“The Power of Myth” – Devdutt Pattanaik at Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

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As Mr. Pattanaik gets ready to address the gathering of enthusiastic and inquisitive readers and listeners, Professor Malashri Lal introduces him in way his readers know him best-“A man who tells the story and gives it a contemporary twist”. She holds up a copy of the “Business Sutra” by Mr. Pattanaik himself and explains to the audience with an amusing smile her favourite part of the book, “It tells the story of Krishna as a natural born innovator. Krishna had to find a way of getting the butter and he did. ”

Devdutt PattanaikWho would have thought that management and business could be interlinked to one of most loved characters of mythology? Food for thought? That’s what Mr. Pattanaik urges you to do. Think. Simply, think.

He begins his speech by stating something very clearly to the audience-“Myth is subjective truth. ”“How do I transmit your truth to me and my truth to you?” And right there, within the first few minutes of his speech, the audience is compelled to think. Mr. Pattanaik carries on, resolved to urge the audience to think even more, “The body of subjective truth that is transmitted through generations is called mythology”

He senses the confusion in the audience and says, “Our problem with subjectivity is because we are spell bound with objectivity-the truth-THE ULTIMATE TRUTH.” The conviction with which he says this makes the audience stop and think, “Do we actually always require an ultimate truth?” The dichotomy within the audience is simply growing.

For a man who believes in letting the audience understand for themselves, he tells the audience of the different mythologies. He tells of the Abrahamic and Greek mythologies that constitute the western school of mythology, he tells of the Chinese school of Mythology. But what about India? Wouldn’t we want to know our stance on mythology?

It wasn’t a surprise when he talks about the Indian mythology next as “a world view where nothing is permanent and everything changes” He pauses for a second and gives an exemplary example to explain himself, “Our thought is like the Indian head shake-neither here, nor there”

1200x1200_3After this, there is no stopping him. The conviction with which he proves to the readers that the Indian “confusion” or the Indian “half-way” is how life should be led is marvellous. He gives us a rather amusing example from our very own Indian mythology. “Take the Ramayan for example, a rule following hero and a rule breaking villain and the Mahabharat- a rule breaking hero and a rule following villain. Talk about confusion in India!”

He completely disregards the western belief that we as Indians are confused. “If it is endorsed in Harvard or Cambridge, it must be true”, he says with a sarcastic tone.

As he comes to the end he says, “We are obsessed with truth”, he repeats but by this time the audience is clear. He needn’t say more. They have understood. There can be no one truth. Truth is subjective. How easily he made us understand. How easy it was to think.

The Penguin India Blog

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