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Q+A: Mahabharata retold on Twitter
NEW DELHI |
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Chindu Sreedharan, a Bournemouth University lecturer, is retelling the Mahabharata on Twitter -- 140 characters at a time.
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Here are excerpts of an e-mail interview with Sreedharan on why he started epicretold (twitter.com/epicretold).
Q: What triggered 'epicretold'?
A: "Essentially this is a project where quite a few of my professional and academic interests came together. I am interested in 'storytelling', mainly, creative non-fiction or literary journalism, which borrows the tools of fiction.
"I have a particularly keen interest in war and conflict narratives, and my specialisation is that (I covered Kashmir, Kargil and the People's War Group for rediff and I have a doctorate in war journalism) and having worked online from 1997, I am much fascinated by the web and what it spawns.
"Epicretold brought all these aspects together. At the heart of it, Mahabharata is a war narrative. It is a fascinating, evergreen story, which has wonderful opportunities to captivate an audience, any audience (I believe) and online, including smart phones, are involved here -- so it is got everything I could ask for!"
Q: Is it a sign of Twitter going literary?
A: "Not sure of that. The concept of literature -- indeed language itself -- is changing, thanks to Twitter, Facebook, the mobile revolution. Traditional 'literature' shovelled on to microblogging, or for that matter anywhere online, will not work. People are working on hypertext fiction, non-linear and interactive storytelling -- so the traditional concepts don't quite float online.
"Having said that, you do see quite a few dedicated writers working fiction/creative pieces on Twitter -- mostly these are short shorts (very short stories) and perhaps a few longer pieces of fictional work.
"Thing is, the social media, of which Twitter is part, is evolving, and it is an exciting evolution; the excitement is in that we don't quite know which way it will go."
Q: Were you tempted to write twiction of your own? Why did you choose the Mahabharata?
A: "My hunch was, to keep the follower hooked, you needed a tale that provided for plenty of dramatic tension. Mahabharata does that -- like I said, it is a war story, and there's plenty of 'conflict' in there, plenty of opportunities for the conflict-escalation-climax cycle.
"There was also the personal interest in it. I have been hooked on it since I read M.T. (Vasudevan Nair)'s Randamoozham (Second Turn) as a kid and I was rehooked when I started reading Prem (Panicker’s ‘Bhimsen’) plus it was a war narrative, and I was curious to see how it would shape up as fiction on a medium not meant for it.
"An alternate reason was many of my English colleagues here had found it extremely hard to follow the tale. And I wanted to produce something that they would be able to follow -- a contemporary writing that could be read like an interesting story, interest them to know more."
Q: You are following the narrative structure of Panicker's 'Bhimsen' which itself is a retelling of the epic. So, how much of the original 'Mahabharata' will actually be in 'epicretold'?
A: "This needs to be seen as experiment into social media more than an experiment with Mahabharata. There will be changes -- as there always are with any contemporary writing. In M.T.'s work and Prem's retelling, the characters are not superhuman but ordinary mortals; their acts are not the gratuitous deeds of gods or demigods, but the work of ordinary humans with extraordinary skills.
"It's all believable -- and my hunch is, that's what the audience would go for, can connect with. So this is not quite about capturing the philosophical richness of the original Mahabharata -- but presenting a version that will, hopefully, suit the medium. Without making any claims of literary merit, I would say there’s creativity involved -- but of the variety that’s better expressed as information design than anything else."
Q: Have your set yourself any limits in terms of frequency or deadline for the tweets. Is there a daily schedule you follow?
A: "No. I started off with three tweets a day. My plan was to up the tempo, once it took off properly. My feeling is, three is too far and few a day, 'followers' might need more, to keep with it. I don’t really know what's the optimum number.
"I am asking around among my 'followers', trying to find out -- so it will all depend upon the response I get."
Q: You are using TweetDeck, TwitterBerry and your mobile to file updates -- has it actually turned out to be "fiction on the go"?
A: "Not in the very strict sense -- not yet anyway. I do use different platforms to post, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am writing in between other things. What I do is, do the tweets for the day in the morning – and since I run around a lot, mail it to myself. And then post it one by one, from wherever I am."
"I think I only composed two or three tweets on my mobile -- and perhaps edited a bit here and there in a few others just before I posted. But once things heat up (this is my quiet period, when I am not teaching) after September, I guess I will have to file from where I am, using whatever platform available."
Q: Any thing that you have learned/regret since starting 'epicretold' last week?
A: "Yep. To be very careful when you tweet. Just today I accidentally posted something meant for another Twitter account -- and since it had some reference to 'beach' and 'bikini-clad', I had some answering to do.
"On a serious note, perhaps the narrative would have been more effective if I focused more sharply on -- and I intend to do that now on, as much as the constraints I have created for myself allow -- Bhima and Duryodhana. String the narrative together as a series of their stand-offs.
"In the ideal world, it would have been good if someone paid me to write the whole thing out first, tweet by tweet, do some dummy runs before I went live. That wouldn’t be fiction to go from the point of view of writing, only from that of reading -- but it would have been more slicker certainly. Next time!"
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