PROFILE Author Devdutt Pattanaik expresses his views on mythology and his role as inspirational speaker at corporate houses. CHARUKESI
Adoctor by profession, an author of about two dozen books on mythology and a regular contributor to half a dozen dailies and magazines, Devdutt Pattanaik has changed tack to take up a job as an inspirational speaker and leadership coach to motivate employees of corporate houses.
Kishore Biyani of Pantaloons and Big Bazaar spotted this unusual speaker and offered him the post of ‘Chief Belief Officer' to motivate employees and travel around the globe to give lectures on business and Indian mythology.
Pattanaik has penned best-sellers such as ‘Myth=Mithya', ‘Jaya – An Illustrated Retelling of Mahabharatha' and ‘The 7 Secrets of Hindu Calendar Art'. seminar. Excerpts from an interview:
From where do you get the raw material for your books on Indian mythology?
It is easily available everywhere. We have to look for it. Whatever is necessary is already there. I visit the libraries. I collate all the information and put it in a book, that's all.
You have given the names of one hundred Kauravas in your book ‘Jayam'. How did you manage that?
Actually, it is available on Google! All we have to do is put it in a reader-friendly form and present it to the public.
You write on mythology. Do you know Sanskrit?
No. But I believe that you do not need to know Sanskrit to understand mythology. It is a misconception. You have any number of translations from other languages. They are authentic and reliable. I read various versions of the Mahabharata -- Indonesian, the Bhil tribes, Balinese, Telugu and even the therukoothu form in vogue in rural Tamil Nadu. Local versions are important. It is a myth to say that knowledge of Sanskrit is important to learn more about mythology. I guess it is because of the British influence.
What was it that got you interested in Ithihasa-Puranas?
I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama. The turning point was when I happened to lay my hands on Kamala Subramaniam's book published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. There are so many stories, not told! It is all there, but nobody reads them. I put them together. I started seeing many more hidden meanings in them.
We have the oral tradition. If it is told with ‘bhav' (emotion), it is true. These days, people are hungry to know the truths behind our epics. We have lost many. Knowledge is lost or scattered, but I tried to re-tell them as best as I could, in a way that they will understand.
In ‘Jaya,' I found a few passages on our Rishis in bad taste…
I have only presented them as it is found. They are trying to explain something. Don't forget, they are human beings too. Understanding human behaviour is important. They do not say it is good or bad. They say ‘this is how it is'. You decide what you want to.
I read Marathi plays, Telugu drama, Kamba Ramayan, Silappadikaram and Manimekalai – all in translation. I explored the stories of our festivals. I have not inserted even a single line which is untrue. Knowledge has no language. It is the thought which is important. It is the idea that provokes you to think.
When did you start writing and what was your first book?
I began writing from 1996. My first book was Shiva – An Introduction.
Which one was challenging?
‘Jaya' was really challenging. It is the story of war. My worry was, “How to put it in a simple way for today's reader?” North Indians do not know much about South India. And vice versa. Draupadi's story is different in each region. Knowledge of the city is also important. Do you know that only in Sri Parthasarathy temple, you find the deity with moustache? Nowhere else in India will you find Krishna in this form! ‘The Book on Ram' too was a challenge in terms of complexity. Indian mythology is Anantha and Sookshma. Every word has hundreds of meanings. Words are not important, but the meaning is.
How much time do you spend to complete a book?
Three to six months for writing a book. But my system of working is different. I work on four books simultaneously and depending upon the mood of the day, I pick up the subject.
I write six hours a day, continuously without a break.
The illustrations for ‘Jaya' are yours. Did you learn to draw too?
No. I have not learnt to draw. I would do the illustrations and pass it on to my driver who would fill it with brush strokes, like thickening the lines of Draupadi's flowing tresses! I did about 250 illustrations for the book.
How did you turn a speaker on management and mythologies?
When I studied the Ithihasa-Puranas, I realised these ideas can be used in management. That's how I became a full-time management lecturer for corporate houses. The business practices used today are drawn from American or British firms. India has a 5000-year history. Where is our knowledge? Can this knowledge help the world? That is what I am trying to tell people. What I write is only ten per cent of what I have read.
What has the response been in the West?
Very good. All their knowledge seems to be leading to problems. The various wars -- World War, Iraq -- are all created by the Western mind. When I say India has 6000 communities and we live together, they cannot understand it. Indian mythology is very subtle.
Why did you not take up the Upanishads?
They are philosophy. Everybody talks in the Upanishads. Besides, nobody talks about mythology. It is a step-child!