Women often wish longingly that men would get pregnant at least once in their lifetime to understand just what women go through in those nine months. In Vibha Rani’s play, Pregnant Father, the wish comes true, and we get to once again discuss gender roles in a patriarchal society.
Winner of this year’s Nemichandra Jain Playwriting Award, the stinging satire tells the story of a mama’s boy named Shikhandi who gets pregnant. It spirals not only into domestic and emotional upheaval but a social crisis as well, with the role of doctors and the media exposed.
“It is very normal for people not to understand what pregnancy entails for a woman. The physical aspect is handled by the doctor but what about the emotional and psychological issues. The upbringing of boys is such that even today only about 1% of them are perhaps sensitive to the emotional needs of their spouses,” says Vibha, who has more than a dozen plays to her credit.
According to Vibha, every man before birth is a female because he spends nine months inside a female body. “If he carries that nine-month sensitivity with him, he could handle the emotional needs of his partner.”
The premise is futuristic, and Vibha points to the patriarchal mindset that runs scientific research. “Scientists are working on achieving immortality, but there is no attempt on sharing women’s workload in giving birth to humanity.”
The play refers to the little-known mythical tale from the Mahabharata, where king Yuvnashva gets accidentally pregnant. It also forms the basis of Devdutt Patanaik’s book The Pregnant King. “Our mythology deals with many complex issues, and male pregnancy is no exception. I spoke to Mr. Patanaik before including his voice in the play,” says Vibha. In 2015, Patanaik’s book was adapted into an English play, Flesh, by Kaushik Bose, examining issues surrounding gender and sexuality.
Shikhandi’s widowed mother is an interesting character. On the one hand, she is happy with the news of her son’s pregnancy, as she always wanted her husband to understand her pain. On the other hand, she perpetuates patriarchy by wishing for a male child and expecting her daughter-in-law Priya to manage both home and work.
“Patriarchy’s social conditioning is such that it refuses to go. Apart from other abuses, financial abuse is the biggest,” says Vibha. When Priya will become a mother-in-law, says the playwright, she will be different. “Because of her financial independence, she is in a position to say, if my partner doesnt give me equal space, I have the option to leave him, and she will pass on this thought to her daughters.”
The name Shikhandi, according to Vibha, is just a metaphor for the “indecisive nature” that defines many men when they have to negotiate between mother and wife. “He is not exactly a mama’s boy but like many men he hasn’t tried to work upon himself to become a spouse sensitive to his partner’s feelings. Your parents can’t teach you everything. Some things are self-taught.”
She says men claim to be strong, but in reality they are insecure, and this reflects in social ills. The earning the bread argument doesn’t mean that men get reduced to a baby when it comes to household chores. “The bread you win is secured and managed for the future by a woman,” says Vibha
Will the financial enabling of women render men the weaker sex? Vibha replies, “ Women are wrongly referred to as the weaker sex today, and I don’t want that men should be called the same tomorrow. The two should be allowed to co-exist with their nuances and virtues so that they support each other.”
Female voices in theatre are few and far between, and Vibha says there is a gender bias in this field as well. Men can participate in amateur theatre, but but women can’t afford to return home at 10 in the night. They are expected to think of the household. This has limited the role of women in theatre.”
In her popular play, Doosra Admi, Doosri Aurat, first staged by Rajendra Gupta and Seema Biswas in Bharat Ran Mahotsav, Vibha talks of a new relationship being forged, a bond of friendship beyond the gender divide. “On the surface, it seems like a play on extra-marital affair and for years I was asked to change the ending. But today’s generation appreciates it . After all, we come from a culture where Krishna and Draupadi were friends.” As she says, a female voice tries to unite people, nurture relationships; it doesn’t make them fall apart.