Published: 24th February 2017
Real feminism is not considering either sex superior: Devdutt Pattanaik
Author-cum-time machine Devdutt Pattanaik successfully transports us back to the times of Ramayana with his latest colouring book. He also talks about his fascination for Indian mythology and more
India has always been a land of stories, being told and re-told by one generation to another. From the ancient guru-shishya parampara where tales were narrated as a part of the education to the written word like Ramayana, Mahabharata and more - epics have always been a part of the fabric of life in India. When more visually attractive mediums like theatre and television started entering the scenario, ancient chronicles continued to enchant weather it’s the yearly enactment of Ram Leela at Ram Maidan, New Delhi or the nostalgic re-runs of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan.
Cut now to animated television series, audio books and much more — the stories of the past still resonate with us, regardless of the medium through which they are told. One such storyteller is Devdutt Pattanaik, who through different mediums, has successfully spread the stories India far and wide. “Humans beings yearn for meaning and identity to give value to their life. We want to know where we came from. And so ancestry matters and the story of ancestors matters,” says the 45-year-old author. Continuing in the same vein of importance of our past he adds that the stories shared with us provide “a way of making sense of the world. This is what mythology gives. It tells us how to see the world.”
I prefer reading encyclopaedias and academic papers to deepen my understanding of scriptures. Currently, am enjoying ‘Wired for Culture’ by Mark Pagel. Also, I am working on a book of Greek mythology for Penguin and a series on Pilgrim sites for Aleph
Devdutt Pattanaik, Author
This world the Mumbai-based artist is talking about is not new to him, nor is he new to it though as a child, he had a “cursory interest” in the subject of epics as he read classics like Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama. It was only after he quit his job in the healthcare industry and concentrated on the columns he used to write did he realise his calling. He has been writing and illustrating the world of mythology since 22 years and it is in this world that he finds his solace in, despite writing for papers, and being a regular face on TV with his own show Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik on the channel EPIC.
We wonder if he ever reaches a saturation point? “I am most relaxed when I am in the world of mythology. The rest are details. It's not work when you enjoy something,” says the author who meets friends to unwind from his otherwise hectic schedule.
Devdutt emphasises that The Girl who Chose reveals how Hindu mythology spoke of rules, obligations, choices, consequences and essentially the idea of karma through the epic Ramayana
Devdutt, whose ever-diversifying audience now included children, his first work for them being Hanuman’s Ramayan (2010), told through illustrations. He soon started doing colouring books which adults can indulge in too. Speaking about them he says, “I think it reintroduces us to childhood and is a good way to focus our mind on our creativity and calm us down. A break from work and TV and mobile phones.” His latest book The Girl Who Chose is a colouring book which retells the Ramayana through the five choices made by Sita.
But being a television host, writer and an illustrator, which medium is most primary to him? “I am a communicator who uses text as a writer, lines as an illustrator and sound as a speaker to share my understanding of mythology with the world,” he says. And this, is just the beginning of our conversation as he goes on to share more about his latest labour of love, Feminism, Illustrating and more…
The storyteller: Devdutt Pattanaik is a man with a plan
On The Girl Who Chose
While conducting a workshop for the writers of ‘Siya ke Ram’ we discovered something that was always part of Valmiki’s Ramayana: the choices of Sita. It's just that we never asked the question and so we never found the answer. And there it was for all to see. I realised that we are conditioned to see Sita as a victim but that was not Valmiki’s intention. In fact, he wanted to call Ramayana ‘Sita Charitam’ and I now I realise why. No retelling of Ramayana has captured this little detail of the Valmiki’s original narrative. I thought it a good idea to highlight it.
We have been conditioned to see only men as heroes in our stories. But the ancient storytellers did not have such bias. It reveals so much about us ‘modern’ lens that wants to see Sita as a sad victim. It's so disempowering to women. Feminism is essentially not considering any gender superior or inferior. Hindu philosophy does not value the flesh, hence gender. What matters is the soul. So it is essentially feminist. Sadly, we twist our stories to make them patriarchal. A true feminist is one who knows he or she is free to make choices and is responsible for the consequences. Valmiki reveals to us that Sita continually makes choices and never blames anyone if the consequence does not favour her. She also does not love Ram less because he is bound to family rules, always giving priority to family rules over choice and personal happiness. That reveals maturity which is the hallmark of feminism.
First look The book cover of Devdutt Pattanaik's book
It's there in my mind as I write it. I draw only in black and white using a simple sketch pen on an A4 size sheet. I focus on one bold stroke and draw around that stroke. Eyes are important to me. Lately, I have started doing more shading to give the art more body. I see my art not as art but like diagrams in a science textbook, present to clarify something that the text is unable to communicate.
I write and illustrate mythology because I love it. Success happened. Irrespective of success, I write and illustrate. For strugglers, I will say: keep it at but know that no one is obliged to publish or read you, so always have a plan B to pay your bills. Write every day. Write to communicate an idea or a thought that makes you feel happy and you feel is of value to others. And don’t write for money or fame.