An interview with Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik: USA, mythology and more!

by Janani Hariharan on December 16, 2013

An interview with Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik: USA, mythology and more!

Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik is a writer, Chief Belief Officer, public speaker, story consultant and many other things. His primary interest is mythology, which he has been studying for 17 years now. He draws parallels between well-known story characters and modern management approaches in his books and talks. Here, we follow up on our previous conversation with him; there’s his USA tour, his most recent book, and more!

1. How does it feel to be doing a tour of USA? What were your first impressions of the country?

I enjoyed touring the USA. What wonderful infrastructure! But I did feel everyone is always so busy driving around doing this that there is very little time to be and connect with other people.

2. You must’ve interacted quite a bit with the desi folk in America over the course of your talks. Do you think that life in a different country changes people? Why/why not?

I think the point of being in a different country is to be changed by it and contribute to its change. Otherwise why leave home? We have to learn from Americans and Americans have to learn from us. We have to learn from them work ethics, organization and efficiency. They have to learn from us how to look beyond targets and tasks at people and life: life is not just problems to be solved!

3. A common lament amongst Indians abroad is that they experience cultural shock, both when they leave to and come back from a different country. This happens in spite of increasing modernization/Westernization. How well do you think we have managed to blend our unique Indian-ness with attitudes and beliefs from other cultures?

Often when we travel to other countries, we find them hostile as we are strangers. So we start having romantic notions of things back home, notions we cling to. Meanwhile the world changes and when we come back we find home has changed too much to our horror. The best way is to go with the flow, appreciate the new ways of the old world and the new ways of the world world and change with the times. No culture is perfect. Each culture has something to offer. One does not have to abandon one to embrace another. One does not have to put down one to enjoy the other. The mind can expand to include both.

4. How do non-Indians deal with stories from our culture?

They are curious. They often expect Indians to ‘defend’ their stories. This is typical when dealing with new ideas. We have to accept it without hostility and help them appreciate a different worldview, pointing out that their stories need ‘defense’ too. Such is the nature of human stories.

5. The Ramayan and Mahabharata have been focal points of your work. What is it, in your opinion, about these texts that merit telling and retelling?

They tell us a lot about the human condition, our insecurities and our attachments. It helps us understand life a lot better. If one understands it truly we will understand our world much better.

6. You talk about various female Hindu deities and goddesses in your books. How do we reconcile these images with the present treatment of women, especially in India?

Your assumption is worship of female figures equates celebration of womanhood. By that logic, cultures and religions that do not worship God in female form (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) should be anti-women. Are they?

To suggest Indian men treat Indian women differently from the way men treat women in other parts of the world, is subtly racist, no? Women are objectified in every society that I have come across. They are mocked for being ‘just’ housewives everywhere.

7. On that note, would you like to tell us more about your latest book, Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of Ramayana?

It tells the Ramayana by bringing Sita to the forefront, seeing her as a wise silent sage, not a suffering victim, a view that is often endorsed in Western versions of the story to appeal to the Orientalist gaze. It also highlights the female characters of the epic from Ahilya to Surpanakha to Mandodari.

8. Some of your books have been written to introduce children to mythology and folklore. Do you feel that the reading habit is dying out? How can we get kids interested in passive activities like reading?

My book sales have gone up. Books sales in India in general have gone up. So I don’t think reading as a habit has died out.

Parents have to spend time with children reading with them and for them. Children learn most from parents. If parents sit in front of computers and tv all day, why would children hold a book?

9. Writer, public speaker, healthcare specialist, story consultant and Chief Belief Officer. Which of these hats does Devdutt Pattanaik enjoy donning the most?

Writer. It is very fulfilling.

We hope to see you speak and write much more, Dr. Pattanaik!

You can follow Devdutt Pattanaik on his webpage, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Written by Janani Hariharan

Wanderer, nature freak and lover of all things science-y. Certified devourer of all printed matter.

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