As a part of the pride month readathon for the fourth week the book that I choose to read was The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik published in 2008. The title of the book intrigued me to pick up the book and go on a ride of a completely different world. I felt like I time travelled and was transported into a different universe.
The Pregnant King is a story of men and women who are oppressed by a society founded on an unbending code of ethics, something that is extremely relevant even today.
During the time of Mahabharata there was a king, Yuvanashva, the king of Vallabhi. But he did not get his kingdom so easily. He had his own struggles, no, not the struggle of fighting a war, a war can be won with the help of power and right techniques. His struggles did not even include politics, that would have required the capabilities of his mind. But his struggle was that of giving heirs to the kingdom. He was forced to remain a prince for years because he was unable to become a father. He had 3 wives, but no heirs, and that made him incompetent to become a king.
Frustrated with his situation, Yuvanashva turned to other means also like yagnas, prayers and magic. But his faith was waiting for something else. One night he drank a magic potion which was made for his wives. This magic potion would have made his wives pregnant. But Yuvanashva drank it accidentally. And he became ‘The Pregnant King’.
He bore a child within his body but his story is not this much complicated only. After his first son for whom he was more of a mother than a father. He had another son, a son bore by his second wife. This made Yuvanashva the father of his second child. Then what all this made him? Is he a man or woman?
These were questions which made Yuvanashva uncomfortable for his whole life. He had maternal feelings for his first son, he wanted his son to call him mother once.
“I am not sure that I am a man,’ said Yuvanashva.’I have created life outside me as men do. But I have also created life inside me, as women do. What does that make me?”
These lines from the book depict the dilemma which was constantly there is Yuvanashva’s mind. A dilemma of his sexuality, is he a man or woman? These lines also show conflict, the conflict between his choices and the expectations of society. He wanted to be a mother to his first son, but his mother and wives forced him to remain a father, a ‘normal’ man. These lines also show how he was stuck in his life and this book is about how he spends his whole life to know the answer to the questions in his mind. The question, whether he is a man or a woman.
In between Yuvanashva’s story, Devdutt Pattnaik has also narrated many other stories, for example, the story of Shilavati, Yuvanashva’s mother who despite being perfect to be king could not rule the kingdom, because she is a woman. The story of Shikandi the woman who was brought up as a man, and Arjuna, the great warrior who has lived his one year of exile as a woman. In short, this story is about men, women and ones who do not belong in these well-defined categories. It’s the story where the line between man and woman gets blurred.
When I first read the title of the book, I was not sure if I wanted to read it. This book was a part of a book challenge which my friend and I gave to each other. I won’t lie, the title made me think that it’s weird, this book is weird. And it was only because of the challenge and my fondness for the author’s writings that I picked it up.
This story made me uncomfortable at first, there were instances when I found it absurd, for example, Yuvanashva’s desire to be called mother at least once. There was a scene where his first son drank milk from his breast, and I found all this abnormal, not only that but a little bit odd too. There was a point where I said to myself, why Yuvanashva can’t agree to what all his mother is saying. Why can’t he just be a father to his first son? Why can’t he just lead to a simple ‘normal’ life? But it was my mind only which gave me the answer, why can’t we accept people just the way they are? Why do we have this urge to define everything in categories, and when someone or something blurs the line between these categories, why we try to fix them? It seems in our world these categories are bigger than human beings. I won’t say I enjoyed every bit of the book because I didn’t. This book made me uncomfortable at times, and this is why I will say I loved the book. It made me think about issues which never crossed my mind earlier. It made me realize that how society’s hard rules were engraved in my mind.
This book shows how we as a society has defined what is normal, and when people deviate from this normalcy we negate them.
It took us years to accept people who do not fall in these categories, it took us years to accept (legally) those who have different sexual preferences, different from what we call ‘normal’. But I am hopeful that with time, we will accept everyone, and that too not just legally but with full dignity.
Talking about the language of the book, it is very easy to read. I think that’s the plus point of Devdutt Pattnaik’s books, he makes us understand complex issues with so much ease. The book is definitely a quick read, I finished it within a week.
Overall I would say looking back at my experience of reading this book, I am grateful that I read this book. If you are interested in mythology or have ‘Gender’ as a subject in your course then this book is a must-read. One advice I would like to give is if you want to read this book read it with the feeling of acceptance because only then you will understand the depth of this book.