After narrating the many twists and turns in the epic Mahabharata through 140-word tweets over four years, an Indian academic based at a British university is coming out with India’s first Twitter fiction book next month: ‘Epic Retold’, merging new media with the old.
Chindu Sreedharan, senior lecturer at Bournemouth University, made news in 2009 when he started microblogging a reinterpretation of the Mahabharata from the point of view of Bhima on Twitter. The story was told in nearly 2,700 tweets over 1065 days.
“I had not expected it to be such a protracted effort. When I began, I had every intention of finishing this in a year or so, but somehow it dragged on,” Sreedharan told HT before his book is published by HarperCollins.
‘Epic Retold’ (@epicretold) is among the first attempts in the world at Twitter fiction, which has emerged as a sub-genre of fiction in recent years and is attracting scholarly attention. Sreedharan describes his book as ‘Mahabharata for the Twitter generation’.
TwitterFiction is essentially works of fiction written and read on Twitter. The narrative is 'tweeted' by an author in 140 characters or less, for audiences who 'follow' the author, who consume it via their Twitter news feeds increasingly on mobile screens.
Sreedharan said: “This is an experimental novel and it began as an experimentation with Twitter -- to see if the microblogging site, which emphasises brevity, would support a long narrative, and if so, what structure it should take."
He added: “It was challenging to retell the epic on Twitter. I felt the audiences expected a different kind of narrative, a simpler story, with a strong protagonist they could relate to… someone whose life they could follow, watch — and as such, the Bhima of ‘Epic Retold’ is narrating his tale as he lives it. For this particular audience, the present tense narrative seemed to work.”
The book tells the familiar story of the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas, following the same plot and characters, but in several places, it moves away from Vyasa’s Mahabharata and previous reinterpretations.
The story centres around Bhima’s love for his first wife, Hidimbi, which governs much of his actions. Instances such as Bhima’s meeting with Hanuman and the killing of Jayadratha at Kurukshetra, are recast to provide a new interpretation.
Since Twitter fiction normally does not return to the ‘old media’, this is one of the handful that has been published in the book form across the world.
The first encounter of Bhima and Duryodhana.
I have guessed who he is. Duryodhana, Uncle Dritarashtra’s son, eldest of the Kaurava brothers. He steps forward.
I stop. I do not smile.
‘So you are the one,’ he says, ‘the Pandava born to destroy my clan!’
I feel my anger rising. I step towards him.
‘Aside!’ I say.
Duryodhana’s eyes widen, the angry surprise of a palace prince unused to challenge. Then I see rage.
I do not wait. I push, my forehand against his gold-strung chest. I feel him resist, we strain for a split-second. He stumbles sideways.
Duryodhana is taller, bigger. But I am stronger – born to the forest, not to palace maids. I leave him against the wall.
Chindu Sreedharan, the author of Epic Retold