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Sunday, January 28

Republic Day !

What a wonderful way of celebrating Republic Day ! I just loved the concept and the wonderful entries. Surely my try out list is a little longer now. :-)

A happy and thoughtful Republic day to everybody. May you become a more responsible citizen in the year to come.

Sunday, January 14

Why we need to look beyond English !

Call centers and BPOs are the poster material for many people these days who firmly believe that English is the way to go forward. I have been trying to see how far their stand goes.

To me the whole hoopla about the necessity of learning English seems more like a rather short sighted view. the BPO and the call center industry primarily serves US and UK now a days. Together they constitute a very small part of the world population. Two of the major developing countries of the world, China and India still have only a rather small portion of their population using English for their daily transactions. The huge number of English speaking population that are reported are a little misleading in this respect.

Consider that India is estimated to have 35 crore English users. For example my father would qualify as a English user since he is able to use it on purpose but he is not comfortable using it in his daily life. Now consider that the developing economies of these countries are creating a huge middle class lead markets which is on the radar of all the major companies of the world. Tomorrow when customer support and call center services would be required for these markets, they will have to come in languages other than English. Reliance has customer support in various Indian languages already.

The current approach completely ignores the potential of the local market and demand for these services. In fact, even apart from local market, there are large parts of world where regional language services (for example Spanish) will open up new markets. Concentrating only on one language in the name of global language would be to loose out on a big opportunity.

I also see the current scenario as a huge opportunity for India and Indian people. For those who believe in looking towards US for inspiration, there is already plenty if they look closely. US is investing huge sums of money in language research and in encouraging students to take up foreign languages. Indians have the advantage of being at least bilingual by default. This is the chance to cash in on that default and expand our expertise to all the various languages and not just English. Already there is a huge market for the translation industry because companies need to translated huge amount of product related documentation in to various languages. EU which has 22 working languages generates a huge amount of translation work. It is an opportunity for not only persons with language skills but also language related technologies.

In a more broader perspective, a lot of digital revolution is still limited to a small part of the world. Now there are two future scenarios. Either it will spread out to all the parts or it will simply not be sustainable because as the world gets connected, the whole chain is only as strong as the weakest link. So let's be optimists and say that indeed the digital divide would be filled and that more and more people would be able to reap its benefits. Now again, we may argue that English is necessary for this to happen and become one of its allies, rooting for adoption of English as a global language or we may see this as a challenge on our part and make the technology more language neutral, make it available to people in the language which they understand best. This way we reach them fast since speed of technological development is always faster than the cultural changes. This way we generate less commotion, face less resistance and most important of all, we save the beautiful things that are languages.

Now that last statement may be lost on many people. Why is it important to save languages? For one rather scientific reason, study of various language and the relations among them gives us important clues about the evolution and spread of man kind on the planet. The huge diversity in various languages gives as an insight in to the human mind and how it works, how it has developed. But more importantly, a language carries with it whole cultures. One language gone is an important part of our heritage gone, wisdom of elders that distilled down the generations gone and one color of the colorful world gone.

Choice is ours and we have to make it now.

The Culture Shock III - Measure for Measure

I hold you as a thing enskyed and sainted;
By your renouncement an immortal spirit,
And to be talked with in sincerity,
As with a saint.
Measure for Measure, 1. 4
USA remains one of the only 3 countries which do not use Metric System of measurement. For somebody coming in from a country that uses metric system, it can be a real pain in the ass. So temperatures are in Fahrenheit, distances are in miles, weights are in pounds and liquids in gallons and I am in trouble. So how do you decide how difficult would it be to walk home from a grocery store which is 1 mile away, carrying 4 pounds of potatoes and 1 gallon milk when the temperature is 60 degree Fahrenheit. I would rather walk and find out. Even now it is so easy to get lulled into the sense of closeness when suddenly a factor 1.6 pops up.

Now I don't have any pro or anti metric stand since I haven't found any huge benefits of one over another. I think it is a matter of getting used to it.
However not everybody shares my opinion and there are people here who see Metric system as an assault on their way of measuring, on their heritage ! For God's sake ! heritage? I would think that there would be better things to hold on to as heritage. Even in India I never heard anyone say that ser should be preserved as a weight measuring unit or kos as a distance measuring unit because they are part of our heritage !

As I see it, the issue is not about one thing being better then the other but about standardization. I don't think there is any country which exclusively uses Metric units. Units like beegha, gaj, tola are still prevalent in India. But having Metric system in public usages makes it easy for people to work smoothly wherever they go.

Common sense would say that US should see least resistance to Metric conversion owing to strong emphasis on science and technology (the moon mission was all in imperial units), a relatively new society with so much diversity which would negate any historical attachments and the large immigrant population who come here well versed in Metric system. But strange are the ways of man !

In fact I got reading about the Metrication efforts in other countries of the world. It seems almost unthinkable that even India converted to Metric system during 1956-1961. Before independence, there was very little or no use of Metric system in India. The conversion was relatively smooth since most of the population was illiterate at that time and so there was no resistance from them. One would usually think that education makes a person more open minded and rational. In this particular case, the situation seems to be completely at odds.

Another strange thing I have noticed here is that there don't seem to be any standard packing sizes, not even in terms of pound and gallons. The Garlic powder I bought yesterday is some 347 gm and some 12.25 oz. And there are all strange packing sizes like this on the shelves. Either I am missing something very basic here or it is yet another trick of the trade that makes price comparison all the more difficult.

