'Is he dead?' she asks.
'Yes,' I say. 'I promised.'
The Bhimasena of Mahabharata? The unmatched strongman who tore Jarasandha into two, who broke open Dushasana's chest and drank blood, who vanquished Duryodhana to make Yudhistira the unchallenged ruler of Indraprastha… Bhimasena, the son of Vaayu, father of Ghatotkacha, husband of Hidimbi -- that Bhimasena?
"Yes, that Bhimasena!" says Chindu Sreedharan, who retold the Mahabharata on Twitter from the point of view of the second Pandava.
The effort, which is now being published by HarperCollins as Epic Retold, is billed as 'India's first Twitter fiction' -- essentially, fiction written as a series of tweets, in 140 characters or less, to be read on the microblogging platform.
Epic Retold has the mighty Bhima tweeting his story as he lives it -- in first person, from the day he first meets his arch enemy Duryodhana, all the way through the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
Sreedharan, a former Rediff.com journalist who now teaches journalism at the Bournemouth University in England, says the book began as an experiment -- to understand if there was space for a long narrative on a social media platform that celebrates brevity.
He started tweeting it in July 2009 from @epicretold.
Over the next four years, the epic was recast for a new audience -- though the story follows the familiar plot and characters, it deviates from the original at several crucial junctures -- across some 2,700 tweets.
Here's an episode from the year the Pandavas are hiding out in King Virata's palace. Bhima -- disguised as Vallabha, the cook -- takes on the dreaded Keechaka after he tries to dishonour Draupadi:
The evening meal is almost ready by the time I return. Entrusting my assistants with the last few tasks, I proceed towards the dance hall.
The hall is in the adjoining palace, where Virata's daughters live. It is here that Brihannala, the eunuch, teaches dance and music.
Arjuna shrouded in silks all day. I smile grimly. What a way for a swashbuckling warrior!
The hall is deserted when I push open the door. I walk in. Lighting a wick, I take a look around.
At the far end is a divan, spread with several luxurious cushions. This must be where Arjuna sits as he presides over his young disciples.
This will do. Blowing out the wick, I settle down on the divan. I am calm.
Removing the long piece of cloth tied around my waist, I begin to tear it into strips. Then, carefully, I bandage my arms and forearms.
When Keechaka's body is discovered, there must be no telltale marks on me. I cover my neck and face as well for good measure.
My hands search out the vial Draupadi has left beneath the cushions. Liberally, I apply the perfume. Nothing must be left to chance.
Then I wait.
Hours pass like ages. Surely, even the king must have retired by now after his nightly wagers?
Just as I begin to worry Keechaka has not taken the bait, I see movement by the window. A lone figure arrives, hugging the shadows.
The door opens. The figure begins to advance slowly. Quietly I sit up.
'Malini?' Keechaka's voice is a whisper.
The divan creaks when I move. Keechaka hesitates. Now I can see the glitter of his earrings.
Huddling, I try to make myself smaller.
The smell of musk mingled with wine assaults me as he comes closer. Keechaka has made an effort to be attractive! I smile mirthlessly.
'I feared you wouldn't be here,' he says, reaching out a hand.
Keechaka realises the danger when I grab his wrist and pull him towards me. He tries to break my hold. But I have surprise on my side.
Throwing him on to the divan, I use my body to pin him down. His free hand claws at my face and throat. I am glad for the bandages.
Keechaka struggles furiously when I cover his face with a cushion. He is strong, but compared to Jarasandha, he is nothing.
I hold him down with ease. When I press down harder, smothering him, he attacks my hands. Muffled shouts emerge from under.
'I am the army chief! Who are you? Let go!'
'I am the husband of the maid you tried to dishonour,' I whisper.
The words must have reminded Keechaka of Malini's trickery. There is a sudden fury in his struggles that I contain only with difficulty.
After a few moments, he weakens. But I do not ease the pressure. Keeping my face away from his reach, I push harder to deny him breath.
Gradually, the thrashings cease. Keechaka lies still.
I light the lamp and look at Keechaka. His eyes are wide open. In death he looks even more repulsive.
'Is he dead?' she asks.
'Yes,' I say. 'I promised.'
Taking the lamp from my hand, she turns up the wick and looks at Keechaka. The eyes that turn to me are content.
'You are hurt,' she says, stepping close to wipe a trickle of blood from my chest.
'A scratch,' I say. 'No one will see.'
In the light of the lamp, I see her lips part. Her hand encircles my neck, nails digging deep.
No. I stay her and gently disentangle.
Draupadi says, 'Oh, the woman from the forest is still in your thoughts!'
She walks away quickly. I struggle to read the look on her face. Is that gratitude? Or pity?
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com.
Excerpted from Epic Retold by Chindu Sreedharan with the permission of the publishers, HarperCollins. You can pre-order the book here.