We may have heard of the transgender Shikhandi. But Yuvanashva? Hardly. They are but fringe characters in the Mahabaratha. Or so it seems until Devdutt Pattanaik tells us otherwise at a book reading session held at the Odyssey over the weekend.
Pattanaik, a management consultant, is a mythologist by “passion”. In his latest release, The Pregnant King, he brings together mythology from the Mahabaratha and its folk versions from Andhra and Tamil Nadu.
He had the audience riveted as he read out Yuvanashva’s predicament. Yuvanashva, the soon to be ‘pregnant king’ is unable to stake his claim to the throne, which is held by his mother, the Regent. There are two reasons for this dilemma: love for his mother and dharma that states he father a child before claiming his stake. Three wives and five years later there is no sign of a child. The book revolves around all those involved in establishing this dharma and what they go through while enduring this childless phase.
On being asked about the extent of artistic license he and the publisher took in the telling of these lost stories, Pattanaik read out his foreword in answer. It succinctly says that his work is fiction and as for mythology, he says, “It is a personal, cultural, subjective truth.”
“How were these stories lost?” piped up a woman from the little gathering. What Pattanaik said had us all red faced and acutely aware that nothing ever strayed from the shadow of the Raj. “The early translators came under the reign of Victoria. Why else were they not translated? Vyasa’s not embarrassed. We are.”
And this embarrassment has stuck on. Which is why, he believes, our society has lost out on the wisdom of our ancestors, their answers to life’s strange quandaries. He said, “We are obsessed with legitimising. Humans are not logical creatures. Mythology explores the illogical aspect. Our emotions are fabulous and fantastic. And life isn’t logical.” This he reiterated when he acknowledged that these tales are being published at a time when the youth are more open about their concerns with sexuality and destiny.
The Pregnant King promises to be an enthralling story of the “complexities of relationships”. Pattanaik doesn’t stop with introducing the characters; he explores them. His retelling of these myths doesn’t follow a straightforward plot with clearly defined ends and beginnings, but meander because this is his “contemplation of the implications” of being a transgender, of being a king when a woman, of being pregnant when a man, of being the wife of a woman.
Sex is a dicey topic in our country and even more so when it is associated with the gods. But Pattanaik says he hasn’t received any flak. He says people are willing to listen and accept the facts because he does not intend any “intellectual violence”. He only wants to complete the story, flesh out the characters, and have our myths talking to today’s audience.
Pattanaik gives us, the readers, the veto to accept the story, take it for what it is, imbibe its learning if it inspires or let it lie as just another myth. “My patron, the Yajamana, can admire the pot [narrative]. Or break it. Drink the potion [the ideas]. Or spit it out. Or she may ask, as I often do, what matters more: the pot or the potion?”
His upcoming projects sound just as exciting and rich in stories–an illustrated retelling of the Mahabaratha, Baghavatham and Ramayana. Pattanaik is not only a writer who weaves myths into engaging stories, but is also a good storyteller going by the way he held the gathering’s attention while he read out excerpts. In keeping with this rare talent, he does plan to do audio books soon. As he admits, myths are to be told from the “Vyas peet”.