Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Pregnant King

(And a new series begins. I mentioned that I spent more than Rs2,000 on buying books. I’m going to painstakingly tell you everything I think about them. HAH!)

The first book I read in my big bought-from-The-Landmark-Sale pile was The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik. It was the first book in months that I read on the 20-minute auto ride to work. That should have meant that I finished the book a year later or something, but I finished it in ten working days. This, for me, is a short time. For a book with these many sub-plots and complicated Sanskrit names, it was definitely a short while.

The book is the author’s re-telling of one of the many stories in the Mahabharata. He says in his note that he’s fictionalised it a bit, but the main narrative is the same. I picked this book up only because I’m a huge fan of Mr. Pattanaik. The last few books of his that I read were about mythologies, more specifically, God mythologies, and they blew me away. The tales he was telling were told with such simplicity and non-preachiness, that one couldn’t help but want to learn more about the purported 33 million gods in the Hindu pantheon. That is why I love the written word. Especially, the well-written written word. When a story is told in an engaging way, the reader can’t help the need to seek out more knowledge or experiences.

Which brings me to The Pregnant King. This book, although a fictionalized re-telling, has in it some debates that will make you realize a few things about us and our culture, history and heritage. It’s set in the Mahabharata – the supposed history of all the forefathers of this country. When this particular story unfolds, the Kauravas and Pandavas are going to war. The rights and wrongs of this war are being questioned. Allegiances have been sworn. Good will win over evil. Justice will prevail. However, one king does not go to war. He can’t. He hasn’t fathered an heir yet and hence cannot be sent to war. If he dies, his kingdom will go to waste. His journey as a boy and man and parent is what is traced here. Although my summary looks simplistic, there are twists in this tale. This is a kingdom where forefathers have abandoned the throne well before it is time for them to go. I need to add here that a Hindu man’s life is divided into four phases – each phase is marked by a certain set of duties. The first phase, Brahmacharya, is for knowledge and learning. The second phase, Grihasta, is for marriage and establishing a home and ensuring that your lineage is carried forward. The third phase, Vanaprasta, is to devote oneself entirely to spiritual pursuits as you have completed all filial responsibilities. The fourth and final stage, Sanyasa, is a complete renunciation of the world in search of the final release from the bondage of life, Moksha (more on this here). In Vallabhi, where this story is set, the ancestors of the pregnant king all lose hope and walk away from their world before it is time to do so.

All of that, however, does not compare to the tectonic twist in the cosmic fibre of this dharma-abiding kingdom. While performing a yagna for the begetting of an heir, Yuvanashva (the pregnant king) accidentally drinks the potion for pregnancy meant for his wives. What happens next? What debates arise? The questions and emotions that this situation creates are where the narrative really heats up. The king is now torn between his masculinity and emotions that only women experience. How does he deal with it? What knowledge in this cosmos could possibly help him make peace with his turmoil? For all this and more, read the book!

This book is excellently written and it doesn’t, at any given point, slip into that territory of author = god. Mr. Pattanaik managed to tell this tale the way it was supposed to be told, with the voice of a bard - a story-teller who carries a tale and lets it emerge and talk to the listener on its own. It is for the fact that this book upholds, in its own way, the Indian tradition of story-telling that I am deeply and, very profoundly, in love with this book. If you have Rs299 to spare, pick up a copy and read it. Ship it to your part of the world. Steal a copy, whatever. Read it. If you want to know more about us and why we are the way we are, despite 300 years of The Raj, there’s an answer in there, somewhere…


  1. i LOVED this book too de...finished it on my journey from delhi 2 vellore by train!!couldn put it down!

  2. Devdutt Pattanaik is truly awesome! I love his writing :) This is one Indian author I won't tire of ;)