Updated: May 2, 2021 10:08:44 pm
Devdutt Pattanaik may be known for storifying myths, but the author is now expanding his oeuvre. His recent book, titled Indian Culture, Art and Heritage, has a different reader base: civil service aspirants. His collaboration with publishing house Pearson is both a departure and a reckoning in his literary journey, a litmus test of sorts of his expertise as a storyteller.
In a recent interview with indianexpress.com, Pattanaik spoke at length about his new book, what he seeks to achieve through it, and if this will change the curriculum of civil services.
The book is aimed at addressing the needs of civil services aspirants. How did you arrive at the idea?
Well, the idea, so to say, came in a very unexpected way; a lot of credit goes to Pearson. Precisely, it was around the time 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 also brought back a lot of memories of me giving the UPSC exam, 25 years ago. Fortunately, I cleared my exams, but I didn’t do very well in my interview, where one of the questions was on heritage and tradition. I couldn’t answer due to a lack of understanding to some extent, and that bothered me a lot. 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.
Can you share more about the book?
This book is very carefully designed in a way that can help aspirants remember things. It comes with contemporary content like The Indian Home, LGBTQ, Women, etc. The uniqueness of the book is that it is classified by themes such as History, Geography, etc. The book has 64 chapters and all of them are classified very carefully as we see everything through the lens of time and space. Documented in a table format the idea is to aid memory, understanding, and the logic behind the culture. The book has expert insights into mythology, with over 250 storytelling images, 100 tables, and 200 examination-based questions.
In a nutshell, this book shows how the amalgamation of these three components – Culture, Art, and Heritage – has created, built, and resurrected the Indian society from its inception. This book has been designed to address the needs of civil services aspirants and it will help in providing contextual illustrations for the UPSC aspirants to generate interest and in-depth understanding. The book is available in both English and Hindi.
The book explores the culture, art, and heritage of India. How do you view their importance in relation to UPSC?
Art and culture, as a subject, is a very 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.
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. Art is the expression of culture – tangible (literature, fine arts, sculptures, fashion, architecture, coins, pots, carvings, etc.) and intangible (performing arts, music, dance and theater) form. Heritage is what is needed to be preserved and what we as humans want to take forward, too. I am proud to have launched this new book which is a carefully designed text that is classified by themes, geography, history and helps students understand the logic behind “culture” and what all it encompasses. I hope that it will prove to be enjoyable and entertaining for readers, enable students to be winners at the competitive exams, and help shape the future bureaucrats of our country.
Is this book an addition to existing texts available or is it more of a course correction?
It is an entirely new approach to culture. There is no method clarified for students as to how to study culture. This book divides the subject into very clear 64 chapters and provides a systematic approach that is consistently maintained in a chapter which will help students remember things and also help them understand the logic behind the subject. It hopes to draw attention to the connections between economics, politics, history and geography so that the students, just by reading this book, can improve their scope of understanding of general studies.
Your reader base consists of many young readers. Was writing something for UPSC aspirants a natural progression?
As mentioned earlier, this was not really a plan but yes, my work in mythology does connect me with art and culture a lot. Whether it’s Harappan art, whether it’s culture, poetry, or painting; all mythology expresses itself to culture and Art. So, therefore, I was always interested in writing about art and culture. However, I never thought it would be in a textbook format, so that’s an exciting thing.
What do you seek to achieve with this book?
The greatest achievement would be when UPSC aspirants find it a one-stop solution when they need to understand Culture, Art and Heritage from different lenses. I hope students find this book enjoyable and entertaining that helps them prepare well for their competitive exams and become good bureaucrats for our county. In the future, I want the best bureaucrats of India to say that their brilliance was inspired by this book.
What are you working on at the moment?
Considering the Covid and lockdown situation in the country at the moment, I am currently doing a lot of research on the “Jatakas” and the “Vedas” for future books. We’ll see where it goes.
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