The Mahabharata, held to be one of India’s two great epics, has been told and retold in oral and visual form for centuries across the country. In July 2009, Chindu Sreedharan, senior lecturer in journalism and communication at BU, began to narrate his version on Twitter. Over 1,065 days and 2,628 tweets, he unfolded the story of two warring sets of cousins, and the moral discourses contained within the larger thread. The collection of tweets is now out as a book – Epic Retold, published in December 2014 and 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.
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.
Now Sreedharan 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 and would be shorter than the first version.
“It’s going to be challenging to write Duryodhana too, but there’s a quick end in sight,” Sreedharan told Reuters. “I know where it will start and how it will end, much more clearly than when I began Epic Retold.”
In his interview with the South China Morning Post, which you can find here, he explained the reason behind using Twitter as a form of storytelling:
“When I began this in 2009, Twitter was getting big. It was acquiring a variety of audiences, readers who engaged with it differently, more proactively. There were a few writers experimenting with fiction, mostly short stories in 140 characters – what have come to be known as “Twisters”. The question that came to my mind was, could you actually tell a longer story here, in a stream of micro-episodes? This was already happening in Japan. People were writing fiction as text messages. If it could work as a series of texts, why not as tweets?”
Some of the challenges, according to Sreedharan, were not actually the 140-character limit as one might think – but the pressures of time:
“I was doing this in between other things, so it was difficult for me to be disciplined. I would disappear for days, weeks, and someone would tweet, “Hey, what’s happening?”. I don’t think I would have finished this but for that.”
“The 140-character limit didn’t trouble me that much. After some initial wrestling, I think I found it more liberating than limiting. It demands a level of directness that frees you from the pressure of writing a lot and allows you to just get on with the story. You are not quite writing conventional prose here. You are writing for a new platform, with its own specific requirements.”
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