bangalore. I hate the traffic, the roads and the increasing Americanisation.

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