Friday, January 12

Faces of Democracy - Czech Dreams with Stolen Eyes

Many overdue posts lurk in the darkness while I sleep and dream the Czech Dream.

Journey of a nation from a communist past to Capitalistic future seen from the eyes of two cynics, I mean in a good way, the kind of cynics every society needs. How the people depraved for years become such a easy target for consumerism - that endless world of cheap deals, huge super stores and feel good experience and how the media plays a associate while claiming innocence. An exchange between the directors and ad agency guys who are a part of the whole game is very telling:
"Maybe you filmmakers lie to people, but we advertisers don't!"
However the film is a very clever one. Not because of the prank but how it pretends to hold up a mirror to a consumerist society but along the way slyly puts the partners in the game, the advertising agency, the media production companies, the market survey companies under scanner. It is them who are the real subject of the movie and the whole prank is just a distraction to catch them when they are most off guard. The camera trains at these people again and again probing their moral values and exposing how most of them exist in a denial of the dilemmas that are all around them, giving themselves shallow justifications for their choices.

This is the kind of movie that everybody in India really needs to see today.

However not with Stolen Eyes. This was a big let down in the whole festival, a movie that I left in between which is very rare for me. Ironically this was a very critically acclaimed film but it seemed such a shallow and superficial affair to me that it was difficult to understand all the praise it has been getting. Many scenes through out the movie looked more like a Nat Geo dramatic adaption then a movie. The historical background in which the movie is set is really saddening and will prove to be heart wrenching in good hands. In 1985, Bulgarian govt decided to rename all the Turk population of the country that has been living there for generations and remove all traces of their culture. It was a ethnic cleansing of horrifying measure but all the strong premise has been royally wasted in the movie. They have tried to do this love story set against this background and failed. The starting part of the movie is a visual treat however due to the beautiful country side and the colorful Turkish culture that it shows but there is little else but frustration of viewer as the movie progresses.

So watch Czech Dreams and open your eyes. I am sure you won't need Stolen Eyes after that :-).

Sunday, January 7

Language Digest - 4 [News]

This dose of LangDig is going to be a pretty big one, owing in part to my extended vacation and in part to the accumulating bits from every edition. I have tried to organize the clips in categories so that they are easy to follow. Some of these stories are now around 1 month old but better late then never ! Also it is broken in two parts, this one being news and the second one being of general articles.


Let us start by looking at the reactions to the Marathi being compulsory in all the schools. CBSE is not amused. IBN tries to carry out a debate over the recent spat of make-compulsory steps taken in Karnataka and Maharashtra and when Congress has done it, can Bala Saheb be far behind?

Taking a clue from the neighbors, Andhra Govt is considering making sign boards in Telugu compulsory. In a function organized to award Gidugu Smaraka Puraksaram-2006 to C Dharma Rao, who has done lot of work to bring up Telugu, Andhra Pradesh CM said that they will push harder to get classical status for Telugu. State assembly recently passed a resolution about this. On the other hand, Sanskrit lecturers are accusing the state intermediate education board of an attempt to wean away students from Sanskrit.

Among all this, Gujarat govt is introducing programs to improve the English skills of Gujaratis to give them an edge in job market. Also, there were reports that text books in Gujarat have many linguistic errors. That should be the first place to set the things right.

Demands for govt support for Bodo medium schools is being raised by Bodoland Territorial Council.

Upcoming resources:

Open universities are taking steps to provide education to prison inmates in their native languages. Bhojpuri and Rajasthani are being considered to be included in 8th schedule and a committee has recommended that all the 22 languages currently in 8th schedule, should get separate funds for their development in the 11th 5 year plan.

Following RBI guidelines, all public sector banks will now have to provide all the customer output in Hindi in addition to English.

Dayanidhi Maran envisages a parliament with Machine Translation technologies ! I am so glad :-).

BSNL has started providing SMS services in many local languages including Kannada.


A church in Hyderabad that speaks local languages !

The first International Literature Festival of India is happening.

A reference book about Romany, the Gypsy language, is making waves. This language originated in India but is largely extinct now.

A new age film called SMS 6260 is coming out in Feb, 2007. It is based around the SMS culture and has characters speaking upto 11 languages ! Also a Tamil Animation movie, Inimey Naangathaan is slated to be released late this month. It claims to be the first regional language animation movie.


A new new portal for Oriya language, has been launched which offers mail and search in Oriya language. Another company called is working to bring out search for regional languages by developing keyboards for them. Talking of keyboards, HP Labs has been developing a gesture keyboard.

C-DAC is the nodal agency in India working to bring out freely available software tools in all Indian languages. Following up their recent release of software CDs in many languages, they have many plans ahead.

[To be Continued]

Wednesday, January 3

The cynic within me

also wants to have a say, not because it rejoices at the new year but because it sees everybody else rejoicing !

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again !

-- The Who, "Won't get fooled again !"

Monday, January 1

Best wishes !

- Today, tomorrow, next week, next year
- Somewhere a full stop.
- The fear of death
- Of a life again
- Of never waking up
- Of an endless wake
- Of things words don't know of
- Because we go to them in silence
- On the floor of reason
- The what ifs hang
- Protected from love
- walk we safe
- And we count the years
- One two and three
- longing for insecurity
- longing for no name
- craving for loosing the me
- Let this be the year
- Let this be the day
- Let this be the hour
- To you I wish
- Not conquest
- But surrender !

Have a magical and most wonderful year !