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A teen poet's lyrical take on the Mahabharata

Sia Gupta makes the complex epic accessible to children by retelling it in rhyme 

Before the ‘Mahabharata’, Sia Gupta had attempted retellings of some classic fairy tales in rhyme
Before the ‘Mahabharata’, Sia Gupta had attempted retellings of some classic fairy tales in rhyme

“For the sky split open, and a celestial voice said, ‘Evil Kansa! Devaki’s eighth son will strike you dead!’ A worried Kansa put the couple in jail; he killed Devaki’s firstborn, ignoring her wail.” These are lines from The Mahabharata in Rhyme, written by a 13-year-old poet, Sia Gupta, and published by Om Books International. In an interview with Lounge, she talks about taking on a complex text such as the Mahabharata, and her favourite episodes from the epic. 

The Mahabharata is an extremely long and complex series. How did you assimilate the key ideas from the stories?

My interest for the Mahabharata was ignited when my school did a play on it, called the Rashmirathi, which talked about Karna. After that, I wanted to know more about the Mahabharata. So, I watched the old Hindi show by B.R. Chopra and read countless versions of it, including the ones by Namita Gokhale and Devdutt Pattanaik. And while it is true that the Mahabharata is indeed extremely long and complicated, I managed to understand it because I tried to visualise and imagine the story. I tried to understand the backstories of each of the characters and their side stories. When I put it all together in my head, it just became clear and I could make sense of the story.

Why did you choose poetry as your mode of expression for this particular book?

I’ve always loved reading and writing poetry. It comes easier to me as I love the way the rhymes just fit together. Before the Mahabharata, I retold some of the classic fairy tales in rhyme, and that’s when I realised that children such as myself and my little sister love hearing things in rhyme. I also got to know that the original Mahabharata was written in verse in Sanskrit. So I thought of writing it in rhyme in English. I believe that if you can’t find the book you want to read, you should write it!

Which are your favourite episodes from the Mahabharata

One of my favourite moments from the Mahabharata is the game of dice. It was very intense and I observed a lot of interesting reactions from the characters. I saw Duryodhana being vindictive, I saw Draupadi standing up for herself. I watched Yudhishtira gamble away his brothers and regret it. I watched Bheema and Arjuna get angry on Draupadi’s behalf and vow to take revenge. Another one of my favourite episodes was when Krishna went as a peace messenger to Hastinapur and revealed his true self. Sadly, I couldn’t write everything and capture each and every detail because that poem would have been endless. However, I chose what I thought was important to the overall story and the details that would matter eventually.

What is your writing process like? 

There are times when I feel a blast of inspiration, and I sit down and write 100 couplets. I used to think that I should just write when I feel like it, but that is never enough. Of course, it’s best to write when you’re in the mood but one must try and write a little bit every single day. Whether it’s hundred words or thousands, it doesn’t matter. I also try and set weekly targets for myself.

What are you working on currently? 

I’ve decided to take a break from poetry and start working more with prose. Right now, I’m attempting fantasy fiction for middle-schoolers. I had read a lot of fantasy fiction, so there is no dearth of inspiration. During the covid-19 pandemic, I’ve had a lot more time to experiment with different genres such as realistic fiction, thriller and mystery, to find what fits me best. 

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