A matter of myth

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Storyteller Author Devdutt Pattnaik
Storyteller Author Devdutt Pattnaik

Devdutt Pattanaik on gender roles in his novel The Pregnant King

Devdutt Pattanaik is a fine storyteller. He chooses a potent subject too. Scurrying through reams of myths, Pattanaik zeroes in on the story of Yuvanashva.

The king of Vallabhi should be a father before he rightfully assumes the power and respect reserved for the ruler. Three marriages and no successor in sight, Yuvanashva settles for a yagna, but accidentally drinks the magic potion kept for his wives. Yuvanashva is pregnant. By now, Pattanaik has the reader in his grip. He firmly chariots the story as it negotiates the realm of intrigue and the impossible to ring in contemporary concerns.

His novel blurs the line between genders, the expected and desired roles and everything we take for granted. The Pregnant King from Penguin is not merely the tale of a ing who gave birth to a son; it is the story of Yuvanashva's grandfather Pruthalashva who does not want to be king, of his mother Shilavati who cannot be king and others trapped by their roles.

A marketing professional, Pattanaik, who is a doctor by training and a mythologist by passion, approaches myths clinically. Every problem is "deconstructed" and a solution constructed out of it. From a minefield of stories, which Indian mythology is, Pattanaik gleans out the tale of Yuvanashva and colours it with imagination, but manages to make his point.

"I found this story recurring in every purana," says the first time novelist. . "Why does this story exist? Why is it repeatedly told? Is there wisdom locked in here?"

Pattanaik's tryst with mythology winds back to childhood. "As a child, I liked the Amar Chitra Katha. But when I came upon the English translation of the Bhagvad Gita, I was surprised to see the number of stories not told in the Amar Chitra Katha." says the author.

Enduring journey

Thus began an enduring journey with mythology. He penned books on Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Hanuman and other gods and goddesses, till Penguin approached him for fiction. "Any story, be it of Shiva or Vishnu, is like fixing a jigsaw puzzle," says Pattanaik. "Writing fiction was a difficult but delightful exercise," adds the author. "Fiction has its mood and pace. You have to write from the heart. There is no point writing if you write in fear. I don't write to provoke or with a political agenda, but to share my personal discoveries."

Pattanaik knows mythology can be dicey. Probably, why he clarifies in his author's note that the "book is a deliberate distortion of tales in the epic."

But the novel is meant to present myths from a different perspective. The powerful king Yuvanashva is often the victim, under pressure to prove his manhood and claim the throne. "Biology is destiny. We delude ourselves with the idea of freedom, but we are fettered by our body," Pattanaik philosophically lays bare the driving thought behind the book. He throws in puzzling questions.

While it touches upon the frustration and shame of Yuvanashva at the inadequacies of his body, it sparks off issues of gender and roles. Will the king who gave birth be called mother or father? Pattanaik uses myths as a gateway to wisdom, to find answers. "Myth and wisdom are very simple. If it is not simple, it is not wisdom," says the young author.


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