The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik
I picked up The Pregnant King primarily because the title sparked a curiosity in me. And also because I have been reading Devdutt Pattanaik on and off in Corporate Dossier. I became a fan of his work after reading Jaya: A Retelling of the Mahabharata.
The Pregnant King tells the tale of a king - Yuvanashva - who becomes pregnant when he accidentally drinks a magic potion which was supposed to make his queens pregnant. The novel effortlessly seams through a lot of references to the Mahabharata which interested me immensely.
The best part about the novel is Pattanaik's free-flowing writing style which completely engrosses the reader. The novel starts off by giving an introduction to the king's parents, his father's untimely demise and how his mother - the queen - takes charge of the kingdom, though she cannot be crowned as the ruler because she is a woman. Yuvunashva's birth and his gradual training to eventually become king follow. In the interim, there's a detailed description about his wedding to his first queen. When they realize after sometime that the queen is unable to bear him children, he marries a second time and then a third. By then, rumours abound that maybe the king is unable to make his queens pregnant but these are quashed by the queen.
In a discipline related matter when the king reacts quite angrily and is pacing up and down, he manages to drink the potion and becomes pregnant. Though shocked at the turn of events, he eventually manages to make peace with it and is actually quite thrilled at being able to deliver a child. However, since the truth makes all of us uncomfortable, the fact is hidden from everybody, including his son.
There are several themes running through the book. The importance of women as only being able to bear and rear children and ensure the comforts of the king is one. Pattanaik also brings out the importance of truth when it affects others and when it affects us. This is reflected in the following line: "Don't forsake a truth because it is convenient." The interplay between gender roles and the conflict of dharma are also rampant through the book.
The fact that a king, i.e. a man can become pregnant is implausible and not easily digestible. However, Pattanaik refutes it by saying that, "You are assuming you know the boundaries of nature. You don't. There is more to life than your eyes can see."
The irresistible lure of power and the inability to deal with the loss of it is also another idea found in the book. The king's mother, who enjoys running the kingdom, is unable to shed power to her own son and keeps postponing the same day after day. The book has a lot of such examples where one person's selfishness reigns supreme over all other interests.
The only negative for me was the host of characters. I had to go back and forth to tie-up the links to understand the finer nuances. But this can be easily forgiven; I enjoyed reading the overall book and couldn't wait to turn the pages to read about another incident in the king's life.