CONDENSING the world’s longest poem into a series of 140 characters on Twitter is no easy feat.
However, journalism lecturer Chindu Sreedharan took up the challenge to retell the Indian mythology epic, The Mahabharata, which took four years to complete and ended with a Harper Collins book deal.
The 41-year-old senior lecturer at Bournemouth University is now turning his hand to a sequel of the ancient Sanskrit Hindu text which will be told from the perspective of the villain, Duryodhana.
Sreedharan, a former war reporter from Kerala in south India, began narrating the Indian saga on the social media site Twitter, as
a digital storytelling experiment in 2009.
The ambitious exercise spanned 2,700 tweets under the title Epic Retold, and lasted until 2013. Sreedharan reaped the fruits of his labour in December when India’s first Twitter fiction novel was released.
“I was very lucky. It just happened, someone I knew sent it to Harper Collins and they just liked it,” he told Eastern Eye. “I’m quite interested in Twitter. This was an experiment in understanding social media in 2009. People were writing twisters – short stories in just140 characters. I wondered whether a long story could work?
“There was this irony about placing the longest story ever told onto Twitter which is known for its brevity. I didn’t have the patience to write a story for the site, so it was an experiment in Twitter rather than in writing fiction. It occurred to me that the Mahabharata was a great story – it’s a very rich story, it can pretty much withstand any number of re-tellings.
“Pretty much everybody is a hero. It has the conflict of war, but it’s a very anti-war story.” The Mahabharata, which is composed of 100,000 shoklas or couplets, is one of the two classic epics in Hinduism.
It is the tale of a dynastic struggle for power between two sets of cousins, the 100 Kauravas and the five Pandava brothers.
“It’s a very personalised rendering of the Mahabharata from the point of view of Bhima, so it’s almost like his online diary,” Sreedharan said.
Bhima, the second of the Pandava siblings, is responsible for the slaying of all 100 Kaurava brothers in the original poem during the Kurukshetra battle.
The sequel will present the eldest Kaurava brother Duryodhana as an anti-hero and is set to be shorter than the first version.
“Towards the end of Epic Retold, particularly because of the way certain things have been reimagin ed, I began to see Duryodhana
differently. I could see his point of view. Epic Retold was Bhima’s ‘truth’. [The sequel] will be Duryodhana’s.”
Duryodhana’s hatred for the Pandava brothers stemmed from his belief that as the son of the eldest brother, he was the heir apparent to the throne. However, his father, who was blind, had to renounce his rule in favour of his younger brother Pandu, the father of the Pandavas.
Sreedharan said he would explore what the character’s justification would be in his second Twitter novel. The lecturer, who also studies how conflict is represented in the media, has reported on the Kashmir conflict, and the Maoist People’s War guerrilla movement.
“When you study war, there are many versions of the truth,” he said.
Epic Retold is available on Amazon India