I have no reason to choose this book over Jaya as my first Devdutt Pattanaik’s work to be read. Or maybe I got really curious by the title 🙂 .
The Pregnant King, in short, tells the story of Yadhvanashva, King of Vallabhi kingdom, who sires a child when he accidently consumes a magic portion meant for his barren wives. As much as the idea of a man giving birth to a baby sounds preposterous, Indian Mythology is replete with such stories illustrating implausible acts being made possible by either divination or sorcery.
The book majorly chronicles Yadhvanashva’s life from birth to death and the extraordinary chain of events that culminates into the title. The story of Mahabharata also runs in parallel. King Drupada’s obsession to avenge the humiliation caused by Drona which led to the birth of his three children and eventually, to the great war at Kurukshetra is described in brief at the starting and is quite similar to the version presented in The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakruni. Other important events are fleetingly mentioned as and when they occur in time.
The narration is quite simple and straightforward. It also gets boring sometimes. But the author has a way of subtly representing current issues and burning topics in his story telling. I found the story of Sumedha and Somvat/Somvati quite arresting, thoughtful and relevant; I leave it upon other readers to interpreted it in their own way. The tale of Shilavati (Yadhvanashva’s mother) who loves power and authority but is reduced to a mere guardian of a kingdom just because she is a woman highlights the unjustified societal vexation associated with women being at the helm.
However, in my opinion, the most important point that the central theme of the book brings out is the following: Who is more important in a child’s life? A mother or a father? Why does our society impose the so called “duties” (or Yama as described in our scriptures) differently on each parent? Why does a father have to go out and earn for his family while the mother has to look after the household work? What if a father desires to do a mother’s duties and vice-versa? Why should the society decide about how to bring up a child? It should be up to those, who brought the child into this world, to decide.
But if there were no standard or rules, there would be chaos. Everyone would act according to their desire (Kama) and free will and there would be no clarity or order in the way children are brought up to be responsible citizens of the state. The book neatly swings back and forth between the philosophical concepts of Yama (duty) and Kama (desire) and their manifestation in the real world of Yadhvanashva which makes The Pregnant King a very compelling read.
Trivia: I really never paid much attention to the word Kurukshetra as I always thought it to be a unique name given to a place. Until now. In this book, the author spells Kurukshetra as Kuru-ksthetra, like a sandhi of two separate words: Kuru & Kshetra. The land of the clan of Kuru i.e. Kauravas and Pandavas. It was less of an awe and more of an embarrassing moment for me !