An avid blogger, Chindu Sreedharan is using Twitter to retell the ancient Hindu epic, Mahabharata. Since his first post on 27 July, Sreedharan’s followers on the micro-blogging website have grown to over 600.
Tweeting back in time: Chindu Sreedharan. Photograph: Saeed Rashid
The lecturer of journalism and communication at Bournemouth University in the UK got drawn to the idea when a colleague forwarded him a web page about mobile phone novels, which are a big hit among Japan’s Oyayubizoku or mobile phone obsessed “Thumb Tribe”. When Sreedharan came across New York Times journalist Matt Richtel’s attempt at creating a storytelling format called “Twiller” in which fictional characters post updates, he was convinced about creating Twitter history by serializing the Mahabharata. We spoke to the man behind the Tweets to understand why he chose to retell mythology, under 140 characters at a time, over the micro-blogging service. Edited excerpts from an email interview:
How long have you been blogging and Twittering?
I’ve been blogging for years, since 2003, I think—ever since I came to England and didn’t have the daily pressure of writing and rewriting professionally. I’ve also been on the social media scene since MySpace but had kept away from Twitter till recently.
Why do you choose to tell it from Bheema’s point of view?
I felt it had to be something that provided opportunities for easy dramatic tension. This was also the time when I was enjoying Prem Panicker’s Bhimsen, and the tale seemed to fit the bill perfectly. A narrative from Bheema’s perspective, I felt, was easier to pull off—his character provided for not only overt, external conflicts but for internal ones as well. A first-person narrative also meant that you could keep the focus tight, particularly when telling a complex tale such as this, and hopefully avoid confusing readers (especially those not familiar with the epic).
But what do you know about Bheema’s point of view? What text are your Tweets based on?
I have been hooked on Bheema since I read M.T Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham as a kid—episode by episode, as it was published in a weekly. So that is a foundational influence (I have gifted Second Turn, the English translation, to more people than I care to remember!) Panicker’s narrative, which explores the character further, rehooked me. I would also think I am drawing on everything I have heard, and read, about the epic, including critiques on some of the other contemporary writings on it.
Have you tried serial Twittering before?
No, this is fairly new. This is a platform originally meant for updates to your social circle. Mostly people have been trying to do short pieces of work, mainly short shorts. Novel length work on Twitter, not too many.
Were you just “discovered” on Twitter? And have your feed subscribers increased dramatically?
The media attention, my “discovery” ... Thank you, social media! It helped that some of my friends on Facebook and Twitter were journalists, who were quick to see the news value. Mahabharata is always interesting, and there was the novelty of it going “new age”. So it has tremendous news value for an Indian audience (fiction on Twitter, that is attractive too, for an international audience, which, I am sure, will be picked up as well). And yes, the number of “followers”, which has been increasing gradually, has grown dramatically today—once people posted it on blogs and began retweeting.
How much Tweet time to you think the grand epic will take up to unfold?
Ah, there you have me! As long as it takes to tell the story!
What’s the most challenging thing about Tweeting the Mahabharata? The names must eat up the precious character limit, right?
Finding the balance between writing tight and writing not too tight. In journalism, we are told to make every word count. Here, you got to make every character count.