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Devdutt Pattanaik and the Delightful Art of Mythmaking

December 29, 2014 3 comments

This is my response to Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Delightful Truths of Cult Leaders” which appeared in the Mid Day on 21 December, 2014.

I generally do not write without knowing enough about the issue. After going through Devdutt’s article, though, I figured if a person of his callibre can write something as dumb as what he has written, surely, I can do better than him. Comments to the contrary are always welcome.

Hello Devdutt ‘Myth’ Pattanaik,

Let me start by saying that I once used to be a fan of yours. I thought you were a good summarizer of our classics. But after going through Delightful Truth of Cult Leaders in Mid Day, I have to say that you are at best a great generalizer and at worse a deliberate confounder of the “many truths”. Your generalization about Rajiv Malhotra (not Rajeev Malhotra) in the article and branding him a ‘cult leader’ has no credibility and reeks of an effort to sideline and marginalize an authentic and independent voice. Below, I would like to address this in some detail.

Unlike the ‘delightful’ tone you have used in the article, read my response in the tone of Kakabhusandi, the curious crow, who really wants to know what is going on with you.

Let me ask you straight away, this is the first time in any published work of yours you refer to Rajiv and his work, what is stopping you of all the people from going into the specifics and do a purvapaksha on the “powerful and profound truths” that Rajiv has to offer? If you term – him writing against, rebutting and challenging Doniger’s monopoly – as a successful “witch-hunt”, then one can only doubt your skills of using a metaphor.

You yourself say that Doniger has her own “fan following that believes every word she writes is the truth and nothing but the truth”

In another article you were quoted thus: “‘..problem with Wendy’s writings is her unapologetic and rather naïve obsession with psychosexual analysis of Hindu gods.’ But the bigger problem is, he (Devdutt) warns, ‘Discomfort can turn to rage when American universities start promoting Wendy’s speculations as ‘the’ truth, rather than ‘a’ truth, one that may not necessarily align with popular beliefs on the ground.'”

Dear sir, I crudely submit that her “fan following” are the “American Universities”. You think American Universities are not already promoting her views?

You say – Discomfort can turn to rage when American universities start promoting Wendy’s speculations as ‘the’ truth, rather than ‘a’ truth – are you seriously unaware of the issues raised in Invading The Sacred?

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Let me quote from its cover jacket, considering in your busy schedule you wouldn’t have the time to go through the whole book,

“a powerful counterforce within the American Academy is systematically undermining core icons and ideals of Indic Culture and thought. For instance, scholars of this counterforce have disparaged the Bhagavad Gita as “a dishonest book”; declared Ganesha’s trunk a “limp phallus”; classified Devi as the “mother with a penis” and Shiva as “a notorious womanizer” who incites violence in India; pronounced Sri Ramakrishna a pedophile who sexually molested the young Swami Vivekananda; condemned Indian mothers as being less loving of their children than white women; and interpreted the bindi as a drop of menstrual fluid and the “ha” in sacred mantras as a woman’s sound during orgasm.

With such (deliberate? feigning?) ignorance, you shouldn’t have proceeded with your article. You try your best to balance by commenting on Doniger failings however were able to put out an interview with her in 2009 when her book The Hindus was published. In your introduction to that interview you wrote (emphasis mine): “Anyone who is serious about studying Hinduism needs to study the works of Wendy Doniger(b.1940), who for over 40 years has been researching, translating, and commenting on Hindu scriptures and stories.”

Are you yourself not guilty of promoting her truth as ‘the’ truth and not merely ‘a’ truth? In contrast, Invading the Sacred was published in 2007, it has been 7 years and there was/is no similar interview or any effort from your side in showing similar empathy towards Rajiv. Do you care to assimilate the many truths? Or are you merely satisfied by this half-attempt to de-legitimize his serious work by calling him a cult leader?

It is telling when you say, “Cult leaders are not liars; they do present powerful and profound truths. But the problem is that it eventually stops becoming about what they are saying, it becomes about them!”

Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t become about them if people like you addressed their truths rather than calling them names. In a way what you seem to be saying is, “Rajiv’s assertions are powerful and profound truths, but I won’t go into specifics of his research and mock it by reducing them to buzz words.” or “I don’t have any disagreements on his content but with the form and where it is coming from!” Why would you have issues with the content if you have refurbished some of it as your own, I wonder?

Criticise Rajiv all you want but don’t do such a shoddy job at it. Rajiv often tells his “fans” something like, if you have to challenge and topple the existing monopoly you have to do your homework right with due diligence. Maybe you can learn from him like you have done so otherwise. But unlike last time please give him credit.

Looking forward to better informed articles from your side.

Other relevant references:

Plagiarism Charge Against Devdutt

A Rebuttal to Devdutt Pattanaik’s article in Mid Day

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