Updated: July 27, 2012 18:01 IST

Myth and the mystery of life

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Tolerance the Key: Devdutt Pattanaik. Photo: S.S. Kumar
The Hindu
Tolerance the Key: Devdutt Pattanaik. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Devdutt Pattanaik on why Indian thought and imagination sets our culture apart

A medical doctor who writes on mythology, and talks about its relevance in the corporate world — meet Devdutt Pattanaik, currently the chief belief officer of the Future Group. Initially, mythology was a hobby and he started writing with the intention of familiarising people with the unfamiliar. Today, Dr. Pattanaik — author, speaker, illustrator, mythologist — has over 25 books and 500 articles to his credit.

Pattanaik was in the city recently for an event organised by the Sanserif Book Club and the Perspectives Club at Apparao Galleries. He delved into mythology and religion, and their application in corporate management. Excerpts:

On Indian and Greek mythology

The fundamental difference between the two is the concept of rebirth. Rebirth is talked about only in this part of the world. And it has a huge impact on arts, social structure, policies… In Greek mythology, the hero wants to be great, but the very concept does not exist in the Indian vocabulary. Yet it has become the global template. And it’s a template that won’t fit in India.

On mythology and religion co-existing in India

Mythology is a subjective truth. Every culture imagines life a certain way. Nobody knows why we’re alive; so we all create stories based on our imagination of the world; and as a community, we believe in the same story. In India, every person believes his/ her own mythosphere to be real. Indian thought is obsessed with subjectivity; Greek thought with objectivity. Objectivity is a very violent concept, because it believes in ‘the’ truth, and not ‘your’ or ‘my’ truth. The scientific model is also obsessed with ‘the’ truth, which is why it’s always defensive, obsessed with references.

The role of a chief belief officer

When you have 5,000 employees, there are 5,000 ways of looking at the world. A doorman in a company wants to earn his salary; he does not care about the company’s turnover. His belief is not the chairman’s belief. But somewhere we began to believe that the billion-dollar goal is more important than the individual’s goal. The designation — chief belief officer — was created to start conversations and to present a different model of business and make people sensitive to human imagination.

Indian thought and imagination

When you use the word God, everybody understands/ imagines it his/her own way. If you don’t have imagination, you stop being human; animals don’t have imagination; Alzheimer’s is the death of imagination. When the British ruled us, we were told to believe in a single truth, ‘the’ truth. My truth and your truth didn’t exist. It’s a very frightening idea. My writing got noticed because I spoke about my truth and your truth; it teaches us tolerance, to accommodate different imaginations. Whereas ‘the’ truth only leads to violence.

On the limitations imposed by the English language

The word ‘evil’ cannot really be translated into any Indian language. That is because it exists only in one life cultures, and not in rebirth cultures. Language plays an important role. The world is created by words and the more words you know, the more your world expands.

How the journey impacted his life

Earlier I was very process driven. Now there is a huge shift in my relationships, even with my mother. I have become very tolerant, more forgiving.

The hardest book so far

The one that I’m writing now — Business Sutra: Making The Goddess Of Wealth Walk Our Way. It is by far my toughest book, because it deals with Indian and Western management theories and mythologies, told in 108 stories. Making Lakshmi walk your way is not easy!

Favourite deity

Lakshmi. Of course!

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This is a really remarkably superficial and ignorant piece of writing, full of wild and meaningless generalizations. By now it is clear to me that the arts section is held to a very much lower standard than the rest of the Hindu. Why is that? It looks very bad on you. Could you please do something about it, and leave nonsense like this to sink into the unfathomable ocean of the internet yahoo-sphere where it belongs, instead of lending it a deceptive and vicarious legitimacy by presenting it here?

from:  Ashu
Posted on: Jul 30, 2012 at 11:29 IST

when we start to think about real motive of life then we go around
society and choose one of them but why am i bound to work and why am i
bound from birth to death .Actually we are package of ideas which are
daily altering with time nobody knows real "truth".

from:  jujhar singh bhati
Posted on: Jul 29, 2012 at 17:49 IST

The real impact of such ideas and writings should be best felt in schools. When the brits invaded, the one long term damage was uprooting a major part of gurukul thought (where these ideas were mainstream and integral).

from:  Amol
Posted on: Jul 29, 2012 at 11:03 IST

Perhaps the present spread of science may resolve the difference to some extent but not fully the difference between the subject matter for science with tangibe equipments can feel the depth but not redeem from the same for our ancients have all seen the stars and saptharishi mandalaas from their natural porticos all sharing the nature at a time the glory of vast sky and in tune with nature which is now obsolete . There is myth spread from time immemorial till this generation and now after sending the sats we see the same through the net screen , and so myth is intelligents ' imagination of the time and mystery is unending of this vast univers and due to its vastness anything and everything is insufficient and so nothing can substitue the natural way of life of course we adopt the applied science for our selfishness. and there starts the Darwin's theory of survival of fittest .And now it is time to apply philophy of life for our country box with probability factor in a computer.

from:  Rajasekaran.S
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 22:15 IST

Excellent:expands your world which one experienced almost on a daily basis but could not really understand intellectually what that experience was. Certainly needs better coverage than other regular coulmns of The Hindu. A request: can it be made into a more regular column.

Vinod Jain

from:  Vinod Jain
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 18:56 IST

it is an interesting interview but the author views has not explored very well.because the Indian and western mythology is not properly analysed.some deep knowledgeabe discussion is missing.otherwise insight of mythology is very sound.

from:  avinesh kishan
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 14:49 IST

The word ‘evil’ cannot really be translated into any Indian language.
That is because it exists only in one life cultures, and not in rebirth
cultures. Language plays an important role. The world is created by
words and the more words you know, the more your world expands.

excellent observation and thats why we see so much evil still remaining
in the world

from:  Ramu
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 12:39 IST

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik is among one of the best modern mythologists in
India. The way he links mythology with our modern life, makes his books
a thrilling experience.

from:  Umang Mathur
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 11:25 IST

I would suggest the interview taker to do more research on Devdutt's
work and ask good questions. This seems a trivial interview with generic
questions. Not worth the time.

from:  Sanjeev Kumar Dangi
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 11:04 IST

We appreciate the author to present our culture in a positive way.Indian culture hardly changed for thousands of years because of our myth only.It is nothing wrong to follow after birth theories if it leads to harmony and tolerances.Our social set up is recently founding gaps because of nuclear families.However this will be compensated by family function or festival gatherings.It is true that in a group or in organisations one cannot expect to think in a unique way.Though we got lot more comfort than our ancestors our evil act of making our activities to earn more than our requirement may leads to disharmony in near future.Unfortunately no media appears to be covering these type of myth or mystery of life,thanks THE HINDU for publishing this article.

from:  D.S.Soundararajan
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 07:21 IST

The interpretation of myth by Dr Pattanaik deserves serious study, as it is a great and novel notion. In fact, I eagerly wait for the 108 stories on management theories.
Just got curious: why 108, and not 109 or 107 stories? Let me forget about the translation of "evil". Is there evil at all, according to rebirth culture?
If objective truth is the root of all violence, how do I account for
the history of violence in rebirth culture - subtle violences, interpersonal, in family, on children, women, elderly, disenfranchised, the poor, the marginailzed etc?

from:  Gitanjali
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 23:15 IST
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