The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik is a many-faceted novel. It is a complex but brilliantly written mythological tale. The book has a controlled intricate narrative structure. The readers can experience and enjoy both the lyricism and fine intelligence of the structure and narrative technique of this book. Though the book is fun-filled and magical, yet it is an anguished world of mythological characters. On top of that, this book is the study of a very intriguing theme. For me, the very choice of this theme is a bold stroke of genius. The concept on which the story is based is certainly imposing. This central theme of this book is the subject of ‘identity of gender’ and its fate in the world. The title of this book is an unmistakable pointer to this central theme. Both actions and characters in the book under review emphasize this subject matter and show the numerous ways in which the identity of a gender can suffer in the world. Identity of a gender is, in turn, shown as a sham, as mistaken and confused, fractured and fragmented, merged and super-imposed, subjected to oblivion and dwarfed and reduced to animal level, totally lost and as barren and sterile.
The book revolves around Yuvanashva (the prince of Vallabhi), whose personality and life illustrates the main premise of this novel. It is his character, who gives the novel its title: The Pregnant King. Yuvanashva weds thrice but is unable to sire a child. According to dharma, he cannot become a king until he fathers a son. To claim his right as a king of Vallabhi, Yuvanashva tries many things. And, when nothing works, he performs a yagna for getting kids. In the process, he accidently drinks an enchantment mixture that was prepared for his wives and ends up getting pregnant himself. His bewilderment about his motherly way of thinking and feelings towards his son make rest of this extraordinary story. In addition to the story of this ill-fated prince, the plot of the book also throws light on a number of minor but important stories such as the accounts of Shikhandi, Somvat, Arjuna and Krishna, etc. These small accounts have been placed very carefully in the main story-line and are symbolic in nature. These accounts also illustrate the central subject matter of this novel, though in different ways. This approach has allowed the author to exploit fresh angles on (and startling insights into) the diverse aspects of gender identities.
The Pregnant King follows a human quest to understand the nature of the world. With this book, Devdutt Pattanaik not only builds up a griping fictional story but also sets out some of the logical and moral dilemmas faced by humans. The author should be complimented for not neglecting the storytelling essentials required to maintain the reader’s interest. His plotting is cleverly organized to maximize the tension as the readers turn the pages. The narration is breathtaking that scarcely ever pauses for a moment as its characters relentlessly pursue their goals. Smoothly written in a realistic style, the book is packed with nicely crafted characters of both the sexes.
A wonderful and thought-provoking read!