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!
Lakshmi. Of course!