Sunday, October 31, 2010

Interview with Devdutt Pattanaik, Chief Belief Officer, Future Group

We interview the best-selling authors on Infibeam from time to time to get to know more about them, (we chatted with Chetan Bhagat and Rashmi Bansal last).

Devdutt Pattanaik is one such author - he is a medical doctor, a leadership consultant and an eminent mythologist. Mythology is his passion. He has authored books that hold the allure of mythology, and its relevance in modern times. His books are not merely bestsellers but have also been acknowledged for the depth of research and vision.

Here is a transcript of our discussion with him:

Doctor to a mythologist to a belief officer... Tell us a little bit about your journey...

Mythology was a hobby that I pursued in my spare time while I was working with the pharma and healthcare industry post my MBBS. Hobby led to writing of articles, then books, then lectures, and finally Kishore Biyani of the Future Group convinced me to make this my full time profession.

How can you relate mythology & modern management?

Myth is subjective truth. Mythology is the collection of stories, symbols and rituals that convey this subjective truth. Every culture – be it religious or secular – has its own myth. This turns into an invisible force that influences decision-making. Decision-making is the corner stone of modern management. Thus we cannot ignore the cultural, hence mythical, impact. Unfortunately, most people do. Only now people are realizing how critical a role culture plays in business. The only way to understand culture is through mythology.  

Coming to your book, what was the motivation behind the illustrated book?

I had read many Mahabharatas but none satisfied them – they did not tell many stories, they tended to assume heroism and villainy, they did not reveal the finer nuances of the epic, they were ignorant of the many versions of the epic, and most importantly, they did not contextualize the epic nor made it relevant to the modern man. A new book had to be written.

When do we expect your next book? What is the theme for that book?

I write several book simultaneously. So do not know which will be my next book. It will be on mythology for sure.

Mythological books had a very different target segment until your writing gained traction. Now, a lot more people are getting introduced to mythological books & are enjoying them. You seem to be setting a trend. Where do you see this trend going?

Mythology is universal and timeless. But some people assumed that they are not meant for logical and scientific mind. As these people are growing older and wiser, they are realizing there is no escape from mythology. So they are returning and I am facilitating the return journey. To know culture, our culture or anyone else's culture, one has to be sensitive to mythology. No escaping that. I feel I write in a language that the modern rational mind can connect with. Perhaps that is the reason many people like my books. I am not prescribing. I am merely reflecting. I am not being defensive or apologetic; I am simply being analytical. This appeals to young people. I don't know where this trend is going I guess, it will help people discover and understand their roots better.

Was the cover art also one of your own illustrations? It is really powerful... Is there a story behind it?

All the art in the book is my own. No story behind it. I realized that we have been inundated by visions constructed by Amar Chitra Katha, Raja Ravi Varma and Ramanand Sagar. Everyone needed a break. So I drew they way I imagined the past.

If given choice, then who would you pick as your favorite mythological character and why?

Ram of the Ramayana. Because everyone feels superior in criticizing Ram. Few wonder why is Ram, according to our ancestors, the only one worthy of being worshipped as king. Either our ancestors got it wrong, or we are missing a very profound point.

Which books do you recommend for our readers?

All of mine.

Tell us a little bit about your TED experience.

TED was fun as I did not realize how big it was. And how international it was until I really got there. I also realized how mythology is a very simple way to explain cross-cultural differences there.

Any message for infibeam book lovers.

Read. It allows you to travel into the minds of so many people.