inKonversation With Mythologist Par Excellence – Devdutt Pattanaik
This interview is a dream come true for me. No really!
I have said this before, The Pregnant King was a turning point in my realization as a reader and this man made it possible. He opened up a whole new genre for me and honestly there has been no looking back. His articles and books are my one-point reference to Indian mythology; and it has only been insightful every time – time and again. A physician by education, a leadership coach by choice and a mythologist out of love – Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik found bliss in mythological stories and their managerial inferences. As, he swing’s this understanding of his into our mundane heads in his latest offering – Business Sutra, we get inKonversation with one of my favorite writers. This one is a sheer joy. Read on:
A practitioner of evidence based science (medicine) and writer of evidence deprived mythology. That is like two ends of the spectrum. How did the doctor get into mythology?
Medicine is about the body, mythology is about the mind. The one is tangible, the other is not. The one demands proof, the other needs faith. So I guess, I completed the spectrum.
You are like this walking, talking encyclopedia of mythological stories and your writings have rekindled interest and understanding of their own mythology in a generation of Indians. But how easy or otherwise was it to get across to readers back in 1997, when your first book came out?
Like most kids, I loved stories. I titled towards mythological stories. But what made me different was I could see patterns – within mythology itself and the connections between mythology and culture and life. What I read I found either inadequate or too esoteric. So I wrote to express myself. I never expected an audience and was surprised, and still am, to find one.
Mythology to some is a set of impractical, impossible stories, to some religion; what is it to you?
For our scientific mind we are all quick to assume and conclude without consideration. Myth is subjective truth, the assumptions that shape our life, what we euphemistically call belief. Mythology is stories, symbols and rituals that communicate that myth. So myth can be impractical, if we are impractical and impossible, and depending on our level of capability and the degree to which we understand our world. So a person who is consumed by sexual thoughts will find tales of celibacy ridiculous. A control freak will reject tales of freedom and possibility. Mythology can be religious, or secular or political or economic. For example, the notion that everyone has a right to opportunity is also an assumption, a belief, a subjective truth, that nature does not endorse but we go shrill endorsing. There is nothing religious about it. But it the religion, or should we say ‘truth’, of every activist and social reformer.
There is so much on your platter – Chief Belief Officer, Mythologist, Writer, Columnist and the other roles that come along, being a social being. What is a normal day in the life of Devdutt Pattanaik like?
Look at the calendar and do as it instructs. Else, sit down and write. And if you can’t write, watch films or read something or better still meet friends.
More than 28 books in publication but let’s talk about that first one – Shiva: an introduction. Manuscript to a paperback – what is the story behind that first contract with a publisher?
I was writing for a magazine whose editor really liked my thoughts (though my writing left much to be desired) and he spoke of me to a publishing house which was eager to publish mythological books. So I was told if I would write a book on Shiva. I agreed. The structure, stories and images just tumbled out of me. And I was lucky to get a great editor. And the book came into being. So the contract came first, then the book.
How would you sum up the changes that Indian publishing has seen from your first to your latest one?
Writers do not realize that books have to make money for retailers and publishing houses, so considering fine margins, they do not have much money to publicize it, creating a vicious cycle of poor publicity, poor distribution and poor sales. The biggest change has been social networking and online stores. They have had a dramatic impact on the industry.
Every new book is an author’s new baby – special & precious. What is your latest one, Business Sutra to you?
It is the toughest book I have written. I know not everyone will get it. It has to be marinated in the mind for a long time before it becomes truly succulent. So it will take years to establish its audience.
Business Sutra mostly speaks what was also seen in the TV series by the same name onCNBC TV18. What is the intent behind coming up with a book, the videos of which are also available free online?
Really, then you have clearly not read the book, or understood it. 🙂 But this is something I anticipated. We are so spellbound by the cosmetic (linking management to mythology) that we fail to see the systemic. We mistake the song for the lyrics. I see this everyday. What is in the book can never be told in 10-min segments of mass television.
We have seen a sudden surge in mythology based stories in Indian literary fiction these past few years; what would you cite as the essentials in writing a story based on mythology?
This comes at a time when democracy, socialism and capitalism (both Western ideas) have failed us and we want to know what our forefathers did that sustained us for so long. The founding fathers of our country were too quick to dismiss the wisdom of the past in their eagerness to be more scientific like Europe and America.
What is the next literary offering from you after Business Sutra?
Ramayan like Jaya (Mahabharat).
Your words of wisdom to newbie writers.
Ask why are you writing? Whose hunger you wish to satisfy? And why?