India in a nutshell

illustration of India background showing its incredible culture and diversity with monument, dance and festival   | Photo Credit: vectomart

Most know Devdutt Pattanaik as an expert on Indian mythology, speaker, illustrator and author. Interestingly, he was also a former civil services aspirant who wrote the UPSC exam in 1996. Pattanaik has now combined his expertise in the former and experience with the latter to come up with a book that will serve as a comprehensive read on all things culture, art, and heritage, with a contemporary outlook and packaging, specifically for Civil Service aspirants.

India in a nutshell
Indian Culture, Art and Heritage for Civil Services Examination provides a contextual understanding of how these three components have been an intrinsic part of the process of creating, building, and resurrecting the Indian society from its inception.

Divided into 64 chapters under broad topics such as economic, social, political, scientific and spiritual culture; performing arts, visual arts and new media, it also features contemporary topics like Queer LGBTQ+, Internet, and Social Media and aims to provide a holistic understanding of the subjects, and subsequently, society at large. Documented in a tabular format, it has been designed to aid memory, understanding, and the logic behind the culture. The book has insights into mythology, with over 250 storytelling images, 100 tables, and 200 examination-based questions. It specifically addresses the needs of UPSC aspirants by providing contextual illustrations on the broader subjects and their impact on one another.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 28/08/2019 : Devdutt Pattnaik interacting with The Hindu in Bengaluru on Wednesday 28 August 2019. Photo : Sudhakara Jain / The Hindu.

Karnataka : Bengaluru : 28/08/2019 : Devdutt Pattnaik interacting with The Hindu in Bengaluru on Wednesday 28 August 2019. Photo : Sudhakara Jain / The Hindu.   | Photo Credit: SUDHAKARA JAIN

Having recently launched the book, Pattanaik shares his thoughts on the importance of understanding culture and heritage in a larger context, and his experiences of working on the book.

What is the need for a UPSC aspirant or a civil administrator to learn about Indian Culture?

Art and Culture as a subject is a significant aspect of the UPSC Examination. Apart from its value in attempting objective questions in prelims, it also acts as a reflection of how well students understand the world, economics, politics, civilisation and so on through the lens of time and space. Apart from this, culture is the belief of a community that is transmitted from one generation to another. While studying culture, we study people’s food, clothing and shelter preferences, their belief systems, rituals, and customs, all of which is critical for a person to become a good bureaucrat in future and lead a career in administration.

Art is the expression of culture in tangible (literature, fine arts, sculptures fashion, architecture, coins, pots, carvings) and intangible (performing arts) forms. Heritage is what is needs to be preserved and what we as humans want to take forward too.

How is this book different from other UPSC prep books on this subject?

It is a new approach to culture. There is no method for students as to how to study culture. This book provides a systematic approach that will help students remember things and also understand the logic behind the subject. It hopes to draw the attention to the connections between Economics, Politics, History and Geography so that they can improve their scope of understanding of general studies.

What prompted you to come up with the idea for such a niche book?

For me, the need to write this book arose when I went to Pearson’s office to give a motivational talk, and they came up with the idea of writing something on culture for UPSC aspirants. This brought back a lot of memories of me giving the UPSC exam, 25 years ago. I cleared my exams, but did not do very well in my interview, where one of the questions was on heritage and tradition. I could not answer it due to a lack of understanding to some extent, and that bothered me. Hence, I took this as an opportunity and decided to put together a book that will make things easy and simple for aspirants and help them understand the logic behind culture. Writing this book also helped me to streamline my thoughts and I hope this will help UPSC aspirants in their preparations.

How did you condense such a vast subject to cover specific topics and points?

Art and Culture, as a subject, needs to be studied through a methodical approach. This book with contemporary content like The Indian Home, LGBTQ, Women and so on. It is classified by themes carefully, as we see everything through the lens of time and space. In a nutshell, this book shows how the amalgamation of Culture, Art, and Heritage has created, built, and resurrected Indian society from its inception.

How should one best use this book?

The best way is to go through the chapters and study each from a historical and geographical point of view and, finally, from the characteristics of that particular chapter. In Sanskrit, this is called “Desh Kala Guna”. Desha means Geography, Kala is History and Guna refers to the qualities and attributes of the subject that you study. So, a sculpture needs to be studied from a historical and a geographical angle and also needs to be understood in terms of content, material and skill.

From your experience of having given the UPSC exam, could you share some exam preparation tips?

I believe that practice is the best way. What I always tell people is to study for half an hour, and then take a break for 10 minutes or study for 20 minutes and then take a break for 10 minutes. I believe that the more breaks you take, the better you remember. And then practice questions, MCQs; verbalise the answers because the more you speak it out, the more your brain remembers.

There are two essential components for success at the UPSC exam: subject matter knowledge and aptitude. While the former can be learnt, how can one develop the latter?

The easiest way to develop aptitude is self-realisation i.e., the understanding of where one stands with respect to the ecosystem. For example, in any situation, do we behave like a predator, rival or an ally?

One needs to see what happens around him/her all the time and keep studying it in order to understand what one’s aptitude; do you have a helping aptitude or do you have a grabbing aptitude? Do you see yourself as someone who is being constantly threatened or do you see yourself in a position of power? It is the self-reflections that develops one’s aptitude.

Aptitude only comes when you understand yourself and the world better.

What were your learnings from working on this book?

Most people memorise culture but Culture has to be seen through a framework of History and Geography. Every artwork has to be seen from a deeper perspective; what I call “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”. Satyam refers to all the material information, i.e, all the data or scientific information you can have. Shivam refers to the meaning i.e., how it is meaningful? Is there any story associated with it that makes it unique and special in culture? Sundaram is, of course, why it is beautiful. Now, beauty can be a function of comparing it with other works of art, by seeing its refinement over time. So, you study it from a historical and geographical perspective to understand how it’s graded in terms of Art: is it mediocre, refined, sophisticated, or diplomatic? So, “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” and “Desh Kala Guna” are the two frameworks that I discovered while writing this book.

Indian Culture, Art and Heritage for Civil Services Examination is published by Pearson. It is available in both English and Hindi. Price: ₹695

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 3:35:34 PM |

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