'My mother always gave me money to buy books': Author Devdutt Pattanaik

On Women's Day, Pattanaik on his relationship with his mother


My mother was an independent person, but I really saw her only when I grew up. She came from an extremely affluent family which had fallen on hard times. It struck me that my mother had to deal with a lot in life, and I understood her insecurities. Earlier I used to get very angry with her for being unreasonable. And then I realised her unreasonableness came from her insecurity. We don’t usually listen to our mothers’ stories. We think they are super-humans. We forget that they are also people. To see my mother took me a long time.

My mother always gave me money for buying books, though we were not rich then.

Once, I saw a book in the market that I wanted to read. This was long before I thought of being a writer. It was very expensive, costing Rs200, which was a lot of money 40 years ago. When I came home, I hesitatingly told my mother about the book, and she immediately gave me the money to buy it. I couldn’t believe it.

My mother always gave me money for buying books, even though we were not rich then. She never questioned why I wanted the book. This trait of my mother was something that I came to appreciate only later. She would let me buy all kinds of crazy books. Now I realise what she was doing. Today, I am what I am because of the money she gave me.

53-Devdutt-Pattanaik-and-mother-Sabitri Devdutt Pattanaik with (Right) mother Sabitri

The wisest thing she told me was that no matter how rich you become, do not forget that ultimately you need rice and dal to survive. When my father started doing well in life, my mother was firm that we should not change our lifestyle just because we were making money. “This is what we are comfortable and content with,” she said. “This is where I want my children to be.” She did not want to build a bigger house or join the golf course, even though my father would want all that. We don’t need it, she said. She had seen both good and bad times. She felt we should be stable and that was what was most important. That’s something that I remember about her. She always said, don’t forget rice and dal.

She was really proud of me when I bought my own house. In Mumbai, buying a house is a big deal. For her, it was huge. I saw her being excited like a child, like I had got a new toy. And she said, you don’t know what it means to be independent and have autonomy. That’s when I realised that women in India don’t have that independence. They are dependent on their husbands. Now, it might be different. But she came from an India where she needed a husband to buy a house. Feminism and all those ideas really came home then.

―As told to Anjuly Mathai at the 17th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival