The Pregnant King
‘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? Will a body such as mine fetter or free me?’ Among the many hundreds of characters who inhabit the Mahabharata, perhaps the world’s greatest epic and certainly one of the oldest, is Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks a magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant and gives birth to a son. This extraordinary novel is his story. It is also the story of his mother Shilavati, who cannot be king because she is a woman; of young Somvat, who surrenders his genitals to become a wife; of Shikhandi, a daughter brought up as a son, who fathers a child with a borrowed penis; of Arjuna, the great warrior with many wives, who is forced to masquerade as a woman after being castrated by a nymph; of Ileshwara, a god on full-moon days and a goddess on new-moon nights; and of Adi-natha, the teacher of teachers, worshipped as a hermit by some and as an enchantress by others. Building on Hinduism’s rich and complex mythology—but driven by a very contemporary sensibility—Devdutt Pattanaik creates a lush and fecund work of fiction in which the lines are continually blurred between men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Confronted with such fluidity the reader is drawn into Yuvanashva’s struggle to be fair to all—those here, those there and all those in between.