Tweeting the World’s Longest Poem, 140 Characters at a Time

Tweeting the Worlds Longest Poem, 140 Characters at a Time

It’s the world’s longest poem — over 1.8 million words, containing
over one hundred thousand verses and approximately ten times the
length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined. And now India’s celebrated
epic the Mahabharata, the writing of which began around 300 B. C. by the venerated Hindu figure Vyasa, is being written again — one 140-character
tweet at a time.

Chindu Sreedharan, 36, lecturer in Journalism and Communication at the
Media School in Bournemouth University, England, says he has always
had a soft spot for the epic tale, the narrative of a war between
cousins Pandavas and Kauravas. “It’s more cultural than religious,” he
says. “Most [Indians] know the storyline. It’s something our
grandmothers have told us.” That and his keen interest in social media
led Sreedharan to start experimenting with the epic, writing it in
short bursts online to see how it would read in that format. After three
weeks of posting entries, his “Epicretold” twitter feed had
gathered more than 1,000 followers. Read “How Did Hackers Cripple Twitter”>

Sreedharan is not the only writer of what he calls “Twiction.”
Philippa Gregory, author of the best-selling novel The White Queen, is using Twitter to reinterpret her book as a series of tweets
from its main character. Penguin has commissioned two 19-year-old University of Chicago
students to put together a book titled, “Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books in Twenty
Tweets or Less,” to be published later this year with synopses from
Shakespeare’s works, to the Harry Potter series, to of course, Twilight.

The format has its creative advantages. Instead of telling the classic
story through the eyes of a the main narrator as in the original
Mahabharata, Sreedharan takes the point of view of an heretofore one-
dimensional character, Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers who
defeat their cousins, the Kauravas, in tale’s central battle. “Bhima
has been the brawny superman of Mahabharata,” says the Indian-born
academic and journalist. “Here he is being presented as someone who is
really sensitive and intelligent.”

The irony of condensing a million-word epic into a series of
tweets — of which Sreedharan has so far posted 92 — is not lost
on him. Nor is the challenge. “You want to write tight, but you don’t
want to write so tight that the meaning gets lost for people who’re
not familiar with the story,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is to
make sure there is enough drama in every twepisode, so to speak.
There’s a cliffhanger, wherever possible.”

The old epic could use a little dusting off. The younger generation of
Indians, not to mention non-Indians who haven’t grown up listening to
the epics stories, find the long, complicated tale too difficult to
follow. Even in modern retellings — of which there are many — the Hindu philosophy, the wide cast of characters, and the scope of
the tale make the Mahabharata a challenging read. Sreedharan says he
wants to simplify the story and make it
accessible to both young Indians and foreigners alike. “Without giving
it the canopy of an epic, if it’s projected as just a tale — and a
beautiful tale — it’ll be interesting for anyone.”

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