NEW DELHI: A lecturer based in Britain has re-imagined an ancient Indian epic for Twitter audiences, spawning a book and spurring a second attempt, this time from the perspective of the main villain. Chindu Sreedharan began retelling the Mahabharata on the microblogging website in 2009, taking more than four years and nearly 2,700 tweets to finish Epic Retold, published in December as a book billed as India’s first Twitter fiction.
The ancient Sanskrit epic, one of Hinduism’s crucial texts built of around 100,000 couplets, tells of a dynastic struggle for power and a cataclysmic war won by the righteous Pandava brothers. Sreedharan’s Twitter version is told from the point of view of Bhima, the strongest of the five Pandava warriors.
Now, the 41-year-old academic is reading up on Bhima’s cousin Duryodhana to present a shorter Twitter narrative from his point of view, turning the antagonist into an anti-hero. “It’s going to be challenging to write Duryodhana too, but there’s a quick end in sight,” Sreedharan said in an interview. “I know where it will start and how it will end, much more clearly than when I began Epic Retold.”
Such is the appeal of the Mahabharata that when it was first adapted for television in the 1980s, city streets emptied out on Sunday mornings, with most Indians glued to their TV sets. Even today, politicians fighting election campaigns often identify themselves with one of the heroic Pandava siblings, while characterising opponents as Duryodhana or one of his 99 depraved Kaurava brothers.
Sreedharan’s narrative takes occasional liberties with the epic, annoying a few followers of the Epic Retold Twitter account, with his portrayals of some Mahabharata characters. For example, Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava brother and a traditional byword for integrity, proves to be less than honest.
One of Sreedharan’s initial reasons for microblogging the Mahabharata was to make it palatable to British colleagues and see how Indians reacted to an epic reinterpreted for Twitter. “I am curious to see what the conventionalists make of my alternate ending,” he said.
Sreedharan, an amateur ballroom dancer with two British national championship titles, juggled teaching and rehearsals while working on Epic Retold, 140 characters at a time. Writing for Twitter offers authors a directness “to get on with the story,” he said. “Once you get into the swing of it, I think it can be more liberating than limiting.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2015.