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Beyond the Gender: Transgressive Bodies and Desires in Devdutt Pattanaik’s The Pregnant King

Nidhi Khatana

Assistant Professor, Christ University, Bengaluru

Volume 2, Number 2, 2017 I Full Text PDF

Article DOI:  10.21659/bp.v2n2.07

Devdutt Pattanaik is a contemporary mythologist who has recreated famous mythological characters such as Ram, Sita, and Jaya among others from Ramayana and Mahabharata in his works. Some of his works on mythology include Shiva: An Introduction (1997), Vishnu: An Introduction (1999), Devi: An Introduction (2000), The Goddess in India (2000), Hanuman: An Introduction (2001), Man Who Was A Woman (2002), Lakshmi: An Introduction (2003), The Indian Mythology (2003), Myth= Mithya (2006), The Book of Ram (2009), Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You (2014), Devlok with Devdutt Pattnaik (2016), and My Hanuman Chalisa (2017) among others. Pattanaik has also attempted to revive the interest of young children into Indian epics and mythology by writing Gauri and the Talking Cow (2011), Pashu: Animals in Hindu Mythology (2014), Devlok series that includes Devlok Omnibus (2011) and Fun in Devlok Omnibus (2014), and others. Pattnaik has also recently written number of books on Management Studies exploring Indian approach to business and leadership through epics and puranas. His novel The Pregnant King was first published in 2008 and was later adapted into a play titled Flesh in 2013 by Kaushik Bose.

The Pregnant King offers a unique re-telling of selective episodes of Mahabharata with a fictional tweak to produce a counter discourse to the heteronormative notions of gender and sexuality, which reduces human beings to mere social performers of the pre-defined set of rules and expectations. Pattanaik in author’s note mentions, “The story of the pregnant king is recounted twice in the Mahabharata. Once by the sage Lomasha during the exile of the Pandavas. And the second time by the poet Vyasa during the war with the Kauravas… This book is a deliberate distortion of tales in the epics. History has been folded, geography crumpled… my intention is not to recreate reality but to represent thought process.” (Pattanaik, 2008, pp. vi-vii) This paper argues how the dialogic voices within the novel bring forth a more subjective and fluid understanding of human bodies through its re-engagement with Mahabharata.

Through its various characters, the novel depicts how manavas struggle all their lives negotiating between sex and gender, duty and desire, and personal and social truths. Pattanaik takes the readers on a mythological journey to reveal myriad possibilities of human forms, subjectivities, and imaginations; to show the “confining nature of words” (287); to remind that “the human way is not the only way in this world” (Pattanaik, 2008, p. 33); to reinstate that truth is polymorphous, “it all depends on one’s point of view” (Pattanaik, 2008, p. 144); and to present a wisdom that must look beyond the flesh to understand human existence. The characters of Yuvanashva, Shikandi, Sumedha and Somavat(i), the unnamed prince, Nabhaka, Prasenjit, Uttara and Uttari, Nara and Narayana, Aruni, Ila, Arjuna and Krishna in the novel (and Mahabharata as depicted in the novel) portray the fluid nature of human body and desire, and demand a wider perspective to accommodate multiple human subjectivities…Full Text PDF>